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Pit crash kills driver’s teen cousin, car owner

– A California raceway crash killed a race car owner and the young cousin of the teenage driver whose vehicle careened off the track before it struck the two victims, authorities said Sunday.

Dale Wondergem Jr., 68, and Marcus Johnson, 14, were in the pit area when they were hit about 6 p.m. Saturday at the Marysville Raceway Park, about 40 miles north of Sacramento, according to the Yuba County Sheriff’s Department. Wondergem, of Grass Valley, was pronounced dead at the scene, and Marcus Johnson, of Santa Rosa, was pronounced dead shortly after arrival at a hospital, authorities said.

Marcus Johnson was identified by authorities as the cousin of 17-year-old driver Chase Johnson, who was not injured in the collision. The younger victim was not an official member of his cousin’s crew. Authorities are investigating why he was in the pit area, according to Undersheriff Jerry Read said.

The Marysville raceway was hosting the California Sprint Car Civil War Series on the opening day of its season. Wondergem owned one of the race cars at the track Saturday but not the one involved in the crash, Read said.

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 hit Wondergem and Johnson before it tipped on its side, sheriff’s officials 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 today and Tuesday.

No one else was injured in the crash, and spectators were never in jeopardy, authorities said.

Messages left for the Marysville Raceway’s spokesman and promoters were not immediately returned Sunday.

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. He did not respond to an email seeking comment Sunday.

Johnson has been racing for three years at the Petaluma Speedway, where he’s won multiple races and was last year’s series champion. His father, grandfather and great-grandfather were also champion drivers in Petaluma, where the family owns a muffler shop, said Ron Lingron, the track announcer at Petaluma Speedway

“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.”

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