Monday, October 25, 2004

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — A plane owned by the Hendrick Motorsports organization crashed in thick fog yesterday on its way to a NASCAR race, killing all 10 people aboard, including the son, brother and two nieces of the owner of one of auto racing’s most successful teams.

The Beech 200 took off from Concord, N.C., and crashed in the Bull Mountain area about seven miles west of Martinsville’s Blue Ridge Regional Airport about 12:30p.m., said Arlene Murray, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

A spokesman for a funeral home where the bodies were being taken said the dead included the four relatives of Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports.

Citing a list given to him by state police, Harry Litten, manager of Moody Funeral Service in Stuart, said the people aboard the plane were:

Ricky Hendrick, Rick Hendrick’s son and a retired NASCAR driver; John Hendrick, Rick Hendrick’s brother and president of the organization; Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick, John Hendrick’s twin daughters; Joe Jackson; Jeff Turner; Randy Dorton, the team’s chief engine builder; Scott Lathram, a pilot for NASCAR driver Tony Stewart; and pilots Dick Tracy and Liz Morrison.

It was “extremely foggy” in the area of the crash, said Dale Greeson, who lives about a mile from where the plane went down.

“It was just like a cap on top of Bull Mountain,” said Greeson, adding that he had heard what sounded like a small plane circling overhead at the time of the crash.

“I didn’t see any ball of fire or hear an impact,” he said.

National Transportation Safety Board spokesman Keith Holloway said investigators were on their way to the crash site, which was in rough terrain, but could not begin their examination until today.

Hendrick owns the teams of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte and Brian Vickers, who competed in yesterday’s Subway 500 in the Nextel Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway.

NASCAR learned of the plane’s disappearance during the race but withheld the information from the Hendrick drivers until afterward, NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said. All the Hendrick drivers were summoned to the NASCAR hauler immediately after the race and Johnson, who won the race, was excused from Victory Lane.

“I was hoping I’d never hear this,” Mark Martin, a driver for Roush Racing, told the Speed Network after the race. Martin’s father, stepmother and half-sister died in 1998 when a private plane his father was piloting crashed in Nevada.

“I just feel so bad it’s unreal,” said Martin, himself a pilot.

NASCAR had spoken with Rick Hendrick, NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said, adding that neither NASCAR nor the Hendrick organization would have further comment yesterday.

Rick Hendrick had recently begun grooming Ricky Hendrick for a larger role with the company.

Ricky began his career driving a Busch car for his father, but retired in 2002 because of a shoulder injury suffered in a racing accident. His father then made him the owner of the Busch car Vickers drove to the series championship last season, and that Kyle Busch currently pilots.

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