Authorities said there were few limits on how close crowds could be as off-road racers zoomed by at Saturday's deadly California 200 race that saw eight spectators perish when a prerunner-type Ford Ranger truck flipped into the audience.
” … There are no delineations to where the track begins and where the track ends at this point,” California Highway Patrol spokesman Joaquin Zubieta told CNN.
The organizer of the event, South El Monte-based Mojave Desert Racing, warned spectators to stay 100 feet away from the dirt course.
But because it's a dirt track in the desert wild — a swath of dry land controlled by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management — there's little to keep people from trying to get a look at the most thrilling aspects of the race, including the “rock pile” jump that apparently launched the Ford off course shortly before 8 p.m. Saturday.
The New York Times notes that only snow fencing is used at the start and finish of the race to keep spectators at a safe distance.
The thrill of watching racers up close recalls Baja 1000 competitions and even rally racing, which has seen plenty of tragedy on its own. (The Italian Mille Miglia was essentially canceled after a 1957 crash took the lives of nine spectators, including five children, and two drivers). But the danger is far from what's tolerated at other spectator sports.
“If our sport even survives this incident, it will be under heavy scrutiny and more tightly managed, and there are going to be some measures taken,” Wayne Nosala, desert racer and regional director for legislation for the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, told the Times.
Meanwhile the race promoter stated on its site late Saturday that it “offers its sincere condolences and prayers to all those affected by the incident in Lucerne Valley. We would like to thank all those indiviuals who helped at the scene.”
The driver of the doomed pickup, Brett M. Sloppy of San Marcos in San Diego County, made a statement on his Facebook page: “Soo incredibly lost and devistated my thoughts and prayers go out to all the familys and friends involved.. Thank you too all my friends for sticking with me even thru these tragic times I love you all.”
The deceased were identified as Zachary Freeman, 24, of Fillmore; Dustin Malson, 24, of Ventura; Brian Wolfin, 27, Anthony Sanchez, 23, and Aaron Farkas, 25, all of Escondido; Danica Frantzich, 20, of Las Vegas; and Andrew Therrin, 22, of Riverside. And eighth victim had yet to be identified.