HOUSTON (AP) — Moments after Dario Franchitti's career-ending crash on the last lap of the Grand Prix of Houston, race promoter Mike Lanigan went to the accident scene to see the damage firsthand.
The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner fractured two vertebrae and broke his right ankle when his car went airborne into a fence last October. The spectacular crash showered debris into the grandstand, injuring 13 fans and an IndyCar Series official.
"I went out there within minutes and I sat on the wall and I said, 'What in God's name I am doing in this business?'" Lanigan said Friday. "But then I said after a while how fortunate we were — that's a racing incident and we've been in the business long enough to understand that. But it was still shocking. It's still depressing."
Lanigan, who brought racing back to the temporary street course at Reliant Park last year for the first time since 2007, had a difficult weekend in IndyCar's return last year.
Because his group couldn't access to the course until the week of the race because the Houston Texans were using the area, no one was aware of a bump in the track surface until opening day and it ultimately altered the championship race. Track workers had to erect a temporary chicane to keep cars from launching over the bump, then work overnight trying to grind it down.
In the end, everything that could go wrong for points leader Helio Castroneves did, and his shot at the championship slipped away during the doubleheader weekend. Adding salt to the wound, Castroneves sponsor Shell Pennzoil was the title sponsor of the race.
Then came Sunday's accident, and Lanigan, a part owner in Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, was devastated.
"After the smoke cleared a month or two after the race, we said, 'If this ever happens again, we want to make sure that nobody gets hurt,'" he said.
The fence that Franchitti hit has been fortified, and the grandstands where fans were seated and hit with debris were removed. All told, Lanigan estimated $700,000 was spent on safety improvements.
Another $300,000 was poured into track improvements, and Lanigan said work continued as late as last week on the bump that affected last year's race. Because the race date was moved from October to June this year, the track build was done in a month instead of a week.
"Last year was challenging, to say the least, but we had more time and we took the bump out earlier last week," he said. "And then we tested it and found out we needed to do some more work. So we put another big patch in the dip. It's not perfect. But every year we'll improve the pavement."
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