NASCAR Community Mourns

Sunday's tragic crash of a Hendrick Motorsports plane en route to Martinsville Speedway has sent shock waves through the NASCAR community and an all too familiar memory of previous lives lost through tragedies.

Although word of the crash didn't reach Martinsville Speedway until well after the start of Sunday's Subway 500, the initial news reported was that the plane had been missing.

NASCAR Vice President of Communications Jim Hunter told NBC's Bill Weber and a national television audience that the FAA had lost contact with the plane at approximately 12:30 p.m. (ET) and there were no further details.

Sadly less than an hour later, confirmed reports that the plane had crashed killing all ten of its passengers surfaced.

The Beech 200 King Air took off from Concord, N.C., and crashed in what is known as the Bull Mountain area seven miles from the Blue Ridge Regional Airport in Spencer, about seven miles away from the Martinsville Speedway.

Among the dead were team owner Rick Hendrick's son Ricky, younger brother John, nieces Kimberly and Jennifer and Randy Dorton, Hendrick Motorsports' engine builder.

Race winner Jimmie Johnson was ushered from his car along the the other Hendrick Motorsports drivers - Jeff Gordon, Brian Vickers and Terry Labonte - immediately after the race and told of the news. As word filtered through the garage area, members of all the Hendrick crews gathered on pit road in prayer.

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

Police were sent to block the entrance to the company's headquarters as hundreds of fans and mourners began to gather outside the complex.

The incident was an eery reminder of the 1993 aircraft accidents that claimed the lives of NASCAR dirvers Alan Kulwicki and Davey Allison. Kulwicki and others perished when their small plan went down on the way to a race at Bristol Motor Speedway. Allison was killed in a helicopter crash as he was leaving a test session at Talladega Superspeedway.

Team owner Rick Hendrick did not go to the Martinsville race because he wasn't feeling well. Obviously devastated, the team did release a statement Monday morning which asked "that those affected be kept in your thoughts and prayers, and respectfully requests that privacy be considered throughout this difficult time."

"I was hoping I'd never hear this," said Mark Martin upon learning the news. "I feel so bad it's unreal," said Martin, who lost his father, stepmother and half sister in a 1998 private plane crash.

Hendrick Motorsports has won nine total NASCAR championships including five Cup Series titles, two Craftsman Truck Series crowns and last year's Busch Series. This season Hendrick has celebrated its 20th year of NASCAR participation which has seen more than 100 career victories.

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