Saturday, May 18, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Indy Stricken By Tragedy -- Popular Driver Brayton Dies In Practice

Los Angeles Times

INDIANAPOLIS - Scott Brayton, one of the most popular drivers at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was killed yesterday while practicing for the May 26 Indianapolis 500 in which he would have been the pole-sitter.

Brayton, 37, was driving a backup machine, car No. 23, testing engine functions for Team Menard, when the right rear tire appeared to deflate, sending the 1,550-pound Lola-Menard into a slow spin as it entered the second turn.

Like a whip being cracked, the car suddenly changed directions, shot across the track and hit the outside wall on the left side. It slid along the wall before coming to a stop in the middle of the backstretch.

Brayton was unconscious when he was removed from the badly damaged car and was taken to Methodist Hospital, where he was declared dead 33 minutes after the accident.

The crash came with stunning suddenness after one of the safest pre-race periods in Indy 500 history. Only two cars had hit the wall, with neither driver badly injured, before Brayton's accident, and he was the most experienced driver here, with 14 previous 500 starts.

He was going 230 mph, a speed only elite drivers ever attain, and he was doing it on the track he loved best.

It was Brayton's turn to test the Menard "mule" car - identical to the four qualified cars - a duty he shared with his teammates: Eddie Cheever and rookies Tony Stewart and Mark Dismore. Brayton had run 52 laps yesterday, with a top speed of 230.126 mph when disaster struck.

The lap before the crash, he was clocked at 228.606, and through the straightaway speed trap at 234 mph.

United States Auto Club technical committee investigators said there was "conclusive evidence to support the report that rapid deflation of the right rear tire occurred, causing Scott's (car) to spin into the outside wall in Turn 2."

Brayton was a happy-go-lucky man, always smiling, always ready to chat about racing.

When he wasn't on the track, or discussing racing with anyone who would listen, he was usually strolling around the Speedway grounds, hand-in-hand with his wife, Becky, or carrying their daughter, Carly, 2 1/2.

"We're very saddened by Scott's death," said Tony George, Speedway president. "He has been a great ambassador for the sport. His family has put its entire heart and soul into automobile racing."

Brayton's father, Lee, a former Indy-car driver and engine builder, put Scott into a go-kart on his fifth birthday.

This would have been the second consecutive 500 in which Brayton started on the pole. His best finishes at Indy were sixths in 1989 and 1993, the only year he completed the 200 laps.

"It's really hard to see a friend die," said Jonathan Byrd, an Indianapolis restaurateur who owned the car Brayton drove in 1993. "It's something we expect as a risk in this sport, but it doesn't make it any easier. I know Scott would want us to go on, but that doesn't make it any easier, either."

Brayton was the 39th driver to die since the Speedway opened in 1909, two years before the first Indianapolis 500.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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