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2 killed in crash at California raceway, officials say

  • california_raceway_crash_031713.jpg

    March 17, 2013: This photo shows the racetrack where a sprint car accident killed two people Saturday at the Marysville Raceway Park in Marysville, Calif. A teenage race car driver taking warm-up laps careened off the track and into pit row, killing a 14-year-old boy and 68-year-old man, officials said.AP/Appeal-Democrat

  • fox40crash12.jpg

    March 17, 2013: Authorities investigate a fatal race car accident at Marysville Raceway Park in Marysville, Calif.Fox40.com

Two people were killed after a speeding race car ran off a track and into pit row during warm-up laps at a California raceway Saturday evening, authorities said.

Fox40.com reports that the two, a 14-year-old boy and a 68-year-old man, were walking in the pit area at Marysville Raceway Park when a winged sprint car crashed into them.

The man was pronounced dead at the scene at the raceway some 40 miles north of Sacramento, and the boy was declared dead either at the hospital or in an ambulance, Yuba County Sheriff's Capt. Ron Johnson told the Marysville Appeal-Democrat newspaper.

The Yuba County Sheriff's Department identified the man as Dale Wondergem Jr., of Grass Valley, and the boy as Marcus Johnson, of Santa Rosa.

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, but not the one involved in the crash, according to Undersheriff Jerry Read.

The two were part of a crew and had a right to be in the pit area, but said no more about their roles, Johnson said.

The raceway was hosting the California Sprint Car Civil War Series on the opening day of its season.

Steven Blakesley, the announcer calling the race from the stands, said the sprint cars were doing so-called "hot laps" about an hour before the race when a car driven by Chase Johnson, traveling at about 90 mph, couldn't make a turn.

"There must have been a mechanical problem," Blakesley said. "The car didn't slow down. "

Blakesley said the car ran through a gap between the track and pit row, hit an empty golf-style cart then ran out of the view of the stands, where fans were mostly silent and left to speculation about what was happening.

He said the next thing he was able to see was CPR being performed on two people, and later a body being covered and crime scene tape going up.

The bio on Chase Johnson's website said he's a senior at Petaluma High School north of San Francisco and is a fourth generation race car driver.

Blakesley said Chase Johnson had been driving for two years already, and many on the sprint car circuit, seen as a stepping stone to higher levels like NASCAR, began as young as 15 as Johnson did.

He said others on the circuit, where small, high-powered cars race on short dirt ovals, were older drivers whose careers had peaked earlier.

The Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol were investigating to determine the cause of the crash, Ron Johnson said. The Sheriff's Department also serves as the county's coroner and would determine the identities and official cause of death for the two victims, he said.

An outgoing message on the track's phone line said only that Saturday's race had been canceled, and a message left for a raceway spokesman was not immediately returned.

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 Feb. 23. The victims were sprayed with large chunks of debris -- including a tire -- after a car careened 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, Ariz., a woman was killed by a tire that flew off a crashing dragster at Firebird International Raceway.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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