The story of the 17-year-old race car driver whose car crashed into the pit area on Saturday night that killed two people gets sadder and sadder as more details emerge. One of the two people that sprint car driver Chase Johnson's car struck was his 14-year-old cousin. And not just his cousin but his "best friend," Marcus Johnson. According to family members the two boys were like "two peas in a pod." Marcus was an aspiring race car driver, too. You can only imagine the bond that these two boys who grew up together all their lives must have shared. The grief that Chase Johnson must be experiencing right now must be unbearable for this poor kid.
We need to remember that even though Chase Johnson's is a professional race car driver he is still a kid, yes. If you go to his website and look at some of his photos you will see how much of a kid he still is, with those big blue eyes and brown hair still styled in a little boy haircut. Maybe it's an old photo, but still -- you can't help looking at those photos and imagining your own child in his place and wanting to hug him and tell him it wasn't his fault, it was just an accident, a horrible, unfair, sad, sad accident.
I can hear the critics now: He was too young to be racing cars! He or his pit crew forgot to do equipment checks! His cousin should never have been allowed in the pits! The track should have been built safer! Racing is a dangerous sport and should be banned!
Some of those comments may be valid and worth discussing, but as of right now, age doesn't appear to have anything to do with this. Unless investigators find driver error played a part -- which I seriously hope it doesn't, because it still won't change the facts -- this accident could have happened to someone aged 57 as easily as it could have to someone 17. The car also struck and killed 68-year-old Dale Wondergem, the owner of a race car but not the one that killed him.
Reports say that Johnson's steering wheel malfunctioned and came off the column moments before it careered off the track and into the pits during a warm-up before a race. Steering wheels in race cars are designed to quick-release, it's how drivers are able to get in and out of the car quickly. They are always supposed to check that the wheel is locked properly in place before the drive. Johnson's father said his son was always very very diligent about that but if he forgot ... let's not go there just yet. Chase Johnson certainly doesn't need any more guilt to deal with the rest of his life and racing career, if he even decides to continue with it.
Professional racing has faced increased scrutiny in recent years, and no doubt this recent even will put the sport back in the spotlight even more, as these things always do. If anything can make the sport safer for its racers and spectators, that's a good thing. Here's hoping that regardless of what Chase Johnson or the racetrack or the car builder did or didn't do, that everyone will cut this family a break and let them grieve and try to make some sense of it all. Unfortunately, accidents do happen.
Do you think this latest accident is going to hurt the sport even more?
Image via RachetNewz1/YouTube