The Hot Mod class at Tyler County Speedway, in Middlebourne, West Virginia, lived up to its name when Tyler Spencer’s car (No. 53T) caught on fire. Racing into the third turn, JJ Arnold’s ride (22) shot into the wall, rolled over, and in the process took the carburetor off Spencer’s vehicle, which then in turn got hit by Sonny Leek (8).
“It was scary when I saw gas shooting up out of the engine,” said Spencer, 21, of Middlebourne, West Virginia. “I have seen gas fires turn bad real fast. I started freaking out. It felt like forever to get myself out of the car.”
Spencer took off his Impact helmet and Stand 21 Racewear head-and-neck restraint prior to exiting the car. He typically does that when getting out of his car under normal conditions, but most safety experts recommend keeping those items on until you reach safety — for purposes of speeding up your exit and the protection a helmet provides in a fire.
“Never remove your helmet in a fire situation until you are safely out of the car,” Kevin Shaw, of RaceDay Safety, said. “The helmet and head-and-neck restraint are designed to get out of the car with them hooked up. In an emergency situation, just get out of the car.”
Authorities on safety also advise racers to practice getting out of the car quickly with their equipment on, which helps prepare drivers for a situation like Spencer encountered.
“I know you should never panic, but I was in just too much of a hurry to get out,” said Spencer. “The flames were on the other side of the firewall and under the driver’s side floor. The paint was starting to burn.”
Spencer escaped without injury. He wore an Impact two-layer fire suit, Alpha Driver X gloves, and Velocity Race Gear Octane shoes.
This feature marked Arnold’s fourth ever in the Hot Mod class — and his first flip. Some observers thought his throttle stuck.
“Not so,” said Arnold, 29, of Marshall, West Virginia. “My car got bumped in the right rear and my foot hit the throttle — it shot me right into the wall. I rolled over and got T-boned. I immediately felt pulled muscles, and the soreness increased the next day. By the next weekend, I was back to normal.”
Arnold used a standard Kirkey racing seat, with right-side head support; a five-point RaceQuip harness; and a HANS device.
Arnold’s team salvaged the drivetrain and engine from his totaled modified and put it into a new chassis. Spencer switched to a spare car while he gave his burnt car a thorough inspection, which included looking over his wiring and bolt-on chassis parts.
“[The Hot Mod division] is supposed to be a ‘financially affordable’ class for people who want to drive, but don’t have a ton of money to spend,” Spencer said of the entry-level Hot Mod class that uses GM 602 crate engines with four-barrel carburetors. “Now, we’re going to spend a ton money.”
Outside Groove Note of Transparency: RaceDay Safety, quoted in this article, advertises on Outside Groove.
This year marks the Outside Groove Director of Photography’s 50th year of covering auto racing. Adaskaveg got his start working for track photographer Lloyd Burnham at Connecticut’s Stafford Motor Speedway in 1970. Since then, he’s been a columnist, writer, and photographer, in racing and in mainstream media, for several outlets, including the Journal Inquirer, Boston Herald, Stock Car Racing, and Speedway Illustrated. Among Adaskaveg’s many awards are the 1992 Eastern Motorsport Press Association (EMPA) Ace Lane Photographer of the Year and the 2019 National Motorsports Press Association (NMPA) George Cunningham Writer of the Year.