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Teenage race car driver crashes into pit row, killing two, including own cousin

MARYSVILLE, Calif. -- A teenage race car driver taking warm-up laps at a California raceway careened off the track and into pit row, killing a 14-year-old boy and 68-year-old man, officials said.

Six or seven cars were on the track Saturday night when the out of control car ran into the two victims, who were standing side-by-side, Yuba County Sheriff's Capt. Ron Johnson said.

Authorities on Sunday afternoon identified the victims a race car owner and the 14-year-old cousin of the teenage driver.

The Yuba County Sheriff's office on Sunday said 68-year-old Dale Wondergem Jr. of Grass Valley and Marcus Johnson of Santa Rosa died after they were struck by a race car in the pit area at the Marysville Raceway Park about 6 p.m. Saturday.

Officials say 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.

The older man was pronounced dead at the scene at Marysville Raceway Park some 40 miles north of Sacramento, and the boy was declared dead either at the hospital or in an ambulance, officials said.

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

'The car didn't slow down'
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 the car driven by 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 names of the victims weren't immediately available.

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.

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 Daytona 500 went off as planned on Sunday after a nightmarish crash on the same track just a day earlier. NBC's Janet Shamlian reports.

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.

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