Johnny Franklin's is normally quite a fun spot, for a muffler shop.

The staff of the Johnson family's bright red landmark on Santa Rosa Avenue is amiable, the place is clean, the chrome pipes are cool, the popcorn's free and the wall photos of all manner of race cars driven over the past 70 years or so by the shop's founder and then his son, grandsons and great-grandsons are a kick.

But Johnny Franklin's wasn't its usual self Monday.

Two days after a billion-to-one accident at a Yuba County raceway killed one of the Johnson boys and a man of 68 in the pit area, and broke the heart of the Johnson boy who was driving, there were flowers and candles outside the shop, and shaking heads and consoling hugs inside.

From behind the counter, Bob Johnson, one of the nicest men you'll ever meet, sadly pondered the remote likelihood that one of his grandsons would lose control of a sprint car and it would crash into a barrier of large tires, go airborne and strike another of his grandsons.

Bob said both Chase, 17 and last year's come-from-behind winner of the Petaluma Speedway Sprint Car Championship, and Marcus, who was 14 and a proud member of his cousin's pit crew, came weekly to Johnny Franklin's to learn the family business.

"I have four grandsons and they all work here on Saturdays," Bob said. He said Marcus was such a good kid and Chase a heck of a race driver.

Bob wasn't at the race in Marysville on Saturday night, but he's heard from family members who were that it appears the steering wheel came off in Chase's hands as he was driving warm-up laps.

Bob said the steering wheel is held in place by a quick-<QA0>

release pin. He's thinking that because Chase made several laps before the crash that the pin was secure, and that something else on the steering column broke.

The tragedy is a horrible blow to everyone at the Johnny Franklin's shops in Santa Rosa and San Rafael. The business was started in 1961 by Bob's father, Fred, now 89 and a longtime member of the Bay Cities Racing Association hall of fame.

Today the Santa Rosa muffler shop is run by Marcus' dad, Rob, and the Marin shop by Rob's brother — and Chase's dad — Don.

The long-term impacts of Saturday's crash on a family that through four generations has loved racing are yet to be seen. Bob, the mourning granddad, said Chase is something special on a track but just now he's thinking he won't race again.

LOVERS OF HISTORY may want to know about the treat that will accompany Sunday's annual luncheon of the Sonoma County Historical Society.

From 11 to noon at the Flamingo Hotel, 15 local students will present the History Day projects they hope will take them to the nationals.

The Society's Jeremy Nichols ( stands ready to hear from <QA0>

folks interested to see the kids' works and perhaps stay for lunch and something sweet — Emmy-winning Dr. Susheel Bibbs' portrayal of Mary Ellen Pleasant, the former slave and civil-rights pioneer who created Sonoma Valley's Beltane Ranch.