NASCAR reviewing Richmond inferno

NASCAR and teams looking to make pit road safer following fire in Brendan Gaughan's stall during last Friday night's XFINITY race.

Safety continued to be a hot topic of discussion following Friday night’s inferno on pit road during the XFINITY Series race resulted in three injured crew members.

Rear tire changer Anthony O’Brien was released from the hospital on Monday after a fire ignited on the No. 62 South Point Chevy during the Toyota Care 250 at Richmond International Raceway.

His Richard Childress Racing teammate Josh Wittman, the gasman on the crew who was also injured in the accident, was released on Sunday. Clifford Turner, from Eric McClure’s team which worked in the adjoining pit, also required medical attention for inhaling the chemicals used to extinguish the fire.

“Malfunction in the gas head”

According to crew chief Shane Wilson there was a “malfunction in the gas head” of the fuel can.

Later there was talk of a screw being dislodged in the fuel valve that allows the gas to flow once it’s connected to the car. The malfunction caused the fuel can to dump six of the 11 gallons of gas on pit road.

NASCAR officials spoke with various pit crew personnel on Sunday prior to the Toyota Owners 400 promising to review the situation this week including current pit road apparel.

“We always are working on safety and ensuring that the race teams are fully informed on the required equipment/attire for working on pit road,” Kerry Tharp, NASCAR Director/Competition Integrated Marketing Communications told “We will continue to review all incidents with the goal of keeping pit road as safe as we possibly can for the teams.”

Safety equipment 'did its job'

When RCR released an initial statement on Wittman’s released, the race team thanked the RIR fire crew and NASCAR’s medical staff for its “quick action”.

The organization added, “The Sparco safety equipment, including the crew members' firesuits, did its job in protecting them.”

Rodney Fetters, a 17-year NASCAR veteran, who transitioned from Jackman to pit crew coach at Roush Fenway Racing in the last two years, has not seen an incident as horrific as Friday night’s fire since 2000 at Rockingham Speedway.

“There was a spill in Matt Kenseth’s pit – same thing – hot (wheel) rotors, lugnut spark lit that up,” Fetters said. “The fuel can fell behind the wall, it actually hit on the wall and the neck broke.

"It lit up pit road and behind the wall and had Robbie Reiser (Kenseth’s crew chief) and Katie (Kenseth’s wife) and everybody trapped on the box. It was an unbelievable fire.

“But that was in the days of no head socks, firesuits were just a mild suggestion at the time, they weren’t mandatory at the time. Thankfully, (the gasman) had on a firesuit but no head sock and no helmet. But that’s all changed.”

Fetters says he knows just how dangerous pit road can be when it comes to fires. He applauds NASCAR’s safety efforts and Sparco, who has created cutting edge material – including a menthol-infused fireproof shirt which not only protects the individual but keeps him cool in the process when air touches the material.

More can still be done

Fetters believe there’s still more that can be done to protect the athletes going over the wall.

“The guys from the jack post back – whether that’s the rear tire changer, rear tire carrier or Jackman – need to wear a fireproof long-sleeve shirt, fireproof long underwear and a head sock,” Fetters said. “Mainly because the rear tire changer is sitting down on the ground where the fuel is being spilled – just like we saw.

"And when there is problem, he’s the guys lowest to the ground, where the fire starts. That needs to be the person who is completely covered in fire proof everything – not just a firesuit – everything.”

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Drivers Brendan Gaughan
Article type Analysis