Chase Johnson was doing hot laps during a practice run for the California Sprint Car Civil War Series. The 17-year-old lost control at an estimated 90 mph. Steven Blakesley, a race announcer who was watching from the stands, says Chase went off the track.
"First it was panic because we wanted the practice to stop and so a lot of people were frantically waving to the officials to stop all the other cars so we could get our safety people over there, and once that took place it got very silent," Blakesley said.
The silence was due to the discovery that Chase's sprint car hit and killed his 14-year-old cousin, Marcus Joseph Johnson of Santa Rosa. Also killed was 68-year-old Dale Wondergem of Grass Valley.
Chase's family secluded themselves from the media Sunday at their Penngrove home with a sign saying they wanted privacy in order to deal with this horrible tragedy.
Chase is a senior at Petaluma High School north of San Francisco and is a fourth-generation race car driver, according to his website. He's been racing for three years at the Petaluma Speedway, where he's won multiple races and was last year's series champion.
According to Ron Lingron, the track announcer at Petaluma Speedway, Chase's father, grandfather and great-grandfather were also champion drivers in Petaluma.
"They're the first family of the Petaluma Speedway," Lingron said. "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."
Friends of both boys' families left flowers and notes at the muffler shop owned by Marcus' father in Santa Rosa.
"It's scary," said Michael Kofoid. "It makes you want to quit, it makes you want to quit and stop, it does."
Kofoid lives in Penngrove and knows the Johnson family. His 11-year-old, also named Michael, was also Marcus' friend.
"He was probably the best person to be around, most of the time," Michael Jr. said. "He's just always nice and nice to talk to."
The 11-year-old says he's sad at Marcus' passing, but he will continue to race.
Why Chase lost control of his car is under investigation. The teen had his own close call two years ago when his car flipped over during a race. In both crashes, Chase was left unhurt.
The race track fatalities come less than a month after a crash on the last lap of a race at Daytona International Speedway injured at least 30 fans Feb. 23. The victims were sprayed with large chunks of debris - including a tire - after a car careened into the fencing that is designed to protect the massive grandstands lining the track.
At another NASCAR race in 2009 at Talladega, the crowd was showered with debris and seven fans were injured when a car sailed upside-down into the front-stretch fence on a furious dash to the finish line, showering the stands with debris. Seven fans sustained minor injuries.
And in 2010 at a National Hot Rod Association event in Chandler, Ariz., a woman was killed by a tire that flew off a crashing dragster at Firebird International Raceway.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)