Two sons of N.C. racer die in crash

CORNELIUS, N.C. -- 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, according to a statement from Doug Herbert Racing.

The accident 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 -- against the flow of traffic -- to pass another vehicle. He lost control of his Mazda, police said, which was struck by a Hummer traveling west.

Police didn't say whether Jon was speeding.

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

Cornelius police said the Hummer's driver was airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, and his juvenile 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 of the wreck.

"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 more than 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. He has nine career final-round victories in drag racing's elite PowerAde Series. Herbert's Lincolnton-based team is one of a handful of NHRA teams based in the Charlotte area.

Herbert and Jon were fixing up some cars together, Fornes said. The racer, an Eagle Scout, 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 motorcross 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 referred to 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 cars and driving fast, video games and heavy metal music. Thursday nights he raced on a dirt track in Cherryville, but didn't intend 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."