The videos shot on their cell phones show how little time the fans had to react to last Sunday's scary crash at IndyCar's Grand Prix of Houston and just how lucky everyone was sitting in those bleachers outside Turn 5. Lucky that catch fence did its primary job.
When Dario Franchitti's car struck Takuma Sato's at 140mph, it launched and slammed into the fence, did a violent pirouette for a few hundred feet while showering those spectators with debris before being spat back onto the track – thankfully right-side up.
A large piece of the fence wound up on top of some spectators in the top row but, miraculously, an errant tire with suspension attached from Franchitti's Dallara that was punted by E.J. Viso as he drove into the carnage bounced off the crossover bridge and landed over the fence in an open area with no people.
It's terrible that a dozen fans were injured, sustaining cuts and bruises, and the three-time Indy 500 winner suffered broken vertebra, a fractured ankle and concussion.
Yet it could have been so much worse. If Franchitti's car goes through that fence, we're talking about a Le Mans 1955-type death count (88 people perished when a car catapulted into the crowd with a broken fuel tank and ignited) and repercussions we don't want to think about.
But the fence that bordered the fast, blind, right-handed turn around the Reliant Park circuit allowed the 1,800-pound missile to dissipate its energy as it came apart before bouncing it back down to the track.
“To be able to retain a vehicle at that speed is bloody hard, I don't care what kind of a fence you have,” said Tony Cotman, the former Indy car team manager and Champ Car chief steward who now makes his living designing and building racetracks while also assisting with the new Indy Lights program.
“The chassis did a fantastic job of protecting Dario. Did the fence do a good job? Without question. But while the car stayed within the confines of the racetrack, it's not perfect.”
Despite holding up under impact, Houston's flying section of fence is cause for concern and IndyCar has launched a full investigation of the accident and its aftermath.
IndyCar's tracks have two kinds of fences – the mesh and cable like the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the panel-type like at Toronto and Houston. Both are FIA approved.
Obviously, neither is perfect because, short of some kind of plexiglas wall, it's impossible to prevent shards of carbon fiber and pieces off the car from spraying the paying customers like it did those outside Turn 5.