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Hendrick accident a reminder

TOM HIGGINS’ SCUFFS

- ThatsRacin.com Contributor
Wednesday, Nov. 02, 2011

When the bulletin flashed that Rick and Linda Hendrick had been involved in a plane crash Monday night, it instantly evoked a thought, "Oh, God, no! Not again!"

Aircraft accidents have exacted a tragic toll among the NASCAR fraternity, including the family of the Charlotte-based Hendrick, one of the most successful team owners in history.

The Hendricks lost their son Ricky, along with Rick’s brother John and John's two daughters, in a plane crash in 2004 near Martinsville, Va. Six others, including master race engine builder Randy Dorton, also died when their plane hit a mountainside in foggy weather en route to a race at Martinsville Speedway.

Rick Hendrick sustained broken ribs and other injuries in the crash of a Gulfstream private jet at Key West International Airport in Florida on Halloween Night. Linda had cuts and bruises. Their two pilots suffered minor injuries when the brakes failed on the plane and it slid into a runoff area.

Sadly, other accidents involving NASCAR figures and people with connections to the sanctioning body, have been fatal.

Here’s a chronological list:

1977 – Legendary driver Curtis Turner, a member of numerous motorsports halls of fame. Turner, who co-founded Charlotte Motor Speedway with Bruton Smith, was killed when the engines malfunctioned on his Aero-Commander. Golfer Clarence King also died in the crash.

1985 – Richie Panch, an aspiring driver and son of hall-of-famer Marvin Panch. At the time of his death, Panch was pursuing a career in motorsports television. A starter in 48 Cup events, Panch lost his life when the Piper he was aboard broke up in a storm near Rion, S.C. Motorcycle racer Dale Singleton and two others also perished.

1988 – Al Holbert, a road racing champion who won a 24 Hours of Le Mans and made 19 Cup starts. Holbert was killed while taking off in his Piper Aerostar from the Ohio State University airfield. The accident was traced to half of a two-part entry door being left open.

1988 – Rick Newsom, an "independent" driver, died along with two others in the crash of a plane he was landing at Monroe, N.C. Newsom was working as a private commercial pilot at the time. A South Carolinian, he started 82 major circuit races from 1972-80.

1993 – Defending Cup champion Alan Kulwicki. The popular star died, along with three others, when his Fairchild Merlin IIIC crashed during approach to Tri-Cities Airport near Blountville, Tenn. Icing on the wings caused the crash.

1993 – Superstar driver Davey Allison, a Daytona 500 winner. The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison lost his life in the crash of a Hughes 369 helicopter he was piloting. The aircraft went down as Allison was attempting to land at Talladega Superspeedway. Famed driver Red Farmer was injured in the accident.

2000 – Tony Bettenhausen, Jr., was killed when the wings of his Beechcraft Baron iced over and went down in Kentucky. He started 33 Cup events, but was best known as an IndyCar team owner. His wife Shirley and two business associates also were killed in the crash.

2007 – Dr. Bruce Kennedy and NASCAR pilot Michael Klemm were killed when a plane registered to NASCAR crashed in Sanford, Fla. Three people on the ground also died. Kennedy was the husband of Lesa France Kennedy, chief executive officer of International Speedway Corp. and a member of the NASCAR board of directors. Smoke was reported in the cockpit before the crash.

Notable figures from other forms of racing also have lost their lives in planes crashes. This list includes Indianapolis 500 star Wilbur Shaw and Le Mans champion Ron Flockhart.

Shaw, a three-time winner of the Indianapolis 500, was killed in 1954 when his Cessna crashed in bad weather near Decauter, Ind.

Flockhart died in 1962 after he became lost in clouds while piloting a CAC Mustang.

Given the far-flung nature of this era’s Cup schedule, plus business demands, it’s essential that drivers, team owners, rews and others connected to the sport log a lot of flight hours and miles.

Statistics show that aviation is the safest form of travel.

Sometimes, though, when a close-call occurs, such as that the Hendricks experienced on Halloween, taking an automobile is mighty tempting.

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