Martinsville Speedway president Clay Campbell was uninjured in the crash of a private aircraft early Sunday morning at Blue Ridge Regional Airport in Henry County, Va., near Martinsville.
Campbell and five pit crew members were returning from a NASCAR K&N Pro Series East race he competed in the previous evening. The grandson of Martinsville Speedway founder H. Clay Earles is listed as co-owner of the aircraft, which experienced problems during landing. None of the seven occupants – the pilot and six passengers -- were injured.
“I raced in a K&N Pro Series East race in Columbus, Ohio, earlier that evening, and we were heading home,” said Campbell. “The weather wasn’t idea, but it wasn’t that much of a problem, either. I didn’t fly the plane myself, because I was tired. I never fly after running a race, I always bring a pilot along.
“On our first approach, the weather was bad enough that we came in too high to land,” he said. “We aborted that landing and on our second approach, it seemed like everything was fine. We were focused pretty intently on finding the runway, and were able to spot the lights and come on down.
“Once we got down, had the wheels been where they needed to be, it would have been a perfect landing,” he said. “Unfortunately, they weren’t. We hit pretty hard, and when the propeller struck the ground, we found ourselves in the middle of a shower of sparks and flames. We went for a couple thousand foot slide and eventually slid off the runway into the wet, muddy grass. It actually helped slow us down, and eventually, we ground to a stop.
“We checked to make sure everyone was unhurt, then shut the engine down, turned the fuel off and walked away from it,” said Campbell. “Airplanes can be fixed, human life is different.”
Campbell said he is still unsure why the landing gear was not in place. “Numerous things were happening all at once,” he said. “I was pretty busy looking for runway lights, so I honestly don’t know if (the problem) was human error or a mechanical malfunction. Once we hit the ground, we obviously knew things were not the way they needed to be.”
Blue Ridge Regional Airport was the destination of the Hendrick Motorsports Beechcraft Super King Air 200 that crashed into Bull Mountain on October 24, 2004, killing 10 people aboard, including Rick Hendrick’s son Ricky, brother John and twin nieces.