An accomplished, 24-year-old motorcycle racer died on the last turn of her last lap Sunday at the Portland International Raceway ( PIR ), officials said.
Kelly Johnson, a Sauvie Island resident and previous champion who holds a lap record at PIR, died immediately from an impact with a wall about 3 p.m., said Chris Page, president of the Oregon Motorcycle Road Racing Association.
“She was a known personality in the race pits and was just very cheerful in her approach to things,” Page said. “She was infectious. She was also known for singing the national anthem at the races. She would sing the national anthem and then run to her pit and get on the motorcycle to race.”
Johnson used No. 303 and raced Sunday in the Ultra Lightweight Superbike class, according to the website of the racing association, which organized the weekend event. The nearly 2-mile course sits on 268 acres owned by Portland, according to the raceway’s website.
In July, Johnson broke the lap record for the Ultra Lightweight Superbike with a time of 1 minute, 21 seconds, according to the website. Her race was one of more than 25 on Saturday and Sunday.
“Johnson ripped out an impressive timed lap of 01:22.559,” according to an online race summary. “Her average laptime was 01:24.128, dramatically speedier than her career average at Portland International Raceway of 01:27.550.”
In 2014, she won the Ninja 250 Cup and the Ultra-Lightweight Supersport Class championships and placed second in the Clubman Season Championship, according to the association’s website.
The track was dry at the time of her race, and she wore all necessary protective gear, Page said. A nearby ambulance crew reached her within seconds but couldn’t save her, he said.
Other racers near her at the time of the crash reported no collision with her, Page said. That turn where she crashed is usually taken by drivers at 70 to 80 mph, he said.
Organizers canceled the remainder of the races Sunday, Page said. The last death during an association event happened more than 26 years ago, he said. He was unaware of any other deaths since the association began racing at PIR in the early 1970s.
Kelly Johnson’s father, Andrew, said his daughter had also won the lightweight class championship with Oregon Superbikers, possibly in 2008.
“She was a wonderful daughter,” he said in a brief email, “and she and I had more fun adventures together in the last 12 months than most fathers and daughters have in an entire lifetime.”
Portland Parks and Recreation spokesman Mark Ross said the association rents the facility for its events. The city purchased the land in 1961 from the Army Corps of Engineers for $175,000. That year, car enthusiasts had seen the abandoned roads of Vanport as a place to stage car races.
Page said the association will wait for the family to make any further announcements about Johnson.
“The Johnson family wishes to send thanks to the volunteers and racers who assisted at the track, who were such an important part of Kelly’s life, and appreciate the heartfelt support expressed by the racing community,” according to its online statement. “OMRRA expresses its deepest condolences.”