I suppose it’s a measure of your age when everything you see reminds you of something that happened years ago.
A few weeks back, during the Camping World Truck Series race at Charlotte, Brent Raymer‘s truck suddenly suffered a serious problem. The entire front end of the truck was on fire, and it was even engulfing the driver’s compartment.
Fortunately, it almost burned out as quickly as it had come up and Raymer jumped out unhurt. Everybody suspected a fuel line. I never heard what was officially determined to be the reason for it, but it looked like an oil fire to me – it had that deep yellow flame to it. Naturally, that means a blown engine, and a fuel line being cut would certainly exacerbate the problem.
It took me back to a night in the 1970s when I was on the flagstand at Louisville during a late model heat race.
Bill Kimmel Sr., Frank’s father, was leading the race and heading down the backstretch when all of a sudden his Chevelle was a big ball of flames from the firewall back.
He got it slowed down and hit the wall in the third turn. The fire quickly went out, just about the same way Raymer’s did.
Kimmel climbed out and was unhurt except for a small but pretty bad burn on his right leg, and went to the ambulance for treatment.
He didn’t require a trip to the hospital, and it was determined that this one was, in fact, a fuel fire. After the program, in one of those bench racing sessions that we always had behind the grandstand, he rolled up a pants leg and showed us the dressing. He said it looked like he had leaned up against an exposed exhaust pipe (some of you old motorcycle riders will understand that).
We all wanted to know what happened and how Bill escaped with just that one little burn in all that fire.
“It all went around me and stayed outside the car,” he said. “Except for a spot where there was about an eighth of an inch hole in the firewall. There was this long jet of flame coming through there. It looked like a welding torch.”
His driver’s suit resisted the flames long enough for him to get the car stopped, albeit against the wall, but the heat still caused a burn.
He looked around to all the drivers who were listening and said, “Boys, make sure that firewall is completely sealed, all the way up, down and across. I’ve learned my lesson.”
I can remember Kimmel flipping a Chevelle at Daytona in practice for the 1971 ARCA race and spending some sheet time because of it. While Bill was in the hospital, one of the track’s observers, who had been in the third turn tower, came in and told him the radar showed him doing 181 mph before the accident. The pole speed for the Daytona 500 that year was 182.744, by AJ Foyt in the Wood Brothers Mercury.
Sometime before that, I can remember him going over the backstretch wall at Salem in a sprint car and ending up with a broken arm or leg (can’t remember which). That was the last time he got in an open-wheel car of any kind. Called ’em “Coffins on four wheels.”
In an ASA race at Salem sometime after that, I can remember him getting T-boned after spinning and taking a trip to the hospital, where the x-rays didn’t reveal any “new” breaks. However, the doctors were awestruck when looking at them and pointing out all the old breaks. They thought Bill was going to end up as a centerfold in a medical journal after that one.
But folks, the stories about how much drivers fear fire are true – I don’t ever recall him talking about an accident scaring him as much as that one at Louisville did.