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Sadness strikes at Willamette Speedway

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Sadness strikes at Willamette Speedway
Apr 26, 2001, 11:45 PM

Driver dies after crash at speedway By Jennifer Moody Mid-Valley Sunday LEBANON (Oregon)- A Willamette Speedway driver died Friday when his car spun out of control at the track, smashing broadside into a barrier. Gordon Lemons, 54, of Aurora was ...

Driver dies after crash at speedway
By Jennifer Moody
Mid-Valley Sunday

LEBANON (Oregon)- A Willamette Speedway driver died Friday when his car spun out of control at the track, smashing broadside into a barrier. Gordon Lemons, 54, of Aurora was pronounced dead at Lebanon Community Hospital, shortly after the wreck, which occurred about 5 p.m.

The collision took place during time trials, in which cars race one at a time against the clock to qualify for the later race. Drivers take a warmup lap, then two "hot laps" for times.

Lemon, driving an Outlaw Late Model, was in the middle of a hot lap when his car brushed against a wall on a turn and spun out of control on the southeast corner. Linn County Sheriff Dave Burright said a witness estimated his speed at between 60 and 70 mph.

The driver's side of the car smashed into a barrier made of tires filled with cement. The barrier walls off the infield of the speedway.

Burright said Lemons was securely belted at the time of the crash.

Paramedics worked on Lemons for about 20 minutes before he was taken away by ambulance. A hospital official said he died of head injuries on the way to the hospital.

Speedway officials refused to comment on the wreck, saying only that the drivers voted to keep racing that evening.

Jack Marontate of Newberg, who has been racing at the speedway for 20 years, said officials gathered all the drivers together and asked them their preferences. Many said they felt Lemons would want the race to go on. Officials decided the race would continue but no points would be awarded, allowing drivers the option to head home.

Marontate, a driver in the same division who completed his time trial shortly before Lemons, said he chose not to race and headed home. He said he had been having a problem with his car anyway, and after the announcement of Lemons' death, he didn't feel much like racing.

"It was awfully quiet on the track while they were working on him," said Marontate, speaking from his car phone on his way home to Newberg. "I've never heard that track so quiet when there's so many cars on the track. It was kind of eerie."

After talking with drivers, officials announced to the audience that the crash had been fatal. People don't turn out in large numbers for the time trials, Marontate said, so the stands were not at capacity.

Lemons was a relative newcomer to the speedway, Marontate said. His racing experience was not known.

The body was taken to Huston-Jost Funeral Home, then Simon Funeral Home in Woodburn. Burright said the investigation is continuing.

It was the second race of the season for the speedway and, according to Marontate and other speedway veterans, may be its first on-track fatality.

Clair and Evelyn Arnold built the track in 1965 and have operated it ever since. It has the reputation of having the largest car count of any short track on the West Coast and usually attracts about 100 drivers and some 3,000 fans per race.

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