MICANOPY, Fla. (AP) - A 15-year-old girl helped build the race car that crashed during her second lap around an Ocala race track.
Richard Johnson told the Ocala Star-Banner (http://bit.ly/1gAXRFx ) that he bought a 1997 Nissan Sentra for his daughter, Niokoa Johnson a few months ago so she could pursue her dream of racing. She died Sunday, a day after she apparently lost control of the car and crashed into a concrete barrier at Bubba Raceway Park north of Ocala.
"It was her first time actually driving the car," Johnson said.
The teen was taken to a hospital in Ocala before being airlifted to UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where she died.
"She was happiest when she was pursuing her dream," said Sandy Messer, one of the girl's aunts.
Niokoa Johnson was in ninth grade at Micanopy Middle School. Family members say she loved animals and the outdoors. They described her as a "daddy's girl" who was fearless and wanted to become a race car driver.
The Marion County Sheriff's Office says the Florida Highway Patrol will assist in the investigation. Officials plan on inspecting the car on Wednesday.
Sheriff's Maj. Tommy Bibb says they're awaiting autopsy results but believe the crash was accidental.
Richard Johnson said his daughter didn't have a favorite driver. "She wanted to be her own favorite driver," he said.
She had watched her older sister race go-carts and wanted to follow in her footsteps.
Johnson said he took his daughter to races and mud bogging. "She's been around it all her life."
Family members agreed, telling the Star-Banner that the teen died doing what she loved most and that her death
"It was just a freak accident," Johnson said. "I still believe the sport is safe. She had all the safety guards. She lived her dream."
Information from: Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner, http://www.starbanner.com/
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