The wheel that paralyzed a man Saturday at the Fonda Speedway cleared the protective fence by 10 feet or more, spectators said.
And it flew so far that it hit David Buanno as he stood between trailers, far from the fence.
“He never would have expected it,” said John Grady Jr., who saw the accident.
He likened it to having a wheel fly over a house into a resident’s backyard from a nearby road.
“You would never think to see that,” he said.
It happened during the 4-cylinder feature race.
“A car was way back and as it made the turn, it broke and went sort of sideways,” Grady said.
The car didn’t touch any other cars in the turn, and it wasn’t clear why the accident happened, he said.
Grady’s father, John Grady Sr., said the accident came out of the blue.
“He had run quite a few laps, so it didn’t just fall off,” he said. “It could have been not put on properly, or a broken piece, often a pump. He could have tapped something earlier.”
Whatever it was, when the car went sideways, the wheel shot into the air.
“It bounced up,” Grady Sr. said. “It kept hitting, higher and higher. It cleared the big fence. It didn’t go through the fence; it came from above.”
Then, he said, the wheel landed in the pit area and ricochetted off at an angle — straight into Buanno.
Mark Krosky, president of the state Stock Car Association, was also at the speedway that night.
He watched as EMTs rushed to Buanno, giving him life-saving aid while they waited for the Medivac helicopter. At the same time, nine speedway vehicles, including the wreckers and the pace car, drove to a nearby field and parked in a circle with their lights on to illuminate a landing zone.
Krosky credited the EMTs with saving Buanno’s life.
“They are on the ball,” he said. “It’s probably a good thing it happened at the Fonda Speedway.”
He spoke to the pit steward afterward to find out what happened.
“Something happened to the wheel itself,” he said. “The center of the wheel was ripped out, where the lug nuts are. That indicates stress fractures.”
But it’s not clear what caused that.
“That all should come under maintenance during the week. Things should be checked,” he said of the car owners. “That wheel could have been under stress before he ever got onto the track.”
Unlike NASCAR races, no one inspects the cars before the races at Fonda.
Officials check for certain things — fire suits, helmets, seat belts — but do not check wheels.
“As far as inspecting every car every week, that’s just not possible,” Krosky said. “You’d have to do 100 cars a week. You’d have to open the gates at noon [for inspections].”
He added that he didn’t think it was necessary.
“You just don’t see parts falling off a car,” he said. “It’s a shame it happened. It’s kind of just one of those things. There’s things that happen. Everybody’s at risk.”
Grady Sr. agreed, citing various walls, barriers and fences built at the Fonda Speedway to protect spectators.
“He worked to make it safer — but it is racing,” Grady said. “It wasn’t a freak accident. It was an accident that happens with this sport.”
Montgomery County Agricultural Society, which owns the speedway, said it would investigate the accident.
“We certainly are going to look into it and we certainly want to take every precaution,” society President Rich Kennedy said. “I don’t know enough details about it. I don’t know exactly where he was standing. We will be talking more about it.”
Speedway promoter Laura Lucia on Monday said the speedway would not investigate. On Tuesday she declined comment through her attorney, Peter Scolamiera.
Fonda village Mayor William Peeler said that the county would have investigated if the owners did not.
“It is something we should look at if they don’t take matters into their own hands,” he said.
Buanno’s condition remained unchanged Tuesday. He is on life support and in critical condition at Albany Medical Center Hospital with a broken neck.
Family members are holding out hope for a miracle. His brother, Peter Buanno, said that David was alert and talking Monday. Family members were considering authorizing surgery as early as today if he continues to stabilize.
David Buanno is a member of the Fonda Speedway Hall of Fame. In 1971, he was the first Fonda regular to use a tubular frame when the speedway first allowed them.
His car carried him to three victories before he was forced to stop racing for health reasons, according to speedway history book “Fonda!” by Andy Fusco and Lew Boyd.
The book said he had a “promising career” until his health stopped him.