It’s no secret to anyone who follows auto racing that it’s a dangerous sport. A driver is strapped into a metal body – or carbon-fiber body, if we’re talking NASCAR – car, with an engine that produces the energy to make the car move at a high rate of speed and a tank of flammable fuel a foot or two behind. While we’ve long since left the days when death at the race track was all but a certainty, it’s still a high possibility.
As I do every year, minus last year, I’ve dedicated this piece to those who’ve died in racing competition.
The drivers are listed in chronological order of the date of their deaths. Unless noted otherwise, the information comes from MotorsportMemorial.org.
- Bill Egleston (January 16)
- Bill Egleston, veteran driver of the International Motor Contest Association (IMCA), as well as series champion, died three days after a wreck at a dirt track in Perris, California. He was 53 years old.
- According to the Merced Sun-Star, Egleston’s car rode up the backstretch wall of Perris Auto Speedway and flipped on the second lap of the IMCA modified main event. While upside down, a car collided with him, driver’s side.
- James Kenneth “Ken” Rambo (March 28)
- Ken Rambo died, during an NHRA-sanctioned “Wednesday Night Drags” program, on the drag strip at Sonoma Raceway. He was 75 years old.
- According to The Sacramento Bee, Rambo’s 1976 Ford Pinto jerked left at the end of the strip, hit a wall and careened across the track into the grass.
- A spokesperson for Sonoma Raceway issued the following statement: “The participant was racing his 1976 Ford Pinto in the Wednesday Night Drags program on the facility’s quarter-mile drag strip. The accident occurred at approximately 6:15 p.m. He was the only racer on track at the time. This is the first on-track fatality in the 30-year history of the Wednesday Night Drags program.”
- Ricardo Barahona (April 22)
- A native of El Salvador, Ricardo Barahona was killed in a wreck on a drag strip in Guatemala.
- During a round of the Guatemala National Acceleration Championship at Guatemala Raceway, Barahona’s car crashed at full speed into a wall on the driver’s side and rolled over. He was killed instantly.
- The cause of the wreck was, reportedly, a brake failure.
- John Robert Blackshear (May 5)
- John Robert Blackshear succumbed to injuries sustained in a drag racing event in Abilene, Texas. He was 52 years old.
- His car lost control after crossing the finish line at Big Country Raceway, went airborne and wrecked.
- Randy Alexander (May 5)
- Randy Alexander died from injuries sustained in a wreck in an NHRA event north of Atlanta. He was 69 years old.
- According to Autoweek.com, shortly after crossing the finish line, the Harvest, Alabama native lost control of his car and veered into the lane of Bob Mandell. He t-boned Alexander, which sent his car tumbling into a
guard railin the shutdown area of Atlanta Dragway.
- Mandell climbed out of his car unassisted.
- Alexander was rushed to a local
hospital,but passed away.
- José Ramon Fonseca (June 23)
- José Ramon Fonseca died of a heart attack, prior to the start of a
hillclimbrace in Spain. He was 60 years old.
- José Ramon Fonseca died of a heart attack, prior to the start of a
- Jason Johnson (June 24)
- Jason Johnson, the 2016 winner of the Knoxville Nationals, died of injuries from a World of Outlaws sprint car race the night prior in Wisconsin. He was 41 years old.
- According to SpeedSport.com, he and Daryn Pittman raced for the lead on the 18th lap of the Jim Boyd Memorial, when his car flipped multiple times entering Turn 3 at Beaver Dam Raceway. He was airlifted to Aurora Summit Hospital in Summit Wisconsin, where he passed away the next day.
- Billy Young (July 7)
- William “Billy” Young died of injuries caused by a wreck in a drag race in Indiana. He was 54 years old.
- According to Dragzine.com, his car crossed the centerline, past the finish line, and hit the guardrail, barrel-rolling down the track, before stopping outside the shutdown area. He was rushed to the
hospital,but passed away after admission.
- According to the Greene County Daily World, an autopsy done the next day confirmed the cause of death was blunt force trauma.
- Melissa Cothran (August 5)
- Melissa Gail Cochran succumbed to injuries sustained the night prior at a Tennessee dirt track. She was 43 years old.
- According to The (Columbia) Daily Herald, the Columbia, Tennessee native was involved in a mini-stock race at Thunderhill Raceway, in nearby Summertown. She lost control of her car and hit the wall.
- She was resuscitated on the spot and airlifted to Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville, where she died the next day.
- Don Lamacchia (August 19)
- Don Carlo Lamacchia died from injuries sustained in a wreck at an Illinois short track. He was 53 years old.
- According to the Belleville News-Democrat, he tried unsuccessfully to avoid an airborne car, which landed on top of his, during a race at Route 45 Raceway in Clay County, Illinois.
- It was the second death in six years at the recently re-opened track.
- Denis Derex (September 16)
- Denis Derex died during a touring car practice session at Circuit des Remparts à Angoulême in France.
- A sudden illness knocked him unconscious, and his car slammed the outside barrier in the tightest turn of the circuit. He was quickly extricated from the car and transported to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
- Jeff Hagaman (September 22)
- Charles Jeffrey Hagaman Sr. was killed in a wreck at a drag strip in Louisiana. He was 52 years old.
- According to The New Orleans Advocate, the Caldwell County, North Carolina native was turning laps on the drag strip at NOLA Motorsports Park in Avondale, Louisiana, when his car lost control and barrel-rolled several times.
- It’s the second death in the track’s history (first was a year ago).
- Kat Moller (November 15)
- Katrina “Kat” Moller died from injuries sustained in a wreck on the drag strip at Sebring Raceway. She was 24 years old.
- According to the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, “During the first of two scheduled exhibition runs, Moller’s dragster was observed drifting from the left lane towards the center line. As it crossed the center line during the run, the dragster struck a timing device located between lanes at the drag racing finish line. A parachute was observed to have deployed at or around this same time. As the dragster continued down the track, it drifted further right, scraping the right side retaining barrier wall before coming to rest after a low-speed impact with a tire barrier near Turn One on the race track.”
- The cause of death, according to the authorities, was likely caused by a piece of debris that hit her helmet.
It’s also worth noting that a spectator was killed, as a result of an on-track incident, this year.
Off the race track, those in the NASCAR world that passed away this year included Charlie Strang, James Hylton, longtime writer Tom Higgins and three-time Cup Series champion David Pearson.
If you want memorial gifts you can visit PersonalizedByKate.com