Wallace wins Daytona's first truck race
Associated Press


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A fireball that had been Geoffrey Bodine's truck flew toward the crowded Daytona grandstand Friday in a horrifying crash that injured nine fans and two drivers.

What remained of a shredded safety fence near the finish line stopped the nearly 2-ton vehicle just 10 feet short of front-row spectators.

Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace avoided trouble all day to earn the season-opening win in Daytona.

They scrambled for cover as debris and flames shot into the crowd, and a black cloud of smoke hung over the track as blinded drivers crashed into the crumpled shell of Bodine's truck again and again.

After smacking into the wall at about 190 mph during Daytona International Speedway's inaugural truck race, Bodine cartwheeled and flipped wildly down the track in flames. When he came to a stop, about the only thing left of his truck was the roll cage that saved his life.

Bodine, the 1986 Daytona 500 champion who failed to qualify for Sunday's race, wound up with a broken wrist, ankle and vertebrae, and a concussion. He was in serious but stable condition at Halifax Medical Center.

"I thought Bodine was dead," said B.A. Wilson, one of 13 drivers involved in the wreck in the Daytona 250. "Worst wreck I've ever seen, by far."

Driver Jimmy Kitchens was also injured, but not seriously. He was being held overnight at Halifax.

Five fans were treated at the hospital for injuries that included a broken arm and cuts and bruises. Four other spectators were treated for minor injuries at the track's care center. None of the fans was burned.

Mike Wallace, who won the race with a thrilling, last-lap pass, watched the mayhem in his mirror.

"I saw a ball of fire," he said. "As we drivers say, that had to be big."

The trucks, unlike the Winston Cup and Busch series cars, raced without speed-robbing carburetor restrictor plates. They were mandated at Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway -- the fastest NASCAR tracks -- after Bobby Allison's untouched car nearly entered the stands at about 210 mph at Talladega in 1987.

The trucks, however, were not considered fast enough to warrant the plates. The 2½-mile oval is the biggest and fastest track ever run by the 6-year-old Craftsman Truck Series.

Wallace hoped the accident wouldn't overshadow his victory in what was supposed to be a coming-out party for the series.

"That would be a shame," he said. "I hope they remember Mike Wallace winning, and that there was a bad incident halfway through."

The wreck, which delayed the race for about 2½ hours during repairs to the fence, began when rookie Kurt Busch tapped Rob Morgan, who in turn sent Bodine into the wall.

"I was just thinking, 'Friends today and try not to make any enemies,"' said Busch, who finished second. "I think I may have done the opposite."

Bodine's truck hit the 4-foot-high wall, which supports the 9-foot-high safety fence, and ripped off about 150 feet of wire mesh and snapped support poles.

The Ford disintegrated into an unrecognizable heap of scrap metal. The engine was torn away from the truck body and landed on the grass next to the front straightaway.

"I've never had a wreck like that in my life," Bodine said.

His brother, Todd Bodine, who competes in the Busch series, said he was "scared stiff" as he watched the accident.

"I've seen some bad wrecks, been in a couple bad wrecks," he said. "That was probably one of the most violent wrecks you'll ever see. To see something like that just tears your heart out."

The crash on the 57th of 100 laps caused the fifth caution. Because of the accident and earlier wrecks, only 16 of 36 cars finished the race, which featured a series-record 31 lead changes among 12 drivers.

Injuries to fans have been a major concern for NASCAR since Allison's crash in Talladega. A woman lost an eye after being hit by debris from Allison's car after it flew into the air and tore down nearly 100 feet of fencing.

There have been no spectator deaths in modern NASCAR events, but the open-wheel circuits have not been as fortunate.

In July 1998, three fans were killed and six others injured at Michigan Speedway when a tire and suspension pieces from a crash during a CART race flew into the stands.

Only 10 months later, three fans were killed and eight others injured at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Concord, N.C., from flying debris at a wreck during an Indy Racing League event.

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