Two fire engine crews and a pair of ambulances stage routinely at the Calistoga Speedway to respond quickly to the overturns and crashes that are an inevitable part of sprint car racing.
But few accidents are as serious as the one Saturday night that took the life of Tyler Wolf of Redding, a 20-year-old racer already years into his pursuit of speed and power with a level of enthusiasm that his parents simply had to support, said his father, Chuck Wolf.
Tyler Wolf was only 6 when he started racing go-karts near his family's home, his father said Monday.
He was a serious contender by 19 when he was named 2011 sprint champion at his home track, the Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, beating out more experienced drivers, track operator Dennis Gage said.
"It's really an achievement for a young driver," Gage said.
Wolf's father said his son's talent was derived from passion and hard work, owing to limited finances that required he work on his own race car and seek out extra jobs to support his hobby, in addition to the labor he provided to his father's sand and gravel company.
"He was really good at what he did because he had to work so hard," Chuck Wolf said.
Tyler Wolf was one of 24 drivers who started on the half-mile dirt track Saturday in the last of a series of races celebrating the Calistoga Speedway's 75th anniversary, his father said.
The race was to be the last of the sprint car season that takes drivers, mostly from the West, to rural communities around California to compete for prize money and status, Gage said.
Sprint car racing has "its own culture, it's own family," said Carlene Moore, CEO of the Napa County Fair Association, which runs Calistoga Speedway.
About 1,500 people were at Saturday's event to watch drivers, mostly from Northern California but also Oregon and Nevada, Moore said.
Wolf crashed on the second turn somewhere around lap six during the 30-lap race around the half-mile track, she said.
No other drivers were involved, Moore said.
"It is a huge loss for his family but also for the world of people who care about the drivers who in essence risk their lives to bring them entertainment," Moore said.
On Monday, a bouquet of purple and orange starflowers had been placed on the rim of the wall circling the track above the black and gray skid marks in long slashes and circles where Wolf's car struck the concrete wall.
Calistoga Sprint car racer Mike Benson, 41, stopped by the hard-packed dirt track late Monday afternoon after work.
Benson was a few cars behind Wolf when the young racer crashed.
"I knew it wasn't good, you just want to know he's OK," said Benson, who met Wolf this year at a Chico race.
Crashes are common, and drivers train to extricate themselves and others, but they are usually not serious accidents, said Benson, who works in pool construction and races most summer weekends with a five-man team from Calistoga.
From his perspective, it appeared Wolf's car hit the wall head-on. A hit like that can mean the car's center, and the driver, take the brunt of the force, he said.
The excitement of sprint car racing comes from the speed and acceleration of vehicles that are relatively light-weight -- about 1,400 pounds -- with engines two or three times more powerful than a regular passenger car, Gate said.