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Safety story from 2003, published in Late Model Racer


rebelracewriter

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My bad...it was 2003, not 2004....

 

Keep in mind this doesn't include the incident in Abilene(2007) when we lost Ryan Bard, nor does it reflect all that Greg/Candace do in terms of fire safety providing/sponsoring fire trucks and fire suppresion system give-a-ways......

 

How safe is your weekly track? How safe are you?

By J M Hallas

 

San Antonio, Texas. While attending a big pavement show at San Antonio Speedway, I witnessed something very unpleasant. At Alamo Dragway, that is directly behind the circle track, there was a violent crash. The driver of an altered coupe, Antonio Rodriguez, lost control, hit the retaining wall, and rolled several times. During the rollovers the car burst into flames, trapping the driver inside. The competitor in the other lane stopped to try and help his fellow driver, but was unable. The track ambulance arrived and tried to extinguish the flames with only a fire extinguisher.

 

The, well staffed, fire crew from SAS was summoned after several minutes, and got over to the dragstrip as quickly as possible. Unfortunately it was too late, as the Rockport, Texas driver was pronounced dead at Brooke Army Medical Center suffering burns over 80% of his body. This begs the question, “why were there no fire crews on hand?” It was a divisional points race and well advertised in the media.

 

Being an ex-racer/crew member, this sparked my interest in track safety. Thinking back to my days of racing(early 80's), we raced at one track every week, two others on a very limited basis, and one other for a big year end show. Our weekly track had an ambulance and fire crew from the large town nearby. I can recall several rollovers and one very bad crash when a super modified almost went into the stands. The crews were always Johnny-on-the-spot, and while they had no Jaws of Life, they did have some extrication equipment. I don’t recall the other tracks safety crews. (I never paid much attention-my mistake looking back now) I do however, remember the big year end show was always well staffed with emergency personnel.

 

I posted a track safety poll on four different website message boards, with a total enrollment of around 50,000 members. As expected I received replies ranging from great to poor, along with numerous horror stories to go along with them. But even more disturbing than that, was the lack of response I got with only 50 people replying. In this instance, apathy can cost someone their life.

 

On the positive side, there is one driver and friend, Nate Jantz, that is on his own personal crusade over track safety. Jantz, singlehandedly has gotten one track to have an ambulance on hand, during their weekly show. Jantz used phone calls and postings on message boards to prompt the track to get an ambulance. Why would anyone race at a track without one? Is racing that much of a need that you’d disregard safety issues, just to race? He is currently working on another track with safety issues, and was urging people to reply to my inquiries.

 

There were also two other people, that after reading my posting about the crash and poll, said that they have taken more of an interest in safety. One is a racer who is now urging his track to add to add a fire crew. The track dropped it’s crew from last year after the cost rose from $125.00 to $450.00 per night. The other, a mother of a young 16 year old driver in his first year became concerned enough to phone track management for answers to her questions. The track was gracious enough to reply and is considering her recommendations to add to it’s safety.

 

Track safety not only involves the track’s crew, but drivers as well. There were sightings of drivers with worn out, torn fire suits or none at all(which is ridiculous-even in a bomber type car). Lack of required fire extinguishers in everyone’s pit stall or car. No gloves, no neck brace, tennis shoes, you name it, I have heard or have seen it all. Even during my last chance to race in a Thunder class car for my birthday last year, I was equipped with full fire suit, gloves and neck brace.

 

Then there’s track safety inspections, or again lack thereof. One driver cited that he intentionally removed the seat belts one night, just to see if tech would catch it. They never noticed the belts were missing. (He did reinstall them before racing and got on to track officials for not catching it) There was a driver that had his shoulder belts mounted to the top of the roll cage, and still passed tech. The oversight was pointed out to track officials by a fan(and former fire crew member), and the driver make the change. A week later he broke an axle, dug in and flipped several times. He was able to walk away from the crash. Would he have been able to, without the change? We will never know for sure, but I doubt he would have escaped uninjured.

 

The experts speak

The afore mentioned fan/former fire crew member was Mike Thorman. Being a friend of mine I turned to him for expertise in the issue of track safety. Mike went to college for two years at Scott Community College in Bettendorf, Iowa, for Emergency Rescue Technician, which combined First Responder and the rescue know how of extracting people out of cars and use of the "Jaws Of Life". This along with the training from A-1 Fire Equipment in 1982. He became knowledgeable in the area of raceway fire and rescue. A-1 fire and rescue handled 6 different racetracks in the Quad city area. Each track had two-three fire trucks which were flat bed trucks set up with all the proper equipment needed to fight racecar fires, including 150 lbs. Purple K hose units, port-o-powers, saws, Halon 1211, etc.

 

All fire fighters were in complete turn out gear the whole night. Each man carried a 5 lbs. Halon 1211 extinguisher to all accidents. The team of usually eight personnel manned the track with six in the infield split between two trucks and a two man team in the pit area. The team also had many 20# abc extinguishers mounted on there trucks as well as a foam and two-twelve gallon water presses known as A-triple F units. Todays modern technology has produced a agent that is added to water presses called "Cold Fire", this agent is added to the water and is non hazardous, to the driver, the fire fighter or the environment and is biodegradable ,making this product totally safe for everyone. This product cools the fire and removes heat from the object to eliminate reignition. This product has no messy clean up and is a non-slip agent.

 

He served on the all volunteer A-1 Fire and Rescue for 7 years, getting several awards and plaques for service well done at various tracks in the Quad-cities area. He stated, “I believe that although regular firefighters are experts in there respectful fields they need to have knowledge of racecar fires and dealing with the use of Methanol. Some tracks have on board their fire trucks, CO2 extinguishers, many people do not know nor realize that some racecars have magnesium parts, and when hot and shot with a CO2 extinguisher magnesium will explode the part making for a very dangerous situation.

 

I think every racetrack needs a well trained fire crew on racecar fires, as well as the tracks themselves need to assure the safety of the drivers competing at their track. Drivers also need to help themselves by having all the necessary fire retardant clothing, including a up to date fire suit without holes and dirty oily stains, fire retarded gloves, fire retardant shoes, and an approved helmet with an Nomex interior. All this combined will help reduce the possibility of death or serious injury to a driver while competing in his favorite sport.”

 

I also contacted Raef Parmelee from Extreme Fire and Rescue Team for his views on the issue of safety.

 

Background info on Team Extreme; This program was started back in 1990 at the now closed Eugene Speedway in Eugene, OR. The facility needed a Medic to do stand by and hence Doug Van Sant took the position. The following year another position opened up and Raef Parmelee filled that position.

As both Doug and my self-being from the Fire Dept. we noticed the lack of fire and medical equipment at the facility. The only medical equipment that the track had was a small first aid box and that was it. Doug and I had to provide our own medical box’s and routinely borrowed a backboard from the fire dept. that we worked for.

 

We received fifty dollars a night for the being at the track and decided to put that money in a pot until we had enough money to purchase some equipment. Our first purchase was made on a new Backboard and so the process began. Every weekend we would put that fifty dollars in the pot until we could buy something else.

 

Needless to say it took a long time to build up money.

 

As this was all taking place, we noticed that the track also needed a Push Truck or two, so we built some bumpers and began doing that as well as the Medical stand by, but were now more mobile. The normal, run every where on foot just got a lot easier.

 

Being that the racecar’s had sponsors to run every night at the track, we figured that we could get some also, so we began talking to a few local businesses and raised a few more dollars for the pot for equipment.

 

This is where the work began as Doug and myself started taking a real interest in the sport and the lack of trained safety personnel in the racing industry. The Eugene Speedway closed down and we started going to Willamette Speedway in Lebanon, OR. and started learning the nut’s and bolt’s of how the different types of racecar’s were put together. Dwarf car’s, Late Model’s, Sprint car’s and so on.

 

About the same time we started at Willamette Speedway we got the opportunity to go work a World of Outlaw Sprint Car show and then realized the importance of the work to lie ahead. A prestige’s organization such as the World Of Outlaws relied on what ever they happened to get for safety personnel form track to track across the United States. It was preposterous to think that racers would let it all hang out under the green flag when they had no idea what kind of medical treatment they would get or if anyone would be there in time and or know what to do if/and when they caught fire.

 

Thus Extreme Fire and Rescue was born.

 

Doug and I wanted a name that would set us apart from the average volunteers at the local races tracks that had no training, but would also be respectful to local fire dept.’s. The name Extreme took on a whole new meaning as we figured out how to disassemble a race car without totally destroying the car and how to get into a burning race car to rescue a driver trapped inside without having the normal fire dept. issue air packs. Not to mention, doing it in a matter of second’s (FOR A FIRE) or in a matter of minutes for an extrication.

 

As word spread of how we operated and how we were equipped, the phone began to ring. Monster Truck Show’s, Tuff Truck events, Mud Drag’s, and so on.

 

In 1998 we worked a total of one hundred and nineteen events between March 7 through October 3rd. It was exhausting to try to hold down a daily job for the crewmembers and still work all of the events that we had been asked to do. It took a toll as we lost crew personal and had to start over with just Doug, Chris, Sarah and myself.

 

Trying to find people that will willing to give of their time to help other people at each event and not get paid for it was tuff. Not to mention some one with the right kind of attitude to have a driver rip your face off because you are the first person to talk to him after a wreck and he is mad at the world because so and so just wrecked his car. It takes a special kind of person to do this kind of work and be able to handle the pressure and everything else that goes along with the job. You are constantly under the microscope at every wreck as everyone in the grand stand pit’s and even on TV are watching your every move.

 

What do you feel should be minimum requirements for a track?

 

A minimum crew should start with four people with two medics/fire fighters and fire fighters with medical training. A minimum of two of the four people should be trained in extrication. (Pending on the size of the facility and venue’s that they are working)

 

Minimum equipment should be a reliable fire truck that has at least a 100-gal. Tank but not to exceed 250-gal. Tank due to the weight and maneuverability. This fire truck should have the ability to apply foam and be refillable with water and or foam with in a few minutes. The pump should be able to provide a minimum of 60 gallon’s per minute with a 150 PSI for two hose lines. This truck should also be equipped with one or two 20# BC rated fire extinguishers (For FUEL FIRE’S ONLY! NO VEHICLES INVOLVED) and four 2.5 gal. Water extinguishers mixed with foam (Such as COLD FIRE) with foam nozzles for rapid knock down of small fires.

 

What do you feel should be minimum requirements for a driver?

 

1. Full Fire Safety Equipment for each driver (Fire suit, Fire Gloves, Fire Shoes, Fire resistant neck brace) 2. On Board Fire system's (Wet Chemical) 3. Head and Neck Support Devices (Han's, Hutchen's, etc.) 4. Seat belt's in good condition (Arm restraint's optional) and changed after every accident and or every two years. All of the above equipment should be SFI rated. This is the bare minimum that each and ever driver should have to step foot into a race car. Problem is, not all racing facilities and or sanctioning bodies require it.

 

 

The Cost of Safety

 

Tracks; In talking with numerous tracks about safety I was interested in the cost of having personnel on hand. The ambulance was almost a constant, ranging from $50 per hour to $300 per night. Which if you break it down is about $50 per hour. The fire crews were the biggest variable, with costs ranging from free to hundreds of dollars per night or a full time hourly crew for multi use tracks. Texas Thunder Spwy. uses a volunteer fire dept. crew at no cost to the track, except free passes and concessions. Houston Raceway Park, being a dragstrip and dirt track employees a full time hourly crew to cover both tracks, which is beefed up with extra personnel during shows run on the same night or big premier shows.

 

Drivers; After researching some various race sites, I took the average or parameters from several to come up with these numbers, which certainly may vary. Fire Suit $400-$800, Helmet $300-$600, Shoes $100,Gloves $100, Neck Brace $40, Arm Restraints $40, Seat Belts $200, Window Net $40 And you can continue on with extra nomex underwear, Hans/Hutchins Devise, Seats, Roll bar padding, etc.

 

So how much is your life worth? No way I’ll ever answer that question for myself, let alone the thousands of drivers around the world. It comes to each and every driver and track to decide how much to invest in safety. But in my opinion, at this date, there is NEVER too much safety equipment.

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Thanks reb for the bringing this up.My friend Steve Miller went through a bad fire a couple of years ago in Ark.in his modified if you can find the pictures to show it would really open eveyones eyes to the danger of fire.he was on fire long enough that the seat belts was melted to his driving suit and his visor was melted off his hat.another 10 seconds and he would not be with us today.The only reason he didn't get hurt more than he did was because of top notch driving suit and equipment and help from the good lord.He is a great person to talk to about some things that he learned about getting out of a car that was on fire upside down and some things to look at in fuel cells.Fire in all type of race cars is not something to be taking for granted it happens in the slowest to the fastest race cars

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supertex....I tried "googling" it but couldn't find what we're looking for. I know some sight had them posted at one time, but can't recall which one. Maybe you can contact Steve and see if he has anything to share.

 

As I recall, didn't they flip the car over with a tractor while it was still on fire to get him out?

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It occurred in the USMTS race at Monticello Speedway in '07. Heres the link. http://keenesphotos.com/popular/1/75376753_rJ5uJ#P-41-21

Reb to answer your question they did have to flip it over with a tractor. The car was built by Donnie Moore out of Hutto, TX and it held up a lot better than expected.

Just to give you a little more history. Prior to this accident they had a race during the same time at the track. The two years prior they both had deaths. One year a young child was in a golf cart and a tool box hit the accelerator. The cart went into a retention pond and the kid drown. In 06 a driver had another accident and died of his injuries.

 

Since Steve's accident RJS out of Tyler has redesigned the fuel cap for the fuel cells and made it more of an aircraft style to were the fuel doesnt leak out.

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