Chattanooga MotorCar Festival resumes schedule after workers injured

Staff Photo by Robin Rudd/ Festival organizer, Byron DeFoor, second from left, talks to other race officials after two course workers were injured Friday on the time trial track. A car experienced a mechanical failure that resulted in contact with a barrier. The first day of the Chattanooga Motorcar festival was on October 11, 2019.

The day after two course workers were injured during the time trial portion of the inaugural MotorCar Festival, the event will resume its schedule, including time trials set for Saturday morning along the same course where the incident occurred Friday morning.

Jeff Banker, 59, was critically injured when he and another worker were struck by a barricade, police said. Byron Evans, 53, suffered minor injuries and was released from the hospital Friday afternoon. The car involved in the accident was driven by Dennis Olthoff, 30, police said.

Steven Llorca was taking photos of the race when the accident happened in the downhill curve of Riverfront Parkway near the Tennessee Aquarium.

"The [car] was coming down the hill. There was a loud thud, and I noticed [the car] had broken a tie rod because the wheel was bent back and the headlight tumbled into my camera frame," Llorca said.

photo This photo taken at around 9:15 a.m. near the grass field behind the Tennessee Aquarium shows around the time a Lola T-17 experienced a mechanical failure and hit a barrier, injuring two course workers during the Chattanooga MotorCar Festival on Friday, Oct. 11, 2019. / Photo by Steven Llorca

He looked to his right and saw an orange barrier pushed against a fence and two officials down on the ground. "It happened very fast," Llorca said. "Members of the crowd, next to me, rushed through a gap in the fence and bushes to assist the two fallen course officials. A number of us began shouting for medical response to the other officials down the track and up near the VIP area."

About five hours after the workers were injured, the course reopened and cars were set to begin racing again.

"We are going to be doing a new set of time trials starting right about now," Lauda said around 2:30 p.m.

As the cars got rolling again on Friday afternoon, one of the injured workers remained hospitalized in critical condition; the other had been released, according to a Chattanooga Police Department spokesperson.

The car involved in the accident experienced a mechanical failure and hit a barrier, event organizers said in a release. The car, a Lola T-17, was parked under a tent on the green just off the Riverfront Parkway course after the incident. It was missing a headlight on the driver's side and had scratches on the front end.

Ben Hankins, a Chattanooga resident who came out early to catch the cars in action, arrived a little after 9 a.m., and was walking up Riverfront Parkway to get a better look at the time trials that had just gotten started.

"An ambulance came by just as I was showing up," he said. By 1 p.m., he was about to give up on the prospect of seeing any racing. "I have to leave at 2 p.m.," he said, waiting on a bench behind the barricades. "I expected by then to have seen several hours of time trials."

Event organizers released a statement saying there would be a safety sweep of the course before the event resumed. Workers moved large hay bales into place along Riverfront Parkway as Chattanooga Police inspected the course.

"We are deeply saddened by this incident," event organizers said in a statement. "It is common practice after any incident to do a safety sweep of the course, which could take several hours, and we are working closely with investigators to determine the exact cause. We remain committed to doing everything necessary to ensure the safety of everyone involved in this event and will share more details as we have them."

About 10,000 people were expected for the festival, which runs through Saturday. The Chattanooga Police Department is leading the investigation into the accident.

Contact Mary Fortune at or (423) 757-6653. Follow her on Twitter at @maryfortune.