Flying tire kills spectator in stands at Firebird International Raceway


by Catherine Holland

Posted on February 21, 2010 at 5:17 PM

Updated Thursday, Feb 25 at 4:19 PM

CHANDLER -- A woman from Wisconsin sitting in the stands at Firebird International Raceway was struck and killed by a flying tire after wreck during Sunday's NHRA races.

Alia Maisonet, a spokeswoman for the Gila River Reservation on which the race track is located, confirmed the female fan died from her injuries. She has been identified as Sue Zimmer, who lived near Eau Claire.

Top Fuel driver Antron Brown lost control of his dragster during a first-round race. The car crossed the center lane and hit the retaining wall, smashing it to pieces and sending debris flying everywhere.

Fans described a chaotic scene.

“I saw the fire come down into the stands,” said Anthony Bailey. “I saw some other parts come into the stands, too. After that, it was a lot of panic. There were a lot people running around, not knowing what to do.”

Witnesses say the area where the woman was struck was fenced off for about an hour for clean-up.

The woman was air-lifted to Good Samaritan Medical Center where she was pronounced dead. Her name and age were not immediately available Sunday night.

Brown was taken to Chandler regional Hospital for observation. He is expected to be just fine.

"It all happened so quickly and I want to thank the NHRA Safety Safari for being there so quickly to help get me out of the car and also the track medical team for tending to me so quickly,” said Brown in a statement released by his team, Don Schumacher Racing.

While the incident is under investigation, races did resume not long after the accident once the weather had cleared.

"You hate to see anyone get hurt," said spectator James Baker. "Everyone is just there to have a good time, it just makes you sick."

Firebird International Raceway released a statement about the incident Monday morning.

"Firebird International Raceway is deeply saddened by yesterday's incident. Out of respect for the victim's family, we will not be releasing information regarding her identity."

The National Hot Rod Association issued the following statement on Monday afternoon:

"The entire NHRA community is mourning over the tragedy that occurred on Sunday in Phoenix. Our hearts, our prayers and our deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of the woman who passed away. The woman's name has not been released to protect the privacy of her family.

Safety is NHRA's top priority, for not only our racers, but the millions of fans who attend events around the country. The set of circumstances that led to Sunday's tragedy is being investigated by NHRA and the race team.

We ask everyone to keep the family in their thoughts and prayers."