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'It's just sad' says Pondella of horrific off-road truck race [Updated]

Racing: Glendale resident was taking part in California 200 as tragedy struck, killing eight people, injuring even more.

August 18, 2010|By Gabriel Rizk,
(Raul Roa/News-Press )

GLENDALE — When George Pondella first heard the news that there had been a serious accident involving spectator fatalities at the California 200 off-road desert race in the Lucerne Valley on Saturday evening, his thoughts immediately went to the group of his loved ones that were lining his own race team's pit area miles away from where he and dozens of fellow racers were being held up at a checkpoint waiting for more information.

"We had seven people who went up there to watch and take pictures and all I could think about were them," said Pondella, owner of Glendale-based Pondella Motorsports, whose own 800-horespower Duralast trophy truck was speeding along about 25 miles down the course from where a horrific scene of pandemonium was breaking out. "I had chills down my spine when I heard people were hurt and there was no way to radio out."

After an agonizing wait of about two hours, Pondella enlisted the assistance of a ham-radio operator to make contact with his pit and got confirmation no one in his party was among the eight killed and 10 more injured when the modified Ford Ranger pickup driven by Brett Sloppy of San Marcos careened out of control over a rock formation, off the race course and into a crowd of nearby onlookers.


"You can breathe a sigh of relief there; at least nobody in your direct family or pits got hurt out there," said Pondella, a Glendale resident. "It's just scary, it was just hard.

"We had a bunch of people that went up [to the scene of the accident] and helped push the car over and were traumatized and came back to camp and were white in the face and sick."

Pondella has competed in events promoted by Mojave Desert Racing, which staged Saturday's California 200, since 2009 and is often accompanied at the nighttime races by members of his family — his own daughters, who are in their 20s, have taken the wheel of his truck for laps in similar races — not to mention the large pit crew that consists of some of his closest friends.

Saturday's race was an especially heavily attended one for the series, Pondella said, because, in addition to the unlimited-modification 100 class of which Pondella's vehicle is part of, it was also open to smaller, lighter horsepower 1400 and 1450-class vehicles like the one driven by Sloppy.

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