Freak raceway crash kills two

2013-03-18 08:59

MARYSVILLE, California - A California raceway crash killed a 68-year-old race car owner and a 14-year-old boy after a race driver's vehicle careered off the track and into the pit area on March 16 2013.

The Yuba County Sheriff's Department said Dale Wondergem Jnr and Marcus Johnson died after they were struck at the Marysville Raceway Park on March 16.


Marcus Johnson is the cousin of the 17-year-old driver Chase Johnson, who was not injured in the collision. Wondergem owned a race car at the track according to Undersheriff Jerry Read.

The raceway in Marysville, 65 kilometers north of Sacramento, was hosting the California Sprint Car Civil War Series on the opening day of its season.

The crash occurred when six or seven "winged sprint cars" were doing warm-up laps before the start of a scheduled race. Chase Johnson's car left the track at an undetermined speed and struck his cousin Marcus and Wondergem before it tipped on its side, sheriff's officials said.

Wondergem was pronounced dead at the scene. Marcus Johnson was taken to Rideout Hospital in Marysville where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. No one else was injured in the crash, and spectators were never in jeopardy, authorities said.


The Yuba County Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol are investigating the cause of the crash. Investigators will conduct autopsies on the victims on March 18 - 19.

Johnson was not an official member of his cousin's crew. Authorities are investigating why he was in the pit area, Read said.
Chase Johnson of Penngrove is a senior at Petaluma High School north of San Francisco and is a fourth-generation race car driver, according to his website.

Petaluma Speedway's track announcer Ron Lingron said Johnson has been racing for three years at the Petaluma Speedway, where he's won multiple races and was the 2012 series champion. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were also champion drivers in Petaluma, where the family owns a muffler shop.

Lingron said: "They're the first family of the Petaluma Speedway. There's not a better kid you're going to find in the racing community than Chase Johnson. To have something like this put around his neck is a tragedy."

Steven Blakesley, a race announcer who was watching from the stands, said he thought Chase Johnson's car had a mechanical problem because he was driving about 145km/h and couldn't make a turn or slow down just before the crash.


Blakesley, who is the track announcer at Watsonville's Ocean Speedway, said: "People getting hurt in the pits is extremely, extremely rare. I've never seen anything like this, and I don't know how you would even prevent it."

The sprint car circuit is seen as a stepping stone to higher levels like Nascar and many drivers start racing as young as 15, as Johnson did, Blakesley said. Others on the circuit, where small, high-powered cars race on short dirt ovals, were older drivers whose careers had peaked earlier.

The race track fatalities come less than a month after a crash on the last lap of a race at Daytona International Speedway injured at least 30 fans on Feb 23. The victims were sprayed with large chunks of debris -including a tire - after a car careered  into the fencing that is designed to protect the massive grandstands lining the track.

At another Nascar race in 2009 at Talladega, the crowd was showered with debris and seven fans were injured when a car sailed upside-down into the front-stretch fence on a furious dash to the finish line, showering the stands with debris. Seven fans sustained minor injuries.

And in 2010 at a National Hot Rod Association event in Chandler, Arizona, a woman was killed by a tire that flew off a crashing dragster at Firebird International Raceway.