Team owner loses son, brother, two nieces

Updated: October 26, 2004, 1:12 AM ET news services

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- A Hendrick Motorsports plane crashed Sunday on its way to a NASCAR race, killing all 10 people aboard, including the son, brother and two nieces of the owner of one of auto racing's most successful organizations.

The Beech 200 King Air took off from Concord, N.C., and crashed in the Bull Mountain area seven miles from Martinsville's Blue Ridge Regional Airport about 12:30 p.m., said Arlene Murray, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

The dead included the four relatives of Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports, said Harry Litten, a spokesman for Moody Funeral Service, where the bodies were being taken. He said Virginia state police gave him a list of the people aboard the plane.

Virginia State Trooper J.D. Byrd said there was heavy fog in the area when the crash happened, but there was no immediate information on what caused the plane to go down. NTSB spokesman Keith Holloway said investigators were on their way to the site, which was in rough terrain, and would begin their investigation Monday.

National Transportation Safety Board investigators were to begin their investigation Monday.

It was "extremely foggy" in the area of the crash Sunday, said Dale Greeson, who lives about a mile from where the plane went down. He said he heard what sounded like a small plane circling overhead around the time of the crash, but did not hear the crash itself.

The pilot had been given instructions to land at Martinsville but asked to do a "missed approach" or abort the landing, FAA spokeswoman Marcia Adams said.

"He received directions for the missed approach from a controller. After those directions were given he never regained contact with the pilot," said Adams. "They crashed into a mountainous, wooded area."

Hendrick owns the teams of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Terry Labonte and Brian Vickers, who raced Sunday in the Subway 500 in the Nextel Cup Series at Martinsville Speedway.

Pit Crew
Members of Jimmie Johnson's winning pit crew pray Sunday after learning an airplane from their Hendrick organization crashed.

NASCAR learned of the plane's disappearance during the race but withheld the news from the Hendrick drivers until afterward, NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said. The Hendrick drivers were then summoned to the NASCAR hauler, and Johnson, who won, was excused from Victory Lane.

"Hendrick Motorsports asks that those affected be kept in your thoughts and prayers, and respectfully requests that privacy be considered throughout this difficult time," the company said in a statement released late Sunday.

NASCAR had spoken with Rick Hendrick, who a team spokesman said did not travel to Martinsville for the race because he wasn't feeling well.

"We're working very closely with members of the Hendrick organization," Hunter said. "We're just saying extra prayers right now."

"I was hoping I'd never hear this," Mark Martin, a driver for Roush Racing, told the Speed Network after the race. Martin's father, stepmother and half sister died in 1998 when a private plane his father was piloting crashed in Nevada.

"I just feel so bad it's unreal," said Martin, himself a pilot.

Driver Rusty Wallace, who is also a pilot, told reporters after the race: "Talladega and this place are the two most dangerous approaches on the circuit. I feel bad that this happened, maybe the states will fix something. ... We all feel like we have professional aviation groups, but obviously something went majorly wrong."

Hendrick had been on a season-long celebration of its 20th anniversary in NASCAR's top series. The organization has won five of the series' top titles, three truck series titles, and one Busch series crown.

The team has more than 100 Cup series wins, making Hendrick just the second team owner in NASCAR's modern era to surpass that mark.

Hendrick late Sunday identified the dead as: Ricky Hendrick, Rick Hendrick's 24-year-old son and a retired NASCAR driver; John Hendrick, Rick Hendrick's brother and president of the organization; Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick, John Hendrick's 22-year-old twin daughters; Joe Jackson, an executive with DuPont, sponsor of Gordon's car; Jeff Turner, general manager of Hendrick Motorsports; Randy Dorton, the team's chief engine builder; Scott Lathram, a pilot for NASCAR driver Tony Stewart; and pilots Dick Tracy and Liz Morrison.

Rick Hendrick recently began grooming Ricky Hendrick for a larger role with the company.

Ricky began his career driving a Busch car for his father, but retired in 2002 because of a shoulder injury caused by a racing accident. His father then made him the owner of the Busch car Vickers drove to the series championship last season, and that Kyle Busch currently drives.

Hendrick employs more than 400 workers at the Charlotte, N.C.-based Motorsports compound, which includes race shops and a 15,000-square-foot museum and team store.

Deputies barricaded the entrance to the Hendrick shop in Charlotte, allowing only team employees to enter the compound. Twenty or so people could be seen in the parking lot inside.

A small bouquet of flowers had been placed at the entrance gate.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.