Larson’s burning engine wedged through a gaping hole in the fence. Parts and pieces of his car sprayed into the stands, including a tire that cleared the top of the fence and landed midway up the spectator section closest to the track.
The 20-year-old Larson stood in shock a few feet from his car as fans in the stands waved frantically for help. Smoke from the burning engine briefly clouded the area, and emergency vehicles descended on the scene.
Ambulance sirens could be heard wailing behind the grandstands at a time the race winner would typically be doing celebratory burnouts.
‘‘It was freaky. When I looked to my right, the accident happened,’’ Rick Harpster of Orange Park said. ‘‘I looked over and I saw a tire fly straight over the fence into the stands, but after that I didn’t see anything else. That was the worst thing I have seen, seeing that tire fly into the stands. I knew it was going to be severe.’’
In 1987, Bobby Allison’s car lifted off the track at Talladega while running over 200 mph, careening into the steel-cable fence and scattering debris into the crowd. That crash led to the use of horsepower-sapping restrictor plates at Talladega and its sister track in Daytona, NASCAR’s fastest layouts.
As a result, the cars all run nearly the same speed, and the field is typically bunched tightly together — which plenty of drivers have warned is actually a more dangerous scenario than higher speeds.
‘‘That’s one of the things that really does scare you,’’ Allison said. ‘‘But it’s always a possibility because of the speeds, where they are.’’
Associated Press writer Jennifer Kay in Miami contributed to this report.