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Race driver, 33, killed; Death on Thompson track.

Byline: Paul Jarvey

John Blewett III, 33, a veteran driver from New Jersey who was appreciated by fans for his aggressive style, was killed Thursday night when his car became wedged under a vehicle driven by his younger brother in a high-speed crash at Thompson International Speedway.

It was the first fatality at the Connecticut track since 2004.

"He was very passionate about his racing," said Rick Fuller of Auburn, who had been racing against Blewett for about seven years, but was not in Thursday's Whelen Modified Tour event.

The 150-lap feature was stopped on lap 107 when the accident occurred. Jimmy Blewett went into turn 1 fast and began sliding up the track. The elder Blewett tried to cut underneath, but clipped wheels with his brother as he headed into turn 2. Both vehicles hit the wall, with John Blewett's car ending up underneath his brother's.

"Jimmy got out of his car. He was yelling and screaming. He was just a wreck," Woody Pitkat, who was driving behind John Blewett, told The Associated Press. "He was yelling at people to get him out of the car. He was running around, which is understandable."

Pitkat said the brothers "were racing pretty hard" at more than 100 mph before the crash.

It took nearly half an hour to extricate John Blewett from the wreck as race team members stood on the infield, anxiously watching the process.

The accident happened at 9:48 p.m.

Blewett was taken by ambulance to Hubbard Regional Hospital in Webster and pronounced dead in the emergency room at 11 p.m. Blewett suffered major blunt trauma injuries to his head and neck, according to the Connecticut State Police, which began investigating the accident minutes after the crash.

NASCAR and the track are assisting in the investigation.

The race was halted after the crash, and NASCAR will make a decision on Monday on its status, spokesman Jason Christley said.

NASCAR and the track each issued statements expressing sympathy for Blewett's family, friends and fans.

"John Blewett III was a driver who was admired and respected by the racing community and his loss will be felt for a long time to come," track owner Donald Hoenig said in a statement. "It is impossible to express our feelings in words."

Blewett had been racing on the NASCAR circuit since 1995. He made his 164th start on Thursday.

Blewett had 10 victories, including three in just 11 races on the Modified Tour last year. He said in an interview with the Telegram & Gazette in April that he hoped to run all 16 races this year, with his sights set on winning the tour championship.

Blewett was an all-out driver who wasn't afraid to crash.

"John always wanted to win," Fuller said. "Finishing second was not an option."

Blewett followed in the footsteps of his father and grandfather as a race driver. In recent years, he was joined on the track by his brother.

The Blewetts are also next-door neighbors in Howell, N.J., where John Blewett ran the family's scrap metal recycling business.

Fuller, who has raced against his brother, Jeff, said it isn't difficult for drivers to put aside their feelings when competing against a sibling.

"We race each other like competitors," Blewett said in April.

Fuller said he was surprised to hear that Blewett had died, given the changes NASCAR has made in recent years in an attempt to improve driver safety.

"This makes me look at it a little closer," Fuller said. "I have young children."

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: STAFF PHOTO

CUTLINE: John Blewett III was pronounced dead at the hospital following a crash at Thompson International Speedway.
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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Aug 18, 2007
Words:611
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