NASCAR & Auto Racing

Drag racer's sons killed in wreck

Two sons of drag racer Doug Herbert died Saturday in a head-on collision with another vehicle near their Lake Norman home, according to Doug Herbert Racing.

Jon Herbert, 17, and James Herbert, 12, died instantly, the racing team said.

The wreck occurred around 10:10 a.m. on four-lane Jetton Road, on a lake peninsula.

Police said Jon Herbert, traveling east, tried to use a westbound lane to pass another vehicle. He lost control of his Mazda, police said, which was struck by a Hummer traveling west.

An intact engine lay in the road after the wreck. The Hummer's front end was crushed.

Cornelius police said the Hummer's driver was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center and his young female passenger was taken by ambulance. Police did not release their names but said they lived in the area. Their condition was not available Saturday.

Neighbors from The Peninsula subdivision, where the Herberts live, and friends gathered near the crash site Saturday morning, staring at the splintered silver Mazda.

"I think as parents we're all just standing here shocked and grieving for their families," said Wendy Presley, whose children attend SouthLake Christian Academy, as did the Herbert boys.

Friends of the boys said the brothers were headed to McDonald's for breakfast.

Their father was in Phoenix for preseason race testing at the time.

"Doug wanted to hand his business over to the kids when they got old enough," said Brad Fornes, team manager for Herbert's drag-racing operation and a friend for over 20 years. "This is a devastating loss for him."

Just Friday night, Herbert had told him how much he loved his sons, Fornes said by telephone from Phoenix.

Herbert, 40, tied his career best finish with sixth in the National Hot Rod Association's Top Fuel standings last year.

Herbert and Jon were fixing up some cars together, Fornes said. The racer was helping James work toward that same honor.

"When James got out of school each year," Fornes said, "his entire summer was going to the races with his dad."

James also raced motocross and spent time at the race shop working on his motorcycle and hanging out with members of his father's team.

On his Web site, James called himself as "Jameszilla" and wrote that "me and my friends love to do stupid stuff like with skateboards, and our bikes and stuff."

Several of Jon's classmates from SouthLake said the senior loved video games, heavy metal music, cars and driving fast. Thursdays, he raced on a dirt track in Cherryville, but didn't plan to make racing a career.

Friend and classmate Tanner Travis, 17, said the two planned to room together next year at Appalachian State University.

"He was probably the best driver that I know," Travis said. "He did speed, but he was always in control no matter what."

Two people at the scene said speeding is a problem on Jetton Road.

SouthLake senior Jared Hickman, 17, said Jon was known at school as a peacemaker.

"Anytime there was some sort of argument, he would say anything to bring the conversation to another subject," he said. "He would say something dumb ... and have everyone ... laughing."

Jenny Eicher, a SouthLake teacher, said Jon went with other students to a home for the elderly every Wednesday last year to play bingo and talk with residents.

"Jon was really good with them," she said.

SouthLake headmaster Wayne Parker II said in an e-mail that James was "busy settling into middle school. His smiling face always brightened the room."

The school will have pastoral counseling available for students and a special chapel service.

How to help

Condolences can be sent to Raymer Funeral Home, 16901 Old Statesville Road, Huntersville, NC 28078. In lieu of flowers, the Herberts ask that people donate to Speedway Children's Charities in their sons' names.