AMS: Race day tribute likely

By Michael Davis

A tribute to honor the victims of a weekend plane crash that killed several members of a popular NASCAR family is likely to be part of race weekend activities in Hampton, a spokeswoman for Atlanta Motor Speedway said Monday.

A plane belonging to racing dynasty Hendrick Motorsports crashed Sunday en route to a NASCAR race, killing all 10 people on board including the son, brother and two nieces of owner Rick Hendrick.

The news came one week away from the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 scheduled for Oct. 31 at AMS.

"I'm sure we'll have some sort of tribute or recognition for the victims of the crash," said AMS spokeswoman Angela Revell.

But as NASCAR fans, and the family of the victims, continue to mourn, no formal event had been planned as of Monday, she said.

"We're giving them a little time to see what they will want to do," Revell said.

She expected to be able to announce plans later this week.

The news came as Hendrick team member Jimmie Johnson celebrated his sixth race in this year's Nextel Cup series, a win at the Subway 500 in Martinsville, Va.

The plane went down seven miles from the Blue Ridge Regional Airport in Spencer, near the Martinsville Speedway, said Arlene Murray, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration.

AMS president Ed Clark recalled Monday being at the announcement of the creation of the Hendrick racing team more than 20 years ago. The team, which employs 460 workers, is headquartered in Charlotte, N.C.

"They've got some of the top drivers and this is a hard blow," he said. "When you're in our business, you expect accidents to happen on the track but when it's like this, it's certainly unexpected and it's a little harder to accept."

Ricky Hendrick, Rick Hendrick's son, was counted among the dead in the crash. The younger Hendrick began his racing career driving for his father. He retired in 2002 because of a racing-related shoulder injury.

"This was also the last place that Ricky Hendrick drove a race car," Clark said.

The accident "caught everybody off guard," said 31-year-old racecar driver Joey Clanton of Tyrone.

"You really don't know what to think," said Clanton, a Forest Park High School graduate who previously raced on the NASCAR Busch circuit and the Craftsman truck racing series.

Clanton met members of the Hendrick family and racing team before.

"Ricky was just a down to earth kid," Clanton said. "He loved racing and he loved life."

Chris Dilbeck of Hampton, an 18-year-old Legends car driver who just signed a contract to race on the ARCA circuit, shook hands with the Hendrickes before.

"They're super nice people," Dilbeck said.

Rick Hendrick's brother John Hendrick, also killed, served as president of Hendrick Motorsports. Dilbeck said that would be a big blow to the racing community.

"I don't know what will happen with the way (Hendrick Motorsports) runs their race team, but hopefully they'll go out there and win some more for them," Dilbeck said.

Another local racer, Doug Stevens of McDonough, also said the accident would have a big impact on the Hendrick team. He said members of the NASCAR community are having a tough time dealing with the accident as well.

"You never expect something like that to happen," Stevens said.

Airplane crashes have claimed the lives of other NASCAR drivers. In 1993, series drivers Davey Allison and Alan Kulwicki were killed in separate plane crashes.

Drivers and their crews park their aircraft at Clayton County's Tara Field near the racetrack, turning the small airport into "Air NASCAR," as AMS' Clark called it.

"These guys are in the air all the time," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.