Victims ID'd in Marysville racetrack crash

Published: Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Monday, Mar. 18, 2013 - 6:15 am

The two victims struck and killed Saturday by a race car at Marysville Raceway Park have been identified by deputies as Dale Richard Wondergem Jr., 68, a race car owner, and Marcus Joseph Johnson, 14, the cousin of the sprint car driver in the accident.

They were standing near each other in the pit area of the racetrack at about 6 p.m. when a car doing warmup laps careened off the track and hit them, said Yuba County sheriff's deputies.

The driver of the car, Chase Domonic Johnson, 17, of Penngrove, was not injured.

The younger victim was not a member of the pit crew. His admittance to the pit area is being investigated, Yuba County sheriff's officials said.

Witnesses said there were six or seven winged sprint cars completing practice laps at the time of the accident. The drivers were preparing for the first race of this year's California Sprint Car Civil War Series.

Johnson's sprint car zoomed off the track and slid about 100 feet along the top of a barrier into the pit, striking the two bystanders before flipping, according to witnesses.

Wondergem was pronounced dead at the scene, while Marcus Johnson was transported by ambulance to Rideout Hospital in Marysville and died a short time later, sheriff's officials 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 Marcus and cousin Chase were like best friends.

Track promoter Paul Hawes said the throttle of Chase Johnson's car was wide open. He said it was traveling about 100 mph when it rocketed into a narrow opening in a 14-foot concrete retaining wall, sending it careening and flipping into the pit.

"You have to understand the needle this (driver) had to thread to get where he was," Hawes said.

At the time of the accident, about 1,600 or 1,700 spectators were in the stands and another 600 people were in the pit area of the 88-acre racetrack complex on Simpson Lane in Marysville.

Wondergem was described by race officials as a race car owner. The Grass Valley man did not own the car involved in the accident.

Hawes said Wondergem was a former race car driver, and was a featured winner many times over at the now-shuttered Grass Valley racetrack.

"He was very well-known as a racer, and then his son Ricky Wondergem also raced," Hawes said.

After retiring from sprint car driving, Dale Wondergem sponsored a car driven by Herman Klein, a Sacramento-based driver who has raced often at the Marysville Raceway Park, Hawes said.

Hawes said Marcus Johnson's father was at the racetrack at the time of the accident. The family is from Santa Rosa.

While this weekend's race was canceled, a stock car race will go on as scheduled Saturday.

Hawes said his company has invested heavily to improve safety at the weekly races.

"Injuries happen weekly, such as broken collarbones, impacted disks and the sort," he said. "But it's been four years since a fatality here."

He said a truck demonstration at the speedway caused one death when a truck overturned four years ago.

Call The Bee's Anne Gonzales, (916) 321-1049. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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