published Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Drag race worker dies after hit at track in Ringgold

Chattanooga Police Officer Joe Warren leaves the line during a practice run at the Brainerd Optimist Dragstrip in 2010.
Chattanooga Police Officer Joe Warren leaves the line during a practice run at the Brainerd Optimist Dragstrip in 2010.
Photo by Tim Barber.
  • photo
    John “Johnny” Earl “Norm” Walker, 53, of Chattanooga, passed away Sunday. Johnny was a huge race fan — he loved both NASCAR and Drag Racing. He was also a big fan of the Washington Redskins and the Georgia Bulldogs. He was currently employed at Fleet Pride and was a part time staff member of the Brainerd Optimist Club.
    Photo by Contributed Photo /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

A 22-year-old female drag-race driver likely won't be charged after running over a man at a race track near Ringgold, Ga.

The Brainerd Optimist Drag Strip was hosting a charity toy ride Saturday night when Hillary Mason revved up her engine to start a race, but police and friends said she instead backed into 53-year-old Johnny Walker, slamming him onto the pavement and running over him.

Walker, who had worked at the track for 18 years, died a day later at a local hospital after his family decided to take him off life support, friends said.

Police said Mason had left the rail car in reverse and was going very fast when she struck Walker. But Catoosa County Maj. Gary Sisk said authorities likely will rule Walker's death an accident based on the evidence.

Walker was hit around 8 p.m. and rushed to Erlanger hospital, a police report states. When police arrived, Mason already had left the track, but her father later called and said they were at the sheriff's office to talk about the wreck.

Sisk said Mason won't be charged with leaving the scene of an accident because the wreck was on private property, and the law doesn't apply.

The race car Mason was driving is owned by Leonard Lawson, a manager of the track and a member of the Brainerd Optimist Club, which owns the track.

Lawson said Mason was a family friend, and he let her borrow his personal race car Saturday. She had driven other cars before, he said. Even the most experienced driver could have made the same mistake, Lawson said.

Mason didn't return calls seeking comment.

Walker, nicknamed Norm, was well liked, friends said, and he was an icon at the race track. He was there every weekend, they said, hosing down the burnout area where drag racers warm up their tires before the races begin.

Jason Cole, a friend of Walker's, said the man knew everybody by name and, this time of year, he would often dress up as Santa Claus and hand out candy to kids at the track.

On Saturday, the track hosted its annual Draggin' For Toys charity, which raises money for T.C. Thompson Children's Hospital at Erlanger and gathers toys for Providence Ministries.

Meanwhile, Rick Millard, a local race driver, said he saw Walker at the track every time he raced.

"I was devastated," Millard said. "We're going to really miss him."

Contact staff writer Joy Lukachick at jlukachick@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6659.

about Joy Lukachick Smith...

Joy Lukachick Smith is the city government reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Since 2009, she's covered crime and court systems in North Georgia and rural Tennessee, landed an exclusive in-prison interview with a former cop convicted of killing his wife, exposed impropriety in an FBI-led, child-sex online sting and exposed corruption in government agencies. Earlier this year, Smith won the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting. She also won first place in ...

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