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The Callahan Report: VisionAire 500 Canceled after Three Spectator Deaths

2 May 1999

By Terry Callahan
The Auto Channel
CONCORD, N.C., - The VisionAire 500 Pep Boys Indy Racing League event was canceled Saturday night after three spectators suffered fatal injuries when debris from an on-track accident entered the Turn 4 grandstands at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

"We extend our sincerest condolences to the families and friends of the deceased and injured in the tragic incident during this evening's race," said Tony George, Indy Racing League founder. "Our prayers and sympathies are with them during this difficult time." Two of the three people killed have been identified. Randy D. Pyatte, 21, and Jeff Patton, no age available, both of Connelly Springs, were killed instantly.

The crash involved John Paul Jr., and Stan Wattles. The crash, which came on lap 61, also collected drive Scott Harrington. Suspension pieces from their cars flew into the stands. Eight other spectators were injured in the incident. Hailey McGee, age 9, of Conover, is in critical condition at an area hospital. She was flown to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte with bruises to her brain and lungs.

Saturday night's fatalities were the first spectator deaths in the short history of the Pep Boys Indy Racing League. Three spectators died at the Michigan 500 last summer in a similar incident. That race was ran to completion.

"My teammates and I are just full of sorrow," said Eddie Cheever, the winner of the '98 Indy 500. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the individuals and families. The decision to stop the race was the right one. We all leave Charlotte with extremely heavy hearts."

"Our hearts and prayers go out to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy," said Greg Ray, the polesitter for the race. "I think Humpy Wheeler and (track chairman) Bruton Smith are gentlemen in every sense of the word. They have a great love of motorsports, but they have an even greater love for family, and they did the right thing. It just shows what kind of gentlemen they truly are. I don't know what that means as far as the outcome of the race, but, frankly, I really don't care."

John Menard, team owner for Greg Ray's said, "This is not a victory, this is a tragedy. When something like that happens, nothing else matters. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the spectators who were involved, and to their families. We must hope for better days."

The race was halted on Lap 79, after a 17-lap caution period following the incident.