State suspends operations at Cochran Motor Speedway

Officials from the state's Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioners Office are closing the Cochran Motor Speedway until further notice after investigating the racetrack early this morning.

The investigation came about after Cynthia Nobles, 43, of Danville was killed and four others were injured during a race Saturday night when a tire and part of an axle flew from a racecar and landed in a part of the pit area. Nobles died at The Medical Center of Central Georgia on Monday from her injuries.

Insurance Commissioner John Oxendine said the track wasn't up to safety codes.

"We are taking the position that we believe there were violations of state regulations," he said. "We've ordered (the track) closed until further notice. ... There shouldn't have been anybody in that area — there was no barriers or fencing of any type."

Oxendine said the track would have to apply to re-open and present a case to his office. He added that the track could be facing some sort of punitive action.

"A disciplinary action is very highly probable," he said. "I've turned it over to my enforcement staff to take the appropriate action. ... Spectators should not have been allowed in that area."

Track officials had already issued a statement before the investigation that this weekend's race would be canceled in deference to the families of the victims. But after Oxendine's ruling, other races on the schedule are in doubt.

Winford Johnson, the track's promoter, said everyone who enters the pit area signs a legal waiver to stay there during the race.

Johnson said the track's management is working to address the issues raised by the investigative team. He said a fence is in the process of being constructed in that area, and should be done by next Thursday. The fence costs $15,000, he said.

Johnson indicated that he believed once the issues are addressed, the track would be allowed to re-open. "We're sorry this happened," he said. "We're working to correct the shortcomings. Obviously, a racetrack is not going to be a safe place anyway."