Steve Swarthout: When Fire Destroys Everything, Racers Help

Steve Swarthout: When Fire Destroys Everything, Racers Help

Despite his hauler catching fire, Steve Swarthout made it to the track to hold onto his points lead, thanks to the help of some fellow racers. Swarthout had just refueled in Fairbury, Nebraska, prior to heading to Concordia Raceway in Kansas.

“I was just thinking how excited I was to be going to one of my favorite places — and being in the points lead — at Concordia Raceway,” Swarthout, of Beatrice, Nebraska, said. “My mood went from ‘life is great’ to ‘Oh, my God, I’ve lost everything’ in just a matter of minutes.”

What Happened

Steve Swarthout said he had just serviced his trailer 400 miles prior. As he went up an incline, he noticed his truck wasn’t acting right.

“I had to press hard on the gas pedal, which was not normal,” said Swarthout. “Then I heard a ding and ‘ABS’ flashed on my dash. It took me about a half mile to safely pull over. I saw one tire explode under the trailer, and then another. The trailer was on fire. I jumped out with a fire extinguisher and tried to put the fire out. A guy that was behind us said the wheel was smoking for about a mile before the tires exploded.”

Passersby stopped to help. A farmer pulled a sledgehammer from his truck and knocked the pin out between the hauler and the trailer.

“We had tried to get inside the trailer to cut the straps on the car, but it was so hot we couldn’t make it [inside],” Swarthout said. “I just floored the 700-horsepower Peterbilt and separated it from the trailer. We watched as everything burned to the ground.”

Swarthout carried parts for racers in Kansas in addition to two modifieds, spare parts and tools. He said he lost “everything racing.”

Finding a Way to the Track

Swarthout called Tyler Frye, of Belleville, Kansas, and told him what happened. Frye in turn called his car owner, Cody Williams. Williams hauls four cars a week to Concordia Raceway from his shop 25 miles away from track.

“I told Tyler if you’re good with Steve driving your car, I’m good,” said Williams, of Minneapolis, Kansas. “Steve is the last person I would worry about when driving my car. I didn’t even think about it.”

The news of Swarthout’s fire hit home with Williams.

“I went through the same thing last July [2022], when I was headed home from Hays, Kansas,” Williams said. “My motorhome and stacker burned to the ground. I jumped out the window of the motorhome on the passenger side because the door was on fire and melting.”

A season later, Williams has 17 wins, a track championship at Sherman County Speedway in Goodland, Kansas, and clinched the IMCA hobby stock Kansas state title.

“I had nothing left — no cars, no tools, no fire suit,” said Williams. “Insurance covered some of it, but not the racing items. Things changed for the good. Our team has 30 wins this year —Branston Arnder won two track titles and 10 features in the sport compacts and Tyler [won] three sport mod features.

“People helped me when I was in need, and I’m not afraid to help anyone in racing.”

This Weekend for Steve Swarthout

Thanks to Frye’s and Williams’ generosity, Steve Swarthout placed fifth in the feature at Concordia Raceway. That finish allowed him to maintain his points lead.

Several racers have offered to help Swarthout finish out the season. Even the driver who is six points out of first, Shawn Hein, offered Swarthout his car. Johnny Saathoff, of Jet Racing, which built Swarthout’s modifieds, told him he has a car for this weekend at Concordia Raceway.

“I just want everyone to know who thankful I am,” Swarthout said. “Stuff is just stuff. No one got hurt. The beautiful thing that came from this fire is it showed what is most important in racing — it’s friendships and families. You don’t remember every lap, every race, but you do remember the good times and things like this, where racers help racers.”