DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- A paraplegic who wanted to pursue his
love of racing. A worker trying to do his job in the middle of the
track. A tragic Daytona accident that's sure to spur debate about
yellow flags and disabled drivers.
A 44-year-old worker was killed Sunday by a car going more than
100 mph, struck down while picking up debris during a preliminary
race for next weekend's Daytona 500.
The driver, Ray Paprota, is the first known paraplegic to race
in a national stock car series. He controlled his car with levers,
buttons and knobs located on or around the steering wheel.
"I'm sure they're going to point the finger at him," said
Wally Leatherwood, a fellow driver in the IPOWER Dash 150.
Roy H. Weaver III, who worked at Daytona International Speedway
for seven years, was in the middle of turn two picking up debris
during a caution period when he was killed, track spokesman David
Paprota, who hasn't had use of his legs since a 1984 auto
accident, was trying to catch the main pack of cars after a two-car
crash at the opposite end of the track brought out a yellow flag.
Most of Paprota's colleagues rallied around him, saying the
mishap could have happened to any of them.
"A procedure needs to be developed that would slow the cars
down when track workers are physically on the track," Leatherwood
said. "It's sad that it takes something like this to get their
He questioned whether workers should be allowed on to the track
while cars are running - even at slower speeds under yellow. And,
as apparently happened in this case, drivers are allowed to speed
up to get back in line behind the safety car after coming out of
"The guy went on the racetrack to do his job and he was
killed," Leatherwood said. "They shouldn't be on the track unless
they're 100 percent sure there's no danger."
Jeff Tillman, who was running behind Paprota, said the accident
occurred at the most vulnerable spot on the track. Weaver was
standing in the middle of the track and flipped over Paprota's car
after being struck.
"It's blind in there," Tillman said. "You have maybe 200
yards of visibility at 120 mph."
The race was red-flagged for about 1½ hours, finally running to
the finish under the lights after police investigated the scene and
took pictures of Paprota's car in the garage.
Paprota was loaded into a wheelchair-accessible van and left the
track without discussing the accident with reporters.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I can't say anything."
In the past, the 41-year-old New Jersey native spoke of the
satisfaction he got from racing.
"Just being able to hop into a race car and leave my wheelchair
behind is the greatest achievement," said Paprota, who founded a
team known as Pioneer Racing. "To know that I'm going toe-to-toe
with my able-bodied peers -- and that I'm respected for my ability
on the track and behind the wheel - is the greatest rush going."
Weaver, supervisor of the track crew, was the 36th person to die
during an event at Daytona, the second in less than four months.
Bryan Cassell was killed while practicing for a motorcycle race on
Dale Earnhardt, a seven-time Winston Cup champion, died at the
track on Feb. 18, 2001, when his car hit the wall on the final turn
at the Daytona 500.
Danny Bagwell, who won the Dash race, defended Paprota's racing
"I think he's a capable race driver and I think everybody
deserves an opportunity," Bagwell said. "We've tried to help him
as much as we could."
After his paralyzing wreck, Paprota rehabilitated at the same
Birmingham, Ala., hospital where former NASCAR star Bobby Allison
recovered from a serious racing crash.
Paprota has since moved into the Hueytown, Ala., racing shop
once used by Allison and his late son, Davey.
"We learned about him through Bobby Allison," Bagwell said.
"That's a pretty good reference."
Raymond Claypool, an executive with the Dash series, said
Paprota had raced in three previous series events and tried to
qualify for a fourth.
Already cleared to run on five-eighth-mile tracks, he requested
to compete this year at Daytona.
"He attended a rookie meeting and went through extensive
testing both on and off the track," Claypool said. "We also asked
other drivers ... and we felt very confident he was qualified to
Paprota couldn't get going at the start of Sunday's race because
of a faulty battery. He finally joined the other cars after Bill
Clevenger and Tony Billings were involved in a serious crash in
Billings had to be cut out of his car and taken to a hospital,
where he was listed in satisfactory condition Sunday night.
Fortunately, he was awake and moving when removed from his battered
Meanwhile, Paprota was speeding around the track, trying to
catch up to the main group of cars. Weaver had apparently spotted
some debris in turn two and went on the track to remove it. That's
when he was hit by Paprota's car.
"I don't know how fast he was going, but it had to be over 100
mph," Leatherwood said. "It's sad for the series. Unfortunately,
we're now the series that killed a corner worker at Daytona."