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By VINCE LUECKE
TELL CITY – Whitney Turner will forever carry memories of her visit to Daytona Beach, Fla., and its famed NASCAR speedway. She’ll also carry scars.
A longtime fan of stock-car racing, the Tell City woman was in the front row Saturday for the Nationwide Series race. Expecting a thrilling finish to what was a warmup for Sunday’s Daytona 500, Whitney’s day at Daytona International Speedway went from dream to nightmare in just seconds. A last-lap crash sent a race car hurtling into the track’s safety fence, scattering debris into the crowd. Turner, 33, suffered a fractured shinbone and a torn Achilles tendon.
Burning motor oil and other fluids burned her skin and for that split second when NASCAR driver Kyle Larson’s car appeared to be coming through the fence, she worried she would never see her daughter or other loved ones again.
“I was sure I was going to die. It happened so quickly but that’s what I thought, that I’d never see the people I love again,” she said Monday from a Georgia hotel room. Turner and her father were on their way back to Indiana.
About the accident, Turner remembers trying to run as the crash unfolded, but little else. Video taken by fans shows her lying near her seat as other fans gestured for help. The smoking engine of Larson’s car was just a few yards away, as was the damaged section of fence.
Released from the hospital that evening, Turner was able to attend Sunday’s Daytona 500 and was thrilled to see her favorite driver, Jimmy Johnson, race to the checkered flag.
NASCAR officials visiting fans Saturday at the hospital asked her if she still planned to attend Sunday’s 500-miler. “I told them there was no way I’d miss it and they took care of everything.”
Once she arrived at he track, Turner was taken by a golf cart to a reserved seating area.
Ironically, Turner’s original seat for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race was several rows behind the one she was injured in. She took the front-row seat after finding several empty.
“I know I’ll be back at Daytona ... and I know I won’t be in the front row,” she said.