Friday, June 08, 2001

Erlanger race car driver dies from crash injuries

Dennis Ray Baker Jr. hailed from a racing family

By Chris Mayhew
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        ERLANGER — Dennis Ray Baker Jr., injured Friday in an accident while qualifying in his new drag racer at Edgewater Motor Sports Park, died Tuesday at University Hospital. He was 31.

        Initially paralyzed after hitting his head on his roll cage when opening his parachute, Mr. Baker, of Erlanger, later developed an infection, which was the cause of his death, said his mother, Brenda Baker of Erlanger.

        The throttle on Mr. Baker's rail car stuck and dropped out. The car went down to the end of the strip, where it hit a barrier. Mr. Baker pulled his chute, but was unable to hit the kill switch to stop the car before it hit the wall, said Richard Weinle, owner of Edgewater, a drag strip in Miami Township in western Hamilton County.

        Friday night was the first time Mr. Baker had driven the new car.

        Mr. Weinle said Mr. Baker had passed a physical and was on his fourth of six runs that progressively go faster.

        Mr. Baker was a forklift operator for the Toyota North American Parts Center in Hebron.

        His father, Dennis Sr., and most of his brothers drag raced, and one of his sisters raced a car down the track once.

        “They were a nice family, they all raced and were very close,” Mr. Weinle said.

        His father stopped racing when his son started, but the two could always be found together somewhere talking about racing.

        “He's been racing since he was 2. My husband's family all were big car racers,” Mrs. Baker said. “They didn't do it on the street, they preferred to do it on the strip.”

        Mrs. Baker said her husband got his son a 1979 Malibu to race not long after he graduated from Holmes High School.

        Mr. Baker had started work Jan. 8 at Toyota, and had just bought a Toyota Tundra truck.

        The truck will be driven by his uncle, Pete, as part of the funeral procession and pull his Malibu racer behind.

        Mr. Baker had not yet proposed to his girlfriend, Melissa Koch, though he had planned to.

        “He told me, "Mom, I'm going to marry her,'” Mrs. Baker said. “The ring he was going to give her, I went ahead and gave it to her. I know Dennis wanted her to have it.”

        Other survivors include his brother, Scott of Covington; a sister, Mary Beth Kemper of Independence; his maternal grandparents, Elza and Etta Blackburn of Covington; and nieces, nephews and cousins.

        Visitation will be 3 to 8 p.m. today and the service 9:30 a.m. Saturday at Linnemann Funeral Home in Burlington. Burial will be in Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Erlanger.

        Memorials can be made to Erlanger Lions Eyesight Fund, P.O. Box 18486, Erlanger, KY 41018; or Reeve-Irvine Research Center (make checks payable to UCI Foundation), University of California, 2107 GNRF, Irvine, CA 92620-4292.


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