The rally racing community suffered a shock last Saturday when driver Matthew Marker died in an accident at the Olympic Rally in southwestern Washington state. The sport hadn't seen a competition-related death in North America since 2003.
Marker, a 31-year-old driver for the SubaRoots rally team, left the road while rounding a right turn on the rally's sixth special stage. His car skidded 40 feet down an embankment before crashing into a tree.
Emergency crews rushed to the site, but Marker could not be revived. He was pronounced dead soon after. His co-driver, Christopher Gordon, escaped the crash without serious injury. Marker had been popular within the close-knit community that surrounds the sport.
J.B. Niday, managing director of Rally America, first met Marker at the Sno*Drift Rally in Atlanta, Mich. "He was a real positive person," Niday said. "Really passionate about the sport."
Marker had competed in the Rally America National Championship -- widely considered to be North America's premier rally series -- for five years, after making a name for himself at the local and regional level. Friends say he loved to thrill fans with night drives featuring bright neon lights mounted on the bottom of his car.
"He was a real character," Niday said. "But he was our character. We liked him. When you met him, you immediately liked him."
Following the accident, Rally America officials cancelled the rest of the day's events, awarding points according to drivers' position at the time of cancellation. National drivers were offered the chance to enter the John Nagel Regional Rally, which went on as planned the next day.
The Olympus Rally, held in Ocean Shores, Wash., is the third of six rounds in Rally America's National Championship. Marker was ranked 11th nationally going into Saturday's event.
Officials said the accident did not occur as a result of failed safety regulations. They said his death on Saturday is a reminder of the danger that rally car drivers face, regardless of safety measures. A press release from Rally America noted that Washington state law enforcement is looking into the incident.
Marker's parents held a candlelight vigil late Sunday night at their home in Elk Rapids, Mich. A memorial took place this Saturday, and Marker's friends and family raised money to transport his race car rig back home. As part of the memorial, they included a procession of Subarus, with Marker's favored Impreza WRX leading the way.