Craig Murto: Daytona facing safety issues

The last-lap crash in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona that sent Austin Dillon’s Sprint Cup car flying into the catch fence raises new concerns for safety.

Thirteen fans reportedly were struck by debris when Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet tore down the catch fence. Eight refused treatment, four were treated in the infield care center, and one was transported to a local hospital, treated and released.

Unlike the 2013 Xfinity Series crash at the track involving Kyle Larson, no large parts of the car made it through the fence. The fence absolutely did its job; it prevented 3,500 pounds of race car traveling at 200 mph from going into the crowd.

As horrifying as it was to watch the engine ripped out of the car and the car bounce back onto the track upside-down after stopping in only a matter of feet, Dylan walked away from the crash. The safety gear — the roll cage, the head-and-neck restraint system, the modern seat — all did its job.

We could dissect the accident all night long, but Dillon’s car would have gotten airborne at 160 mph. In this particular case it was not aerodynamics that put the car in the air. Did “pack racing” contribute? Of course. But we’ve seen cars actually land in the grandstands at 90 mph short tracks. Perhaps if the cars were slowed to about 180 mph it would help, but it would not erase all the danger.

It’s not worth a debate on this type of racing. It’s here to stay. NASCAR’s not going to tear the banking down, and that will be the only way to stop this from happening again. Besides, we’ve seen cars airborne at Pocono, which is flat and not conducive to pack racing. We’ve seen cars airborne at Bristol. What needs attention is the fact that in the course of two years, we’ve had accidents of this nature at the same spot on the track — the tri-oval — where cars are lightest and drivers struggle for control.

Fans enjoy sitting at the finish line, but perhaps it’s time to remove the seats in the lower section of the tri-oval area. Do the same at Talladega. As improved as the catch fence is, it’s apparent that nobody can guarantee that debris will not fly over or through the fence when a car makes impact. And since recent incidents prove the tri-oval is the section of track in which spectators are most vulnerable, it’s time to move the spectators.

Now’s the time to do it, as Daytona is being renovated. Talladega can make the change during the coming off-season. Safety is first and foremost, especially the safety of spectators. These tracks and the racing they provide are not going away, so it’s time to move the spectators to ensure their safety.

Gregg Satterlee safely won the Firecracker 40 at Hagerstown Speedway, followed by Brad Omps and Keith Jackson. Kenny Moreland won the Late Model feature at Winchester, with J.T. Spence and Dale Hollidge close behind.

The best finish of the weekend was at Du Quoin, Ill., where AMA flat track motorcycles tackled the mile. In a three-wide photo finish, Bryan Smith beat Jared Mees and Kenny Coolbeth by less than an inch. The race can be viewed at www.fanschoice.tv.

Lewis Hamilton scored his 38th career Formula One win and third in the British Grand Prix. When rain hit the Silverstone circuit he guessed right as far as when to put on intermediate rain tires. The race had some interesting moments, such as the Williams cars of Felipe Massa and Valtteri Bottas leading the first part of the race. But in the end it was a typical F1 affair; They really need to find a way to add excitement to this series.

There was plenty of excitement in Columbus, Ohio, when Rico Abreu scored his first win in a stock car, winning the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event. Winner of the Chili Bowl in January, Abreu has been on the fast track ever since.

The CARS Tour is on the fast track, offering Late Model Stock Car and Super Late Model touring features at each event. Sporting the best regional car counts on pavement or dirt, the tour will be at Motor Mile Speedway in Radford on Saturday night. It’s only a few hours down the road, and will be worth the trip. Visit www.carsracingtour.com, and see you there.

Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.