Daytona, Florida -- A rumored NASCAR plan to shower its loyal fans with free souvenirs ran into a glitch at the end of its Nationwide Series race here.
The idea was to launch a "piñata car" into the home stretch fence just before the competitors crossed the finish line at the conclusion of the 300 lap race.
According to the plan, the chain-link barrier would shred the front of the car into thousands of souvenir size pieces, which would be snatched up by spectators, who had invested hundreds of dollars to sit in the "good seats."
Unfortunately, several larger pieces of the car, including its engine, suspension components and a wheel assembly crashed through to the spectators, putting 14 of them in the hospital, two with critical injuries.
Stock-car officials refused to acknowledge that the collision was staged, but a number of in-the-know fans argued that the crash was inevitable.
"They've turned racing at Daytona into a 200 mile an hour demolition derby," one of the spectators said.
"Still, that's what brings people to the track. I got bonked in the head by a speeding spark plug, but I managed to grab hold of a steering wheel, which will look great on the wall of my rec room. Would somebody please answer that damn phone?"
Unlike other forms of professional motorsports, which have rules to prevent drivers from cutting each other off, stock car competition encourages "blocking" and other suicidal maneuvers.
That promotes a spirit of recklessness that inevitably leads to massive crashes. And now the carnage is spilling over into the stands.
One media analyst sees that progression as a boon to NASCAR. "This is the only sport that puts the fan right into the heart of the action," he said. "You're not only watching the wreck. You are the wreck."
Asked to explain, the analyst said that stock-car racing has developed a unique partnership with all of the sport's key players: "The sponsors lead. The drivers speed. And the fans bleed."