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Brake failure blamed in W.Va. auto race death

May 17, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

SUMMIT POINT, W.Va. - Brake failure may have caused a Jaguar topping 100 mph to run off the track at Summit Point Raceway in an accident that claimed the life of the driver Sunday, track officials said Monday.

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Ray Kennedy, 52, of Hilton Head, S.C., was pronounced dead at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va., according to a hospital spokeswoman.

Kennedy, driving a Jaguar E-Type, was competing in the Briggs Cunningham Cup endurance race for pre-1966 sports and racing cars. The race, with about 30 cars participating, was one of six at the track during Brian Redman's Jefferson 500, a weekend of vintage-automobile races.

The two-hour endurance race was broken into two days, with the first hour run on Saturday and the second on Sunday.

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Redman, whose company leases the track for the Jefferson 500, had driven Kennedy's car for about 25 minutes before turning over the wheel to Kennedy during a mandatory pit stop.

Redman said Kennedy's Jaguar handled "extremely good" while he was driving.

Kennedy was making his first lap, coming down the main straightaway into the near-hairpin Turn 1, when he essentially experienced "zero braking," Scott said.

Redman said the car was probably hitting about 140 mph on the straightaway when the 4 p.m. crash occurred.

"He was going so fast I was almost certain it was brake failure. He apparently slowed very little," said Redman.

The car went off the track, struck or went over a gravel pit designed to slow down cars, and traveled another 80 to 90 feet before stopping, according to Scott and Redman.

Scott said the car struck an embankment, but Redman said it is possible that the car went over the hill.

Kennedy, who had neck injuries, initially was taken to Jefferson Memorial Hospital before being flown to Inova Fairfax, said Scott.

Kennedy's wife, Beverly, was at the track when the accident occurred, Redman said.

A contractor, Kennedy built custom homes in the Hilton Head area, said Redman.

Kennedy had been racing for about five years and was a talented racer, said Redman.

Redman is prominent in long-distance racing circles. During his career as a long-distance racer, he won most major sports car endurance events except Le Mans and was a member of the Porsche Factory Team. His wins have come at such tracks as Daytona and Sebring, according to his Web site.

Summit Point, a 10-turn, two-mile asphalt track in southern Jefferson County, combines slow and fast turns with elevations.

The last racing death at the track was in May 1997, also during the Jefferson 500. In that accident, driver John Legat was attempting to pass another car when he lost control of his 1974 Porsche in a curve and struck a tree, splitting his car in half.

In May 1994, a Virginia man lost control of his motorcycle during a practice run.

In July 1993, a Midlothian, Va., man died after the wheels of his Club Ford became entangled with another car during a practice run.

Although safety in racing has increased, fatalities go with the sport, Scott said.

"It will not get to the point where you eliminate all risks," he said.

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