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NASCAR mourns as NTSB investigation begins

One of auto racing's most successful
dynasties was in mourning after a plane owned by Hendrick
Motorsports crashed in thick fog en route to a NASCAR race, killing
all 10 people aboard, including the son, brother and two nieces of
owner Rick Hendrick.

Federal investigators said they did not know what caused the
Beech 200 King Air to crash Sunday en route from Concord, N.C., to
Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, about seven miles east of the crash site on
Bull Mountain in the foothills of the Appalachians.

Crews on all-terrain vehicles on
Monday recovered the bodies of all 10 people killed in the crash of
a Hendrick Motorsports plane that was carrying family and friends
of one of NASCAR's top syndicates.

A bulldozer cleared a path to the crash site so ATVs could
recover the bodies.

"The only method we have of getting up to the scene is on ATVs,
all terrain vehicles, so it's a tedious and slow process," State
Police Sgt. Rob Carpentier said.

The plane slammed into the side of the mountain and its wreckage
was blown uphill, said Brian Rayner, a National Transportation
Safety Board investigator. Charred debris from the fuselage, engine
and other parts was visible, he said.

Rayner said the plane missed its first landing attempt at Blue
Ridge Airport before veering off course and smashing into the
mountain.

There was no flight data record, cockpit voice recorder or
ground proximity monitoring system on the plane, so investigators
will try to piece together what happened from the wreckage, radar
data and communications between the pilot and the airport, Rayner
said.

The crash happened in rough, hard-to-reach terrain in weather described as
"extremely foggy" by Dale Greeson, who lives about a mile from
the site.

Hendrick driver Jimmie Johnson's victory celebration after the
Subway 500 in Martinsville was halted as news of the deaths
filtered through the Hendrick team, which also includes drivers
Jeff Gordon, Terry Labonte and Brian Vickers.

Rick Hendrick, 55, did not go to the race because he wasn't feeling
well, a team spokesman said.

It was the second major plane accident in
less than a week: On Tuesday, 13 people died and two were injured
when a commuter plane crashed and burned near Kirksville, Mo. Many
of the passengers were doctors and other medical professionals
heading to a conference.


The plane involved in the 2001 crash that killed two Oklahoma State basketball players and eight other men also was a Beechcraft King Air 200. The aircraft involved in golfer Payne Stewart's death -- five years ago Monday: Oct. 25, 1999 -- was a Learjet.

Hendrick employs 460 workers at its Charlotte, N.C., compound,
which includes race shops and a 15,000-square-foot museum and team
store. Flowers were placed on shrubs leading into the compound, and
a chaplain met with Hendrick employees for a prayer service.
Counselors also were available for workers.

"It's just very tough," said Donnie Floyd, an employee of
Hendrick who placed a bouquet of flowers outside the headquarters. "We are like one big family."

The crash came on what was to be a triumphant day for the
company, with Johnson winning his series-best sixth race and Gordon
rallying from a poor start to finish ninth and move into second
place in the championship standings.

NASCAR officials learned of the accident during the Subway 500
but withheld the news from the Hendrick drivers until afterward,
NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said.

Drivers reacted with an all-too-familiar sadness.


"This is obviously a tragedy for the Hendrick family as well as
the NASCAR family," veteran Nextel Cup driver Michael Waltrip
said Monday.

It was the worst team tragedy in NASCAR history and worst
aviation incident in stock car racing since two separate crashes
in 1993 took the lives of Winston Cup champion Alan Kulwicki
and veteran Davey Allison, one of the most popular drivers in
the sport.

"We are all family in this garage," said Greg Sacks,
owner-driver for Daytona Speed, Inc. "You spend so much time
together and so many people end up working together and some
point or another, you just get to be that way. A single loss is
incredibly hard, but to lose 10 friends like this is just
devastating."

"I was hoping I'd never hear this," NASCAR driver Mark Martin
told the Speed Channel 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, also a pilot, said he considered the
airports in Talladega, Ala., and Martinsville the two most
dangerous facilities to fly into for races.


"I think everybody in the sport is in shock right now," said
John Andretti, a driver for ppc racing and nephew of legendary
driver Mario Andretti. "We lost a lot of talented people, but we
also lost a lot of really good people. This obviously affects
Hendrick Motorsports, but it affects all of us in motorsports
when good people with great talents are taken away from you."

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

The team has more than 100 Cup series wins, making Rick Hendrick
just the second team owner in NASCAR's modern era to surpass that
mark. He's also viewed as a pioneer for beginning the movement to
multicar teams in the 1990s.


"The Hendrick team has been instrumental in the growth and
success of the sport and we are all saddened by this tragic
incident," Daytona International Speedway president Robin Braig
said in a statement.

"We spend so much time together during the year that when a
tragedy like this strikes, it hits deep and it hits hard because
we are so close to one another," said Richard Childress,
president and CEO of Richard Childress Racing. "We are like
family, and our thoughts and prayers go out to Rick and all of
the families who have lost loved ones."

Hendrick Motorsports identified the dead as: Ricky Hendrick,
Rick Hendrick's son; John Hendrick, Rick Hendrick's brother and
president of Hendrick Motorsports; Kimberly and Jennifer Hendrick,
John Hendrick's 22-year-old twin daughters; Joe Jackson, an
executive with DuPont, which sponsors 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 Richard Tracy and Elizabeth Morrison.

Ricky Hendrick began his career driving a Busch car for his
father, but retired in 2002 because of a racing-related shoulder
injury. His father then made him the owner of the Busch car Vickers
drove to the series championship last season, and was grooming him
for a larger role.


TV audiences might recognize Dorton from his commercials -- with Rick Hendrick -- for Quaker State oil.

Rick Hendrick pleaded guilty in 1997 to a single count of mail
fraud involving the payment of $20,000 to a Honda executive. He was
fined $250,000, but avoided jail time because he was battling a
near-fatal case of leukemia. He was later pardoned by then
President Clinton.

Joe McGovern, a racing fan from Concord, N.C., drove by the
team's compound to pay his respects. "It's just devastating," he
said. "This was just a great racing team, and they are also such
nice people."

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