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Fatal drag racing crash leads to questions about safety

2 children were killed when a car slammed into spectators, and the question will be: was this preventable?

As the Kerrville Police Department investigates the deadly drag racing crash that killed two small boys on Saturday, there are plenty of questions to be asked about how the management of Race Wars 2, especially when it comes to safety.

On Saturday, a 34-year-old driver lost control of a Ford Mustang. He veered across the 1/8-mile course at Kerrville-Kerr County Airport and into an unprotected section of spectators. He struck approximately 10 people, killing a six-year-old boy, who died at the scene, and an eight-year-old boy, who later died at Peterson Regional Medical Center.

The crash happened when racers hit their top speeds, but there were no barriers in this area of the course to protect spectators. The first iteration of the race, which drew more approximately 3,000 in March, had no hard barriers between the cars and fans, separated by distance and temporary fencing.

There will be plenty of questions asked about whether the crash was preventable.

However, the first race proved to be a huge success, and the second gained enthusiastic support from Kerr County Commissioners Court, the Kerrville City Council and the Kerrville-Kerr County Airport's board of directors. The city and county jointly own the airport.

Photographer Tony Gallucci captured the incident as it happened. The car had run throughout the day by the time the crash happened at about 3:30 p.m. The car was distinctive because it had "Section Eight" written across the front and "Assman" on the license plate.

The 34-year-old driver was one of those critically injured and was flown by helicopter to San Antonio for treatment.

Outside of his initial public comments acknowledging an accident in the moments after the crash, Flyin' Diesel owner Ross Dunagan has made no public comments and could not be reached for comment on this story.

The car that was involved in the accident during an earlier run down the 1/8-mile track.


Safety barriers ended at the finish line — as racers hit their top speeds.

In September, Flyin' Diesel Performance owner Ross Dunagan, who promoted the event, was available to answer any Kerr County Commissioners Court questions about potential issues. With the assistance of Kerrville-Kerr County Airport Director Mary Rohrer, Dunagan presented a detailed plan about managing the event, but some specifics were missing.

The biggest one was explaining the use of "Jersey Barriers," a rigid plastic barrier filled with water to stop cars from going into the crowd. They are frequently used in road construction or to manage pedestrian traffic. The document said the Jersey barriers would line both sides of the "racecourse." The 1/8-mile (660 feet) course was on an auxiliary runway, but the barriers stopped at the finish line, where cars and trucks traveled as fast as 100 MPH. There were zero barriers in what racers call the "shutdown" area, where racers slowed down to make the turn back to the pits located on the east side of the course.

Depending on the length, the Jersey barriers can weigh more than 1,000 pounds when filled with water. The barriers come in lengths ranging from 6 to 10 feet. To purchase a new barrier is about $300 per unit. So, it can be a pricey proposition.

However, most of the concerns about the event were from the impact on the airport by the Texas Department of Transportations Airport division. After the first Race Wars in March, organizers answered several questions and explained how non-aeronautical events would impact the airport from TxDot.

In the plan, Race Wars assured there would be repairs to the asphalt runway and that leaking fluids, or oil downs, would be quickly cleaned up.

When Race Wars 2 was brought before the court, none of the Commissioners asked questions about safety. Judge Rob Kelly provided this assessment:

"And for those of you that don't remember, when we did this last year, Ross had originally came to me and wanted — we had to have a County Court approval at that point, and wanted approval and I was concerned that we didn't have enough safety measures in place, social distancing, and all of the COVID protocol," Kelly said during the Sept. 13 meeting. "And he asked to come talk to me and we sat down around that round table in my office and he said what do we need? And Dub and I sat there and said well, we'd like to see this, we'd like to see that, we'd like — and we went through a list of about half a dozen things and agreed to all of them. And so I'm just telling you that he's made a very — it's been a very mutually beneficial relationship."

It does not appear that the Kerrville City Council had a formal presentation on the event, or needed to approve it even though the city jointly owns the airport with the county.


The one thing that was clear about the day was plenty of public safety workers at the event. Volunteer firefighters from Mountain Home and Ingram were on hand. There was a significant presence of Kerrville Police and Fire. A medical helicopter was stationed nearby. So when the crash happened, there were multiple first responders to assist.


Car racing is inherently dangerous for everyone involved. Earlier this year, races in Hunt County and near El Paso had fatalities. In the El Paso case, a car went into spectators, killing a 21-year-old man. In the Hunt County case, a 17-year-old driver died after a fiery crash.

In order to protect itself, along with the city, county and airport, Flyin' Diesel had all spectators sign a release of liability before entering the event. Since it required signing before entry, organizers had to drive out with all-terrain vehicles to distribute the forms to those waiting in line. That exercise helped back up traffic to Texas 27.

Just how much legal cover the release of liability gives Flyin' Diesel, the city of Kerrville, Kerr County and the airport is unclear.


Since this was basically a street car event, or "run what you brung," the tech area ensured the racers met basic safety and cars weren't leaking fluids. There are no consistent standards when it comes to safety in street car classes. The National Hot Rod Association, which sanctions events, makes suggestions on street cars, and other tracks and events can have their own rules. Most of the cars were modified for drag racing, but some were not. One racer drove in a convertible without a helmet. As an example, Houston Raceway Park forbids convertible drivers from racing without a helmet.


Racing fans love to be close to the action, and without physical barriers, like fencing or walls, they will test the limits. It has proven deadly in other motorsports events through the years. There are wide-open spaces between the crowd and the cars at most drag racing facilities, including in San Antonio, but they also have grandstands. The stands give the advantage of elevation because the further back you go, the harder it is to see the action. During the day, the announcers reminded people to stay away from the barriers.


If 3,000 people paid their way into the event, the math is simple — $60,000 in revenue. There were other revenue streams for the organizers, but this was an expensive event to put on. To have added another 500- to 600-feet of barriers probably would have wiped out any profit from the event. We found barrier rentals ranging from $100 to $300 per unit. Adding portable stands would have been another huge expense, stripping out some of the intimacy that the event was promoting. Remember, this was like a drive-in movie atmosphere. People who got there early could back their vehicles up and sit in the backs of trucks.


The Kerrville Police Department is handling the investigation. They interviewed eyewitnesses who saw a Ford Mustang lose control at the top end before smashing into the crowd approximately 75 feet from the finish line. Police received at least one video, and photographer Tony Gallucci captured the images of the car crossing over and into the crowd. The timeline for the investigation's findings is unclear.


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