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Crash Kills Woman Racing at El Cajon

October 07, 1991|JOHN GEIS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

EL CAJON — For the second time in two years, tragedy struck the racing family of Arthur Hendrick of Chino.

Hendrick's daughter, Kara, 22, was killed in a crash during a U.S. Auto Club midget car race Saturday night at the Cajon Speedway. She was pronounced dead at 11:17 p.m. at Sharp Memorial Hospital in nearby San Diego. An autopsy Sunday found head injuries to be the cause of death.

Hendrick, who began racing at age 9 and had been doing so professionally for six years, was the most successful female driver in USAC history.

She finished second in the three-quarter midget point standings in 1989, the highest any women has attained. On Saturday in a preliminary heat, she set a course record, covering three-eighths of a mile in 15.75 seconds.

It was her debut at the Cajon Speedway, and the crash came in only her second day of racing after recuperating from surgery. She had a third of one of her kidneys removed in June after two tumors were found.

She knew of the inherent danger of the sport.

"People came up to me all the time and asked me how I could let my daughter race," Arthur Hendrick said. "I would tell them I'm doing everything I can to discourage her from racing. I would go up to her and say, 'Kara, I'm not going to give you any more money for your car.' But she would go out and get it from sponsors.

"She's up there right now looking down and saying, 'Dad, you were right. It is dangerous, but I still want to drive.' "

The family asked that no flowers be sent but instead donations be made to the Miami Project for paralysis, a favorite charity of Kara's.

In 1989, Kara's brother, Danny, 25, was paralyzed from the neck down in an industrial accident.

"It was a terrible, terrible accident," said Renee Hendrick, Kara and Danny's mother. At the time both Renee and Arthur were out of town. "But Kara took on a maturity that everyone was so proud of. Everyone raved about how mature Kara handled such a tragic situation. She was with him so much, she would get kicked out of his room. But she would sneak back in and sleep in the bed next to his. She fed him. She put a smile on his face. She sneaked Danny out of the hospital and took him to car races, even after they threatened to kick Danny out of the hospital if he left again. She did it because she knew it made her brother happy."

Danny and Renee witnessed the crash Saturday night.

Kara Hendrick was driving a newly purchased four-cylinder Beast midget chassis. As she entered the third turn of the fourth or fifth lap, witnesses said, her car crashed into and vaulted over a car being driven by Sepulveda's Ricky Gray.

After the collision, Hendrick's car flipped over several times before it collided with the retaining wall. The car was inverted and backward when its cage hit the wall.

It then bounded into the air and hit a pole before landing upside down on the concrete, witnesses said.

Gray was brought to Grossmont Hospital in La Mesa and was released at 12:30. A hospital spokesman said he suffered no injuries.

The race was won by one of Kara's best friends, Page Jones, 25, of Rolling Hills.

Race officials estimated Hendrick was going more than 80 m.p.h. when her car hit the wall.

It was the second driving fatality since the Cajon Speedway opened in 1961, according to Bob Gardner, who handles public relations for the track. The first occurred in 1977, when driver Ted Kallos was killed during a stock car race. That same year, two people in the pit area were killed when a car went out of control and over the crash wall.

Kara Hendrick is survived by her father, her mother, her older brother and her twin brother, Kenny.

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