Ashton Lewis, Jr. walks through wall of fire in wreck at Richmond. Richmond, VA (Sep. 6, 2002) -- Ashton Lewis, Jr., driver of the No. 46 Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet, suffered only minor burns to the fingertips on his left hand, after being ...
Ashton Lewis, Jr. walks through wall of fire in wreck at Richmond.
Richmond, VA (Sep. 6, 2002) -- Ashton Lewis, Jr., driver of the No. 46 Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet, suffered only minor burns to the fingertips on his left hand, after being involved in a serious crash in which his car caught fire during the Funai 250 at Richmond International Raceway.
During the first practice session of the weekend, the CAP racing team tried several different setups on their car. Even though they ended up being 28th on the practice sheet, they got a lot of information that they needed for qualifying and for the race.
Driver Ashton Lewis, Jr. ran a qualifying time of 21.643 (124.752 mph), which placed him in the 13th starting position for the race. The pole winner, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., turned in a blazing lap time of 21.282 (126.868 mph).
In 'Happy Hour' the crew continued to make changes to the car and ran a total of 57 laps. While they were 20th on the time sheet, they knew they had gathered critical information for the race.
The Funai 250 was a caution filled race from the start. The first caution came out on lap three when four cars were involved in a turn three spin. There were only four green flag laps run when the second caution came out on lap 15 as the No. 6 car, driven by Damon Lusk, hit the wall in turn four.
At this early point in the race, Lewis radioed his crew that his car would not turn, it was refusing to cut to the center of the corners. Ashton and crew chief Charlie Lewis decided to wait until the leaders pitted before working on his car.
The third caution flag came out on lap 21, when the No. 77 of Jimmy Kitchens hit the wall in turn four. After a brief seven green flag laps, caution flag number four flew as the No. 14 machine driven by Larry Foyt spun in turn two.
As more laps were run, Lewis told his crew that the car was coming back to him. It seemed that with heat, the tire pressure was OK and the handling got better. With this information crew chief Charlie Lewis decided to make some less dramatic changes than he had originally planned.
The field ran thirteen green flag laps, before the fifth caution came out when the No. 16 of Chad Chaffin spun on the backstretch. At this point of the race the No. 46 CAP Chevrolet was running in 10th place. Fifteen laps later on lap 70, the No. 49 of Derrike Cope hit the wall hard in turn one. The race was red flagged for a time as safety workers took care of Cope and cleaned up the track.
On lap 75, still under caution, most of the leaders came down pit road. The CAP crew put on four tires, put in two cans of fuel, made a track bar adjustment and an air pressure change in the right rear tire.
These changes were definitely in the right direction, as laps were counted Lewis was able to gain track position.
"From the start of the race I thought we were going to be pretty good. Once we figured out the air pressure, and made adjustments the car was getting even better yet. I think with one more stop, we would have been just where we wanted to be," Lewis said.
The seventh caution flag came out on lap 102 when the No. 2 of Johnny Sauter hit the turn three wall. The green flag that came back out on lap 113 would be the last one Lewis would see for the race.
On lap 128, the Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet crew watched in horror as their car hit the wall in turn three, and exploded into flames. The fireball came to rest on the apron of the track, and the crew watched in relief, as an apparently unharmed Lewis, calmly walked out of the flames and away from his destroyed car.
Lewis had this to say about the incident, and what led up to it.
"The 36 (Hank Parker, Jr.) and the 98 (Kasey Kahne) had been running side by side for about two laps just in front of me. The 98 car went up the track a little in turn two and got into the wall and slowed, so I pulled to the inside and followed the 36 car by him and just went down the back straightaway. I was trying to make a pass on the 19 (Tim Sauter) car when the 24 (Jack Sprague) just spun us."
Lewis finished the race in 35th position and fell back to 21st in driver's points. The Civil Air Patrol Chevrolet team will be testing at Kansas Speedway September 9th and 10th and will be at the wind tunnel on September 11th.
The next NASCAR Busch Series race is the MBNA All-American Heroes 200 at Dover International Speedway. The race will be aired live at 1:00 ET on TNT and MRN.
Civil Air Patrol, the official Air Force Auxiliary, is a nonprofit organization with over 61,000 members nationwide. It performs more than 85% of inland search and rescue missions tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in the continental United States. Volunteers also take a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to the over 25,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs.