An up-and-coming Penngrove sprint car racer crashed during warm-ups at the Marysville Raceway Park on Saturday, leading to the deaths of two people. Reports indicated one of the victims was the driver's 14-year-old cousin.
Chase Johnson, 17, was driving hot laps — a practice routine that is a crowd favorite — when things went terribly wrong as he approached the first turn of the quarter-mile banked clay oval, a witness said.
“It really seemed to me that something went wrong with the car because he wasn't able to make the turn,” said Steven Blakesley, a motorsports announcer who was standing about 30 feet away from the accident.
Johnson's car shot off a ramp from the track, glanced off some tractor tires and into a concrete barrier upon which the victims were apparently sitting, Blakesley said.
“He went off the off-ramp at full speed, so I estimate it at 90 mph,” Blakesley said. “My original concern was for Chase himself because of the impact, but I guess he was able to walk away.”
The Associated Press reported the dead as a 14-year-old boy and a 68-year-old man. The man was pronounced dead at the scene, 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.
ABC News 10 of Sacramento reported the 14-year-old boy was Johnson's cousin.
Johnson is a Petaluma High School senior and a fourth-generation race car driver, according to his website, which shows him in a red helmet.
The website introduction said that in 12 years of racing he has won more than 140 major events and seven championships. Last year was his fourth in a winged sprint car, the website said.
“He's a very young, focused quiet driver, a very talented driver,” Blakesley said. “You're talking about a driver who's very experienced. He's young, but he knows what he's doing out there.”