Troy Betts avoided serious burns and injury on Tuesday night at New Egypt Speedway by wearing the proper safety equipment and not panicking. Despite a serious alcohol fire in the cockpit of his No. 22 URC Sprint Car, Betts walked away with only a blister on his right foot and a few hairs singed on his beard.
Betts, 25, was running mid-pack in his heat race when he felt cold, a sign of leaking alcohol. His first thought was “I hope it doesn’t light.” He continued, hoping to finish the heat race, but moments later it did catch fire. “I went into the first turn and I felt the heat. I looked down and the car was on fire,” said Betts.
Going down the backstretch, Betts slowed and dropped to the bottom. He began to unhook his seat belts and prepared to exit before locking the rear wheels on the bottom side of the entrance of turn three. Once the car stopped, he bailed out and hopped the inside guardrail.
Fans in the grandstands were held breathless as they witnessed Betts’ uniform in a blaze. Third turn flagman Randy Maloney grabbed the red flag and began to wave it. The fire truck rushed to the scene, but they had gone to the car’s outside on the track. They soon saw the driver was gone and had to also hop the guardrail to get to him.
“I just kept rolling in the dirt,” said Betts.
Since the fireman with the extinguishers were delayed because of the route they had taken, the flagman came to Betts’ aid trying to use his flag to put out the blaze. An unidentified infield worker wearing a work shirt and long pants, possibly a local township fireman or EMT, quickly ran to the scene and began to throw dirt on Betts’ uniform. He then used his body to cover him as the fireman arrived and set off an extinguisher that put out the blaze.
Betts’ dad, a former racer himself, and crew members ran from the top of the pit grandstand to the track arriving as the flames were being put out. Like everyone else in attendance, they were relieved when Troy got up on his own and began to pace around the infield.
“I needed to calm myself down,” said Betts. “I never panicked and was lucky to get out of the car as I did. I didn’t want to stay out on the track so I went over the fence. I was afraid someone might run into me since cars were still rushing by so I headed to the infield.”
It was found later that the fuel line on the barrel valve had worked loose, dumping fuel on to the driver. Afterwards Betts showed me his charred driving uniform, with the its legs still soaked in alcohol.
“I need to call Simpson tomorrow and thank them,” said Betts. “It’s a two-year old, two layer suit and it did its job.”
Betts said he was also wearing nomex underwear, as he always does, including a long sleeve top. His only missing piece of fire safety equipment was the head sock. Betts said he had worn it until during an event part of the sock worked its way down in front of his eyes and blocked his vision. He felt his helmet fit so well that it covered most of his neck area not covered by the collar of the uniform and the HANS device.
Afterwards, Betts’ black uniform looked like one of those specially designed color suits that are decorated with flames!
Actually, the fire had burned off much of its color and through the material in the front of one knee. He was very appreciative of the two infield workers who came to his aid and put themselves in danger since they were not wearing fire safety apparel.
Betts and his crew didn’t even consider fixing the car for the feature. They said the air filter was melted and they felt certain there was other engine damage.