Eyewitness: It was like a war zone
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Terry Huckaby was 11 rows up from the frontstretch fence at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday when a long piece of flying metal gashed his brother's left leg.
The plumber from Hendersonville, Tenn., quickly ripped off his belt and wrapped it around the leg to stop blood gushing from a cut that went from his brother's left hip to the knee.
As he stepped back to let track emergency workers take care of his brother, 53-year-old Eddie Huckaby of Krum, Texas, Terry was overwhelmed by the chaos.
Stuff was flying everywhere. It was like you was in a war zone or something. Tires were flying by and smoke and everything else. When I say war zone, there was smoke from a motor. You've got to realize a motor was sitting in the stands. A wheel -- I don't mean a tire -- a wheel with a hub hanging onto it and debris everywhere ... and smoke and people upset. It was kind of scary.” -- Eyewitness Terry Huckaby
"Stuff was flying everywhere,'' Terry told ESPN. "It was like you was in a war zone or something. Tires were flying by and smoke and everything else.
"When I say war zone, there was smoke from a motor. You've got to realize a motor was sitting in the stands. A wheel -- I don't mean a tire -- a wheel with a hub hanging onto it and debris everywhere ... and smoke and people upset. It was kind of scary.''
The chaos began as a freight train of cars raced to the finish line in the Nationwide Series opener. A multicar incident was triggered when race leader Regan Smith tried to block Brad Keselowski, sending Kyle Larson's car careening into the frontstretch catch fence.
The front half of the car was sheared off and the engine tore through the fence. A tire flew over the 22-foot tall fence and landed about 40 rows up.
Eddie, an engineer for Peterbilt Motors Company, was one of seven taken to Halifax Health less than a mile from the 2.5-mile track. Two fans were in critical condition, one with life-threatening trauma to the head.
"I'm just thankful to God my 6-year-old granddaughter didn't come with me," Terry said outside the hospital after visiting his brother, who underwent surgery to repair arteries and other damage to the leg. "She said, 'Papa, it's too hot.' "
Terry said the metal that struck his brother was approximately 3 feet long, 18 inches wide and a quarter-inch thick. He doesn't know what made him think of turning his belt into a makeshift tourniquet.
"I'm a plumber," said Terry, still wearing a DIS cap. "I didn't know what to do. When you see your brother there and blood gushing out of his leg, what do they say? Instincts kick in?
"We're really lucky. That could have been a lot worse than it was."
Terry and Eddie have come to Daytona with their families almost every year since 1968 to see the "Great American Race" and visit Walt Disney World. They were attempting to go to every race -- Sprint Unlimited, Budweiser Duels, Truck Series, Nationwide Series and Sprint Cup -- during Speedweeks for the first time.
"He's just like, 'I can't believe this happened to me,' " Terry said of what his brother told him in the hospital. "It was the year we tried to do the entire Speedweeks. Now we're going to be one short."
Terry painted an almost surreal scene as he described the horrific finish.
"We stood up to see them coming in that direction and all of sudden in just a split second stuff was all over everywhere,'' he said.
And the tire?
"I seen it going by," Terry said. "You couldn't help that. It was a lot of small particles and stuff. Some people were hurt by that. ... Just parts and pieces. I seen a brake rotor part, that wheel with the whole hub on it. It was just debris everywhere."
The Huckabys were in the Campbell box, Section I, Row 11, Seats 3 and 4. They have the same seats for Sunday's Daytona 500, but Terry doesn't expect to use them.
And not because he's afraid.
"The only hesitation I have about going back is going back without him," Terry said of Eddie. "In respect to him, I'd feel kind of guilty going over there.
"Maybe I'll come over here and watch it on TV with him. Maybe there's somebody out there I can do something for them with tickets. Speedway tickets, by the way, say no refund."
While he has no fear of returning to the track, Terry understands there may be others that will.
"I'm sure people are going to think about it," he said. "But I'm telling you, NASCAR fans are some of the best in the world. Hey guys, if we can brave rain and snow. ... I thought the worst thing that would happen this weekend was me being out here last Saturday night when it was 33 degrees.
"We're not scared to come down here. [My brother will] be the first to tell you, 'Hey, I'll see you in July.' "
He just hopes others in more serious condition are able to return for Daytona's annual Fourth of July event.
"I know there's a lot of people hurt out there, and I'm just rooting for them," Terry said. "I know my brother is going to be fine. The other people I don't know. I'm praying for them and hoping they'll be OK, too."
55th Daytona 500