A Marysville raceway crash killed a 68-year-old Grass Valley man and the 14-year-old cousin of the teenage driver whose vehicle careened off the track and into the pit area, authorities said Sunday.
The Yuba County Sheriff’s Department said Dale Wondergem Jr., the Grass Valley resident and race car owner, died after he was struck at the Marysville Raceway Park about 6 p.m. Saturday, as did young Marcus Johnson of Santa Rosa.
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, according to Undersheriff Jerry Read.
The raceway in Marysville, about 40 miles north of Sacramento, was hosting the California Sprint Car Civil War Series on the opening day of its season.
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 collided with Wondergem and Marcus Johnson before it tipped on its side, sheriff’s officials said.
Wondergem was pronounced dead at the scene. Marcus Johnson was taken to Rideout Hospital in Marysville where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival. No one else was injured in the crash, and spectators were never in jeopardy, authorities 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 to determine how they died.
Wondergem is described as a “veteran” car owner by Bill Sullivan, by RacingWest.com writer Bill Sullivan in a Sept. 23, 2010 article chronicling the final leg of the Civil War Spring Car series. He was originally from Michigan, is married and has at least one son.
A call to Wondergem’s Grass Valley residence was not answered Sunday, however his family was reached there earlier in the day and declined to comment to the Marysville Appeal Democrat.
Marcus Johnson was not an official member of his cousin’s crew. Authorities are investigating why he was in the pit area, Read said.
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.
Johnson has been racing for three years at the Petaluma Speedway, where he’s won multiple races and was last year’s series champion, said Ron Lingron, the track announcer at Petaluma Speedway. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were also champion drivers in Petaluma, where the family owns a muffler shop.
“They’re the first family of the Petaluma Speedway,” Lingron said Sunday. “There’s not a better kid you’re going to find in the racing community than Chase Johnson. To have something like this put around his neck is a tragedy.”
The Associated Press’ Terence Chea and the Appeal Democrat’s Griffin Roger contributed to this report.
To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4236.