California lawmakers seek answers on agency's oversight of off-road racing events

In the wake of an accident that killed eight spectators, California's U.S. senators are pressing for more details about a federal agency's oversight of off-road racing on public lands.

Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein called Wednesday on the Bureau of Land Management to provide data on safety violations in past races. The senators also want to know what penalties, if any, organizations face if they violate the terms of their permit for conducting off-road races.

The lawmakers said in a letter to BLM Director Bob Abbey that federal officials must learn from the accident.

"What makes this accident even more troubling is that with proper precautions, it could have been prevented," the two senators wrote.

Eight bystanders at the California 200 were crushed Saturday when a truck flipped into the crowd, which had pressed to within feet of the sand track. A dozen others were injured.

The BLM is conducting a review of off-road racing on public lands. Organizations conducting such races need a permit that spells out their responsibilities. The race promoters are typically responsible for spectator safety, as was the case Saturday. But spectators were within feet of the speeding vehicles.

The lawmakers also want to know how frequently BLM staff attend off-road races and whether the fees collected from race sponsors are adequate to ensure proper oversight by the agency. The lawmakers also want more information about what happens when BLM staff witnesses activities at races that violate terms of the permit.

"Are they authorized to take immediate enforcement action," the lawmakers asked.

Tom Gorey, a spokesman for the agency, said officials would review the letter and will follow up on the senators' questions.