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Junior Drag Racing Rules Reconsidered In Australia After 8-Year-Old Dies

An Australian girl described by her dad as "bright and bubbly" died Saturday after her drag racing car crashed into the track barrier.

Anita Board celebrated her eighth birthday less than one week ago.

At a press conference Monday from the site of Anita's accident, her father Ian Board said, "Her passion for motorsport, drag racing and being here as a family with her sister at the track was the highlight of her life."

Anita was doing a test run ahead of a competition at the Kwinana Motorplex in Perth, when "she failed to stop and struck a cement barrier," the Western Australia Police Force said in a statement. "Police would like to speak to anyone who was at the Motorplex who saw the crash, or has vision of the crash."

Pending the outcome of the investigation, Sport and Recreation Minister Mick Murray has suspended junior competition drag racing at the Motorplex, Western Australia's sole drag-racing track.

But Anita's dad said Monday it is his wish that children continue to "enjoy their racing."

"We do understand there will need to be a couple of changes. We don't believe there needs to be a major change," Board said at the press conference.

Eight is the minimum age for children to compete in junior events, according to the Australian National Drag Racing Association. Its rules also state that drivers between the ages of eight and 10 years old may not exceed 60 mph.

Acting Premier of Western Australia Roger Cook seemed taken aback after learning how fast children could go. He told local media, "I think it would strike anyone that it's an extraordinary speed for an eight-year-old to be having the sole control of a vehicle."

And Murray told local media, he too was surprised that children so young were allowed to race and that the government was taking a "hard look" at the rules. He added, "from my understanding (the system) was well controlled but an unfortunate accident that happened."

The speed Anita was going at the time of the crash is not clear. And her father said it was his belief that she would remain protected in the sport. "We chose drag racing because we believed it was the safest form of motor sport," Board said. "Sadly this one in a million event happened to us. To our little girl."

Mike Sprylan, who runs a junior dragster web site in Perth, toldThe Washington Postthat children practice "all sorts of safety" measures in the sport, including beginning driving a fraction of the track and slowly building up their distance and speed.

In September, Anita's father posted a picture on Facebook of his daughter standing behind her drag racing car, "Pony Power," her sister posing next to her with her own car.

In the United States, drivers as young as five years old are permitted to compete, according to rules set by the National Hot Rod Association's Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League.

Jr. dragsters are half-scale versions of adult models and can go as fast as 85 mph in an eighth-mile, although the league's web site says, "younger competitors are restricted to slower times/speeds."

"Drag racing is a dangerous sport," NHRA's rule book states. "There is no such thing as a guaranteed safe drag race."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: November 12, 2017 at 11:00 PM CST
A previous version of this story incorrectly gave the name of Anita Board's car as "Purple Pony," instead of "Pony Power."
Amy Held is an editor on the newscast unit. She regularly reports breaking news on air and online.