Mood 'mostly upbeat' on race day

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Scuff marks remain on two seats where a tire went into the stands and critically injured two fans. White residue has replaced a large blood stain on the concrete.

Yet the mood in Section H of the Campbell box before Sunday's 55th running of the Daytona 500 was unbelievably festive.

Many who witnessed the chaos that occurred on the last lap of Saturday's Nationwide Series race, who saw fellow fans carried off on stretchers after Kyle Larson's car was shredded by the catch fence, returned without reservation.

Or fear.

"Why would there be?" said Mike Healy, 50, of New York. "My dad was in the military. I'm a trained EMT [emergency medical technician]. Most people run when they hear bullets. We run toward them."

Healy, wearing a foam rubber Landshark beer fin hat that had "Let the fin begin" on the side, said he ran toward the two most critically injured on Saturday.

He pointed to the scuff marks from the tire that he said hit the most severely injured fan in the head and a 14-year-old boy in the shoulder. He talked proudly of how he helped the boy.

"I didn't think the other guy was going to make it," Healy said.

The "other guy" received life-threatening head injuries, but was upgraded to stable late Saturday night. The fans in Section H welcomed that news, but their focus was on the race.

It was a testament to their resiliency, their loyalty to the sport.

"Mostly upbeat," Healy described of the mood as the Zac Brown Band blared during a prerace concert. "We're sad people got hurt, but we're here to carry on."

On Saturday, it was surreal -- a war zone, Terry Huckaby told me Saturday night at Halifax Health after visiting his brother, Eddie, who received a long laceration on his left leg.

Healy recalled how one of his friends hid behind a pole, and his nephew was on the ground protecting himself as debris flew everywhere. He showed me a picture of the tire that struck the fans. He told me how it flew over the fence, not through it as some thought.

"It's time to race," he said.

That was the prevailing theme. Soniya Ally, 48, of nearby Lake Mary admitted she was a "little" scared to return, but it didn't last once she arrived at the track.

"I'm not afraid," she said, decked in a Jeff Gordon hat and T-shirt, and sitting on residue from the burning engine of Larson's car that landed 25 yards in front of her. "Need for speed."

Most accept the risk when they come to the track.

These fans reveled in it.

"It's racing," said Mike Fleagle, 36, of Chambersburg, Pa. "It's what happens."

It doesn't happen often. And most don't come expecting it to happen.

But when it does, they don't think about it happening again.

"We figured these were the perfect seats," said Rick Barasso, 58, sitting a few seats from where the tire struck. "What are the chances of it hitting here twice?"

Well, there is that logic.

They are, after all, fans.

"I love NASCAR," said Shamer Elly of Lake Mary. "Yesterday was chaotic, but I wouldn't be anywhere else in the world today."