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NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Stock Car Racing Topics:  Daytona 500

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series: Daytona 500

Joie Chitwood III
Mike Helton
February 27, 2012


DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

KERRY THARP:  Mike, Joie, certainly a terrific Speedweeks, a great Daytona 500.  Mike, your thoughts about just the great job that the folks did out there tonight to take on a very tough challenge but then also what a race we had here tonight?
MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, the entire Speedweeks has been very entertaining and very interesting, and I think today got off to a start that we had hoped to have been celebrating the Daytona 500 winner earlier this morning, and as we addressed the weather and moving the postponed time back even a little bit further today I think worked out fairly well.  Mother Nature cooperated this evening.
In regards to the incident in Turn 3, you know, every year for the past several years we've hosted a summit that supplements our at‑track visits with a group of NASCAR officials who focus on working with the tracks to address unusual situations that may happen at the racetrack that we know from experience.  But what we do know from experience is that we came prepared for everything, and this evening was one of those incidents that everybody had to collectively react to, and I compliment Joie and his staff for the effort that went into taking something that was very complicated, could have been even more complicated, and pulling it together so that we could finish the Daytona 500, which was on everybody's list to do.
But at this summit we have over 700 track workers from all over the country and some foreign countries that attend for three days, and they go through a lot of refreshment courses and conversations, if you will, because as I mentioned, NASCAR has a group of officials that go to the tracks independently of the race weekends to specifically help the first responders at the racetracks to be prepared for the uniqueness of our safety area inside the cockpit, the uniqueness of our field, the uniqueness of our roll cages, etcetera, so that we can react.
As I say, most of that focus is on the car itself, but that training and that experience and the talent at the tracks, and particular in this case Daytona, has working the events can collectively come together and respond to something that is highly unusual, and that's what I think we saw happen today.
KERRY THARP:  Joie, talk about the outstanding job your folks did here at Speedweeks.  Congratulations on that, and certainly job well done here this evening.
JOIE CHITWOOD III:  I'm very proud of the team in terms of what we were able to do.  Obviously the last 48 hours were very challenging in terms of rain delays and trying to complete the 500 miles.  But what the team did today in terms of responding to a burning jet dryer on the racetrack, I think is phenomenal, and the fact that we got to finish the race under green is a heck of an accomplishment.  The team was prepared.  The expertise was there.  The training was there.  The teamwork with NASCAR was there.
I think it was phenomenal what happened.  We had approximately 200 gallons of burning jet fuel on the racetrack.  We had to respond to the incident, deal with the driver of the jet truck, the driver of the racecar, had to suppress the fire, then applied quick dry or oil dry to soak up any of the excess fuel that was still there.  Following that we watered the track.  We soaped the track.  We then watered it again to clean up any soap.  After that we applied street bond to make sure any excess stone or anything that was showing from the fuel leak was covered.  We then dried it with blowers, with one of our sweepers, and then we actually ran a jet dryer over it.  It was about a 10‑ or 11‑step process.
There is not a true training manual to light a track on fire and respond to it.  There's no way to do that.  That's something that you have to talk about in theory.  The worst possible thing that can happen to a racetrack is fuel.  We hardly ever talk about burning fuel.  Fuel alone is bad enough.  So I'm really proud of the way the team responded.
I was in race control with Mike, and I think the team really did a great job, and we were in the loop every step of the way.

Q.  Did either of you see the accident happen as it happened, or did you hear about it, and how did you hear about it?  And then there was some talk about like Tide being used.  Is that accurate, or some kind of cleaner?
MIKE HELTON:  I'll answer the first part of your question and let Joie answer the Tide part.  Obviously we were under caution, and there's a lot of observation as a caution unfolds, and particularly when it relates to cars on the track, reentering the track from pit road around the safety workers and the clean‑up crews and the jet dryers.  So the incident was observed as it unfolded.

Q.  You saw it?
MIKE HELTON:  Yeah, among others in the tower, because as I say, there's always a high level of observation going on, and particularly under caution there's a lot of things happening at the same time, so we visibly watch for other things.

Q.  What was your initial reaction?
MIKE HELTON:  I'll save that one for later.
Seriously, I'm making light of a situation because it's late and it turned out okay.  But it's probably the same as what you all reacted to when you saw the first video clip of it show up on the monitors.  It got your attention really quick.
KERRY THARP:  Joie, you want to talk about the Tide?
JOIE CHITWOOD III:  We typically use a laundry detergent to wash the track, so we did use that laundry detergent during this event.

Q.  Mike, I know you haven't seen the TV ratings or anything like that, but your thoughts on a night race?  Is this something that you would consider, a weeknight night race in primetime?
MIKE HELTON:  I don't know.  We did this one to get this one done.  It wouldn't scheduled originally to be this way.  I think everybody came together to make it work the best we could.  FOX certainly participated in a very professional manner helping us get the coverage of the Daytona 500 that everybody wanted.
I was incredibly impressed with the fans that returned and stayed in the grandstand for the Daytona 500, and that's kind of what drives‑‑ it's not kind of; that is what drives our decision to get the track ready to finish the 500‑mile race because that's what everybody wants to do.  That worked out good for us tonight, and it was an exciting race.  We had a very exciting Speedweeks, as I mentioned, and I thought tonight was worthy of coverage and participation, and we're very grateful for all the fans that stuck it out here, and stuck with us back home through the red flag and through the weather incident and everything.
As we go forward and we put our schedules together, the primary interest is weekends, because that's what we do.  But tonight unfortunately gave us a sample to look at, I guess, for down the road.

Q.  Go back to the burning fuel.  I thought it was interesting you guys said your workers do train for it.  Are the suits they have fire retardant?  Do you have special equipment for burning jet fuel specifically?
JOIE CHITWOOD III:  Well, as part of running any event, any fire safety crew, the folks that respond to clean‑up, are all dressed in fire suits.  Actually there's different colors for the responsibility you have on racetrack, so you'll see gentlemen in red and yellow.  So yes, they do have helmets on, as well, so there's some specs that we actually have with NASCAR as it relates to some minimum requirements that we actually need to run events.  Part of that is the safety equipment that our workers wear.

Q.  Joie, there was a pretty good crowd here tonight it seemed like, and I didn't know if‑‑ I guess just your thoughts on that.  Are you surprised by how many people returned tonight?  And do you have any thoughts on why?  Was it a big local crowd maybe?  I think some of us up here saw maybe there weren't quite as many track personnel, so maybe people might have an easier time getting in.
JOIE CHITWOOD III:  Well, I can tell you the first thing we staffed appropriately were gates and ticket takers, so we tried to make sure that anyone who had a ticket from yesterday got in.
But joking aside, I was impressed with the crowd.  That really beat my expectation in terms of the first time that we've ever had to rain delay, and then of course the additional postponement to run a primetime show.  I was extremely happy and really pleased that the crowd stuck it out.
Also, it's the first time that we talked about the first time in 54 years that the race has been delayed to Monday, and of course the first time it's been run in primetime under the lights.  It's the first time we believe our fans and the grandstands actually performed the wave, and that was during the red flag of the incident.  So it was a fun crowd.  They were reacting great, and they stayed until the very end.

Q.  For Mike and Joie:  Joie, I know you come from a stunt family, so you've probably seen a lot of crazy stuff, but have either of you seen as much as we crammed into this event?
JOIE CHITWOOD III:  I would say at some point in the towers we were dealing with the incident, I thought it's probably safer risking my life as a stuntman than being the president of the Daytona International Speedway.  There's been a lot of activity here the last couple years.  We've had our ups and downs.  But at the end of the day, tonight validates what we do.  We train, we prepare.  This is the World Center of Racing, and I'll be honest:  If we would have talked about having 200 gallons of burning jet fuel on the racetrack during the event, I'm not sure what the likelihood would have been of completing the race or having a surface that could have been used to race.  I am really proud of my team and how they responded, and we finished the Daytona 500 the right way, which is under green, and a lot of fans in the stands cheering it on.

Q.  After the rain and you finally get the race in, were you ever at a point like, what else can happen?
MIKE HELTON:  Well, you know, things do cross your mind, but you would think after 65 years and running all the races that NASCAR has run over the past six and a half decades that you've seen about everything, and a lot of what you've seen gives us the experience that causes us to have the safety summit and the training programs and everything.
But you do think about, oh, my gosh, if that can happen, what‑else‑can‑happen‑type thing.  That gives you pause to sit and try to figure out what might else could happen so that you can be as ready for it as you can.
KERRY THARP:  Mike, Joie, thank you very much.  Terrific job for Speedweeks.  Thank you.

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