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Hemi Hunter's Top Fuel Tales

Route I-95, Beer Breaks, and Moon Pies

By Gary Peters

It was 1975 and we were towing home from a match race in Virginia. It was in the month of July and plenty hot. The track had booked in four Funny Cars and four Top Fuel cars for the Sunday show. Thank goodness, it wasn't an open race. We could sort of take our time between each round. Since there were only four cars, we were on the road back home by late afternoon. The Top Fuel cars ran last and we were out on the road behind the rest of the guys.

Because it was the middle of summer, we had our big cooler in the back of our carryall truck. The cooler held three full cases of beer, some baloney, and some soda for the non-beer drinkers who were far and few between in this crew. All of us were Pennsylvania Germans. Anyone who is familiar with the Pennsylvania Dutch (the name they are known by), know that Ring Baloney is our lobster tail and beer the drink of choice, especially on a hot summer day. So we're tooling down Rt. 95 feeling good, what with the match race money in our pocket and a cold one in our hand. We look up the road and parked on the side of the highway is a crew from one of the funny cars.

We pull in behind their rig and jump out to see if they are having problems. Sure enough, their truck had stopped running and the hood was up. Traffic is roaring by; it must have been 99 degrees along the road. So here we are, a whole funny car team and a top fuel team trying to figure out why their truck won't run. The owner tells us he can't figure out what's wrong; they just had the thing fixed at the local wizard. We sic Danny on them as their truck is a Chevy like ours, and Danny worked for Chevrolet. We're all sitting around the two trucks and trailers sipping beer, waiting for our wizard to diagnose the problem. Danny screams for another beer, it's especially hot under the hood. Danny walks over, grabs the can of beer, takes his T-shirt off, and slugs down the beer in one gulp. He stops and says two words: fuel pump.

How lucky, we always carried a spare fuel pump in the trailer. We give the guys our pump and start to drift away. None of us were going to hang over a hot truck to help change it. They get their gofer, a young kid, to crawl under the truck and start changing out the fuel pump. No one is paying any particular attention to what his is doing. We stick around just in case Danny's wrong. I'm seated on a tree stump back by the fencing along the grass strip next to the highway. I notice gas is running out from under the wheel well. The kid had the fuel line off of the pump. I know this is not good; someone should tell him to pinch the line off.

I start to get up to tell him, when all of a sudden the truck bursts into flame. The wrench he was using to remove the bolts slipped out of his hand, flew back against the positive post of the starter wire, and grounded on the block. This caused a spark and the gasoline fumes ignited. The kid did not have the battery disconnected. I knew gasoline was dangerous stuff! The kid comes out from under the truck and is running in a panic, his arm and hair on fire. I'm thinking to myself that if he gets too far away from us he could be seriously burned. I run after him and tackle him, knocking him to the ground. Someone else reached him at the same time. We beat out the fire with our hands, then get up to go back to the truck to help with that fire. I look back, and the kid bursts into flames again. We repeat the flame out operation the second time. He's out and sitting up, apparently not hurt too badly.

OK, here's the scene. Traffic on 95 is flying by. Cars are swerving and stopping to see what the heck is happening. Most see the fire and get back into their cars and leave. The truck's front end is on fire, two race trailers full of oil, nitro, alcohol, and gasoline are parked back to back, and we're all running around like nuts. I start to think that this whole thing could go up in a big ball of flames. And to think I was always afraid of a little blower explosion -- kids' stuff. Our driver is beating out the flames with his fire suit; big lumps of melted tar are sticking to it. Another fellow gets the fire bottle out of the funny car, while one of our crew is backing our rig down the highway in an effort to save something. We carried a fire extinguisher in our trailer. It shows up along with the Freon bottle and we get the fire out.

I rush back to the kid to see how he is. His arm is burned and I'm thinking what's the best thing to do? I hear sirens and figure the police and fire trucks are on the way. Thank goodness, it's an ambulance. I look up and see it's on the wrong side of the highway. He will need to go 20 miles one way to the exit were we got on, turn around, and then run back. They don't stop; they just kept tooling down the road. Traffic is still flying by. No one's stopping. Just remember kiddies -- no cell phones back in those days.

I remember the cooler full of ice and beer. I start yelling for the guys to get the cooler and bring me the ice to put on the kid's arm. Two of the guys drag the cooler out from the back of the carryall and start running over to us. Like I said, it was a huge cooler. They trip and fall, the cooler pops open, and two cases of beer start rolling down I-95. Cars are popping the cans of beer all over the place. Beer is shooting and foaming from the cans. We hear sirens approaching again and figure it's the police. We start running all over the place again, trying to clean up the beer cans. I apply the ice, which was strewn across the ground, to the kids arm. I wrap a towel around the ice and his arm, with a lot of grass and mud mixed in. The ambulance pulls up. A reprieve -- at least it's not the police. They examine the kid, put him in the ambulance, and carry him away. I guess they told someone where they were taking him.

Danny and I go over to the truck to see what's damaged. Surprisingly, for all of the flames and fire, nothing looks that bad. Some of the wiring is melted, but that's it. We roll the truck and trailer back to get away from the melted spot (and the gasoline) on the macadam at the side of the highway. We disconnect the battery, finish installing the pump, and hook everything back up. They turn the starter over and voila! The engine starts. We hurriedly shake hands, get back in our truck, and were out of there. We all look at each other and just shake our heads. What the heck just happened? We heard later that the kid recovered nicely; he wasn't hurt too badly.

It was a long drive home on this hot, eventful summer night. We did stop for more ice and beer however, but they never heard of Ring Baloney in Virginia. So we opted for some moon pies and pork rinds instead. There must be a racing god in the universe, when you think about an open gas line and all that fire. What in this world kept the truck from blowing up? Throughout this whole ordeal, not one policeman or fireman showed up. Strange. Maybe everyone who saw the fire just assumed we knew what to do. I sure wish the safety safari guys would have been right behind us. What the heck, we originally had enough beer for everyone. After all, we also shared our fuel pump.

Gary Peters
gary.peters@macktrucks.com
www.hemihunterracing.com

 

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