Spectator hit but not seriously hurt when metal bar flies from car into stands at Riverhead Raceway

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | A freak accident sent a spectator to an area hospital Saturday night, the opening night of the 2012 season at Riverhead Raceway.

A spectator at Riverhead Raceway was struck in the chest by a metal “nerf bar” Saturday night after it came loose from the side of a race car during a collision and flew over the safety fence and into the crowd, witnesses said. The spectator was later identified as Robert Beattie, 41, of Islip.

The incident occurred at 8:38 p.m. after two cars collided between the first and second turns during one of Saturday’s opening night races, a Raceway staffer said. Driver Eddie Brunnhoelz Jr.’s car stalled out and was hit from behind by a car driven by Ronnie Silk, the staffer said.

The injured spectator, whom Riverhead Police initially declined to name, was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center by Riverhead ambulance with what appeared to be a non-life threatening injury. Because the hospital had no record of him as a patient on Sunday, it appeared he was released after treatment.

“It caught him real good,” said Chris Boehle, a long-time Raceway staffer who witnessed the incident. “I saw him when they were putting him in the ambulance and the left side of his chest was all inflamed.”

GIANNA VOLPE PHOTO | The nerf bar that flew over the tall fence at Riverhead Raceway and struck an unidentified spectator in the chest.

A nerf bar is a tubular device fitted to the side of the car to protect it from sideswipes and lateral collisions.

According to the owners of the Riverhead Raceway, Jim and Barbara Cromarty, Mr. Beattie was “doing very well” after he “got hit with something that came off one of the cars,” during Saturday night’s races. “It didn’t do any serious damage, which makes us all happy.”

The owners said Mr. Beattie was able to walk to the ambulance from his seat in the stands.

They said the incident delayed races only because “a molehill became a mountain” when another spectator called police. The raceway always has ambulances on hand, the owners said.

Fifth-year Raceway staffer Heather Maxwell and Mr. Boehle, who has worked at the races for over two decades, said this is the first time they’ve ever seen this type of incident at the raceway.

“I’ve seen cars climb the wall and hit the fence, I’ve seen buses flip over and hit the wall, but I’ve never seen anything that wasn’t rubber come over the fence,” Ms. Maxwell said.

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