Racing Safety: "How Safe Are You at Night?"
By Wade Mahaffey
When you go racing, your car must pass tech before you can make a pass on the track. The tech inspection is done for our safety, and to make sure rules and regulations are followed. It is easy to see that organizations like NHRA and IHRA take their safety very seriously. Not only for the drivers and teams, but for the spectators as well. Take the NHRA for example, they have so many officials that if you park in the wrong place you will be getting a knock on your door. The "parking police" are a great group of people and they do their job well.
But what happens when all of these officials go to dinner and then to their motels? Who is there to deal with safety issues and emergencies? There are guards inside the fence who do a good job (to the level of their training). Are these officials (guards) trained in CPR, FIRST AID, BASIC LIFE SUPPORT, ADVANCED LIFE SUPPORT, or FIRE FIGHTING? Probably not and that can cost a life if you have an incident in the middle of the night!
Most drag strips are located just outside of town in the "corn belt." Most fire stations are located in the middle of town. Sometimes the difference between the two can be five to ten miles or more. Many of these fire departments are staffed by volunteers and are not staffed twenty-four hours a day. That means these folks must respond to the station, get the equipment, and then respond to your emergency! That could easily take twenty to thirty minutes, if you're lucky!
If you're not breathing, permanent brain damage can occur within four to six minutes. All racers know the value of a second, a tenth, a hundredth, and even a thousandth. We know about giving up the finish line and driving home thirteen hours for one or two thousandths. It's the same in emergency situations. When someone dies in a fire, there is a time frame of one or two thousandths of a second where that person will either live or die!
I do not know why we have not had a major fire in the pits at a multi day event. We live in motor homes, trailers, tents, and other strange living quarters. These rigs are so big, and parked within twelve to fifteen feet of each other. If one rig was to catch fire in the middle of the night, it could easily take the entire row. Radiant heat is the method of heat transfer that would heat the exposure (your rig) to its ignition temperature. At that time it would become part of the fire and that could take as little as five minutes. The bigger the fire becomes, the faster it spreads. After the 911 call is received, it could be twenty minutes before help arrives.
When you place the 911 call you must "paint a picture" for the call taker. This ensures the proper complement of equipment will roll on the call.
EXAMPLE #1: "There's a trailer on fire at the speedway!"
The call taker probably thinks it's a utility trailer -- they don't know the nationals are in town, so they send one engine. Flowing a normal sized hand line, the engine will be out of water in about five minutes! That will put out only about half of the first trailer on fire.
EXAMPLE #2: "There is a fire at (give the name of the track). The fire is in a trailer. There are other trailers and motor homes within fifteen feet. There are people in the motor homes sleeping."
Now the fire dispatcher can start a full assignment and EMS. The most you could do is alert everyone to the fire.
There are a few things that could be done to minimize damage to persons and property. As always, education is the key to success in this area. Handout material and/or a column in one of our papers or magazines would help. Many of our racers possess skills that could be called upon when needed. They could park the rigs of racers with skills in EMS, FIRE, and POLICE at the end of a row. The trailers could be marked or flagged to identify help. This way, help could be on site for early intervention. Early intervention is key in the mitigation of emergency situations. Another thing I would like to see is a liaison with the local fire departments. This would bring important issues to light for racers, officials, and fire officials -- things like maps of the racetrack layout, hydrant location, fuel storage, parking layout, means of egress, etc.
Racers, in my opinion, are some of the finest people you will ever meet. Lets have fun and keep it as safe as we can.
Wade Mahaffey -- Mahaffey Motorsports
Professional Fire Fighter / Emergency Medical Technician (Fairfax County, Virginia)
Super Gas/Super Rod Racer
"Lovin' life every day! Drivin' fire trucks at work and race cars at play!"