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California 200 tragedy: Past race videos show spectators dangerously close to racing vehicles

August 15, 2010 | 11:49 am

Online videos of previous races of the California 200 show spectators standing dangerously close to the speeding off-road vehicles, with no concrete barriers separating them from the cars.

The California 200 race in the Mojave Desert was the scene of a tragedy Saturday when eight people died after an off-road vehicle slammed into a crowd about 7:48 p.m., just after dusk. Witnesses described a chaotic scene in which the victims had no chance to flee.

A video taken in August 2009 shows off-road vehicles speeding through the desert and becoming airborne a few yards away from a crowd of cheering spectators. A string with racing flags separates them from the vehicles' path. 

Another video shows orange netting separating spectators from the desert race route. Sometimes, spectators are just yards from the route, watching from both sides, as the vehicles hurdle over bumps on the desert floor.

One camera mounted on a racing vehicle shows drivers on a course that twists through large stretches of desert. The videos show that the event is a large, organized all-night affair, with many RVs stationed nearby and campfires burning. Spectators cheer when the vehicles make their laps. Other stretches of the route are desolate, with drivers passing by shrubs, small hills and boulders.

A flier for the all-night race, organized by South El Monte-based MDR Productions, said it was scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday,  taking drivers through four, 50-mile laps, with a maximum time limit of 7 1/2 hours. Awards were to have been given out at 10 a.m. Sunday. At least 87 drivers had registered for the race, and participants had to pay between $200 to $440 to register. 

Drivers and co-drivers needed to be at least 15 years of age. A minor release form on the website warns that the race involves "risks and dangers associated with participation in motorsport events and activities which could result in bodily injury, partial and/or total disability, paralysis and death," and another form requires a parent to consent to a minor receiving medical treatment to "relieve any injuries received" while participating or observing the event.

The route was to have taken racers in a curving loop around the Mojave Desert, beginning at Soggy Dry Lake and passing by Melville Lake and Galway Lake.

-- Rong-Gong Lin II


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