SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A California raceway crash killed a race car owner and the young cousin of the teenage driver whose vehicle careened off the track before it struck the two victims, authorities said Sunday.
Dale Wondergem Jr., 68, and Marcus Johnson, 14, were in the pit area when they were hit about 6 p.m. Saturday at the Marysville Raceway Park, about 40 miles north of Sacramento, according to the Yuba County Sheriff's Department. Wondergem, of Grass Valley, was pronounced dead at the scene, and Marcus Johnson, of Santa Rosa, was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at a hospital, authorities said.
Marcus Johnson was identified by authorities as the cousin of 17-year-old driver Chase Johnson, who was not injured in the collision. The younger victim was not an official member of his cousin's crew. Authorities are investigating why he was in the pit area, according to Undersheriff Jerry Read said.
The Marysville raceway was hosting the California Sprint Car Civil War Series on the opening day of its season. Wondergem owned one of the race cars at the track Saturday, but not the one involved in the crash, Read said.
The crash occurred when six or seven "winged sprint cars" were doing warm-up laps before the start of a scheduled race. Chase Johnson's car left the track at an undetermined speed and hit Wondergem and Johnson before it tipped on its side, sheriff's officials said.
The Yuba County Sheriff's Department and California Highway Patrol are investigating the cause of the crash. Investigators will conduct autopsies on the victims on Monday and Tuesday.
No one else was injured in the crash, and spectators were never in jeopardy, authorities said.
Marcus Johnson's father, Rob Johnson, told KPIX-TV that his son was helping out in the pit when "something strange happened and the steering wheel came off ... this car flew probably 100 to 150 feet and hit him."
"Everybody's hurting. There's nothing we can do. This is terrible," the father tearfully said. He said his son and cousin were like best friends.
"He had so much to look forward to," the father said.
Don Johnson, who is the driver's father and victim's uncle, issued a statement Sunday on behalf of his family, thanking the racing community for their thoughts and prayers.
"Our family has suffered an unspeakable tragedy with the passing of our precious Marcus Johnson and Dale Wondergem. There are no words to express our sorrow. Our family has been racing for four generations and loves the sport that has now brought us so much pain," the statement said.
Messages left for the Marysville Raceway's spokesman and promoters were not immediately returned Sunday.
Chase Johnson of Penngrove is a senior at Petaluma High School north of San Francisco and is a fourth-generation race car driver, according to his website. He did not respond to an email seeking comment Sunday.
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