GRAND PRAIRIE (CBSDFW.COM) - One person is dead after a crash at a Grand Prairie drag strip. Investigators were at the Yello Belly Drag Strip from about 11:00 p.m. Thursday night until almost sunrise on Friday.
Early Friday morning, a spokesperson with the Dallas County Sheriff's Department could only confirm that a man in his 20s was killed. Later in the morning, the Dallas County Medical Examiner identified the driver as Blake Hardin Williams of Burleson.
The 23-year-old man was married, and his wife and children were among the spectators when the crash happened.
Williams was racing in an '80s model Thunderbird. Early Friday morning, the vehicle was still at the site -- blackened with its roof completely smashed in. His opponent for the short-distance race was driving a Mustang.
"It's hard hitting. It's a personal blow, not just to me but to the racing community," said witness and racing enthusiast Allen Roberson Jr.
Grand Prairie police and sheriff's department investigators said that the cars had crossed the finish line when the driver of the Mustang lost control and crashed into the Thunderbird. As a result, Williams ran off the track, smashed into a tree and his car exploded. He was ejected from the car.
The Yello Belly Drag Strip has been open for more than 50 years and is a legal alternative to street racing. It is only open on Thursdays and Sundays.
CBS11 looked into regulations and learned Yello Belly did not have a license to operate when the crash happened. The fire marshal began overseeing businesses such as this last year. The owner has since applied for a license, but civil charges could be filed in this case.
Roberson Jr. explained that the owners of the track have worked to make it safer, and have made improvements over the years. "There are now more sanctions. We have what's called a Christmas tree at the starting line," he said. "The track is glued down, so we put what's called VHT from the beginning to the end of track -- to where it's more sticky. Basically, it's tire glue or rubber cement. It helps the cars stay on the track better and not slide so much."
Roberson and other regulars at the 1/8-mile long track said that speeds can top 150 mph in just seconds and, while wrecks do happen, severe or deadly crashes are rare. "Most of the time, if you have an accident out here or at a lot of drag strips that I know of... it's just the car. The car is injured and then the driver or motorcyclist they get up and they walk away."
The driver of the Mustang also ran into a tree and was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries. He is expected to be okay. Authorities are treating this as an accident and do not expect to file any charges. "People get a little loose sometimes," said Roberson, "but I haven't seen an accident in the last couple of months, at least."
Witnesses at the track said that Williams was not new to racing and was well-known around the racing community, but that his car did not have a roll cage. A fundraising effort is underway to help out the driver's family, and has already received more than $4,000 in donations.
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