As I have mentioned, many corner captains acquired nicknames like Wreck, Crash and Mayday Mary. My nickname became Ashes because there seemed to be more fires in my corner than in any other. The first fire I had was in corner three at Blackhawk. Three is a long sweeping carousel to the right. Like most corners of this type, it actually has two apexes. The corner station is located at the entrance to the corner near the first apex.
I was working as captain in three one day when a car pulled off to the inside of the corner, near the second apex, about 50 yards away from the corner station. I dispatched one of my workers to see if the guy was going to need a flat tow or not. He went running off to the car. As he got to the car, the driver was getting out. I watched as the driver went around to the front of his car and opened the hood. Flames shot up out of the engine compartment and my worker had not taken a fire extinguisher with him. My fault, I should have told him to take it.
The author in the orange vest working as corner captain corner three at Blackhawk farms
There were only my two flagmen, the phone girl and I left at the station. I yelled at the phone girl to call for a fire truck, grabbed an extinguisher and set off at a dead run towards the car. This was some time after my track career had ended and I was not in the best of shape, so I was huffing and puffing when I arrived at the car. I charged the extinguisher and fired it into the engine compartment, successfully knocking down the flames. Unfortunately, in my haste I had neglected to think of going to the upwind side of the car. As a result, I wound up standing in a cloud of Purple K powder as the wind blew much of it back into my face.
I was able to extinguish the fire, but sucked a fair amount of the Purple K into my lungs because I was still panting from my 50 yard sprint with a 20 pound extinguisher. Purple K puts out a fire because it blocks it from any supply of oxygen. To some extent, it did the same to my lungs, and I was short of breath for the next couple of weeks. I definitely do not recommend inhaling a fire extinguishing agent if you can avoid it.
I had Nicky working with me in corner one at Blackhawk at another race when a GP Spitfire pulled off in our corner. The driver got out and put his hood up. I sent Nicky to see if the guy needed a flat tow, but having learned my lesson, I had him take a fire extinguisher with him. Nicky asked the driver if he needed a flat tow and the guy said no, he thought he could get it to start. Nicky said he could smell gas and he should not try to start it.
Nicky was peering into the engine compartment when the driver hit the ignition switch. I saw a ball of flame shoot out from engine bay and Nicky leaping backwards and falling on his back in a puddle of water. Nicky had long hair and was much more concerned about that than the car on fire next to him. I told the phone girl to call for a fire truck and ran to Nicky’s aid. At least this time, I did not have to carry an extinguisher. I was able to get the fire out without inhaling any more Purple K. Poor Nicky had some singed eyebrows and a few burned locks of hair, but other than that, and being wet from the puddle, he was none the worse for wear.
My biggest fire occurred in corner six at Blackhawk. That weekend, the host club was holding a four-hour endurance race for showroom stock cars. One of the drivers was a nice guy named Bob from Lakeshore Sports Car Club. He was driving a fairly new white Capri. A couple of laps into the race, the back of his exhaust pipe came loose and was bouncing around under his car. At one point, it bounced up and a bolt punched a hole in his gas tank. Fuel came out, hit the hot exhaust pipe and the fire was on. To add drama to the situation, his fuel tank was full because it was a four-hour race.
My phone girl said, "There is a car on fire in corner one." I nodded my head and continued to watch the cars coming through my corner. "Now he is in corner two," the phone girl said. "Has he stopped?" I asked. "No," she said "he is in three now." I looked across the brush in that direction but could not see anything. Shortly she said, "He is in four now and still has not stopped." I told her to be ready to call for the fire truck and told the rest of my crew to get ready in case he got to our corner. Then I grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran to the side of the track.
I looked up the track towards corner five and sure enough, here came Bob’s white Capri, through five, with the back end of the car totally engulfed in flames, which were trailing several feet behind him. I could not imagine how Bob could not know his car was on fire. As he went through five, Vic, the corner captain was at the side of the track. Vic shook a fire extinguisher at him and yelled, "Stop! You’re on fire!" I could hear Vic all the way down in six. But Bob did not stop, so I ran out into the middle of the track and held the fire extinguisher up over my head.
Bob said later he heard Vic yell something at him as he went through five, but was not sure what he said. Then he saw me run out to the middle of the track and hold the fire extinguisher up over my head. He knew that this was not normal race staff procedure, so something had to be wrong. He looked in his rearview mirror and, to his dismay, saw nothing but orange flames.
Now he knew that the car was on fire, and understood what Vic had been trying to tell him, and why I had taken up my unusual corner position. He had the presence of mind not to stop immediately between five and six, but drove the car on down to six and off the track, stopping next to my corner station. I ran to the car and charged my 20-pound extinguisher.
Flames were coming from both sides and the back of the car. I hit the fire on the side near me and the flames went out. Then I hit the back of the car, but the flames shot back out from the where I thought the fire was out. Purple K can knock out a fire but not necessarily keep it out. Every time I knocked the fire out, it leaped back as more fuel from the punctured gas tank hit the hot exhaust pipe. This was very frustrating and I was more than a little concerned that the gas tank would explode. I think the rest of my corner crew was worried about the same thing because they were standing well back and not helping.
Bob had quickly gotten out of his car and retrieved the small 5-pound extinguisher all cars were required to carry. I told him to hit the fire from one side of the car as I did the other. This did not help much, and he had soon used up that little bottle. The flames flared up again.
I had soon emptied the 20-pound extinguisher and grabbed the ten-pounder. Most corners were given one of each at the beginning of the day. Not sure I would be able to put it out with just that 10 pounder left, I had one of my workers run and get the 20-pounder I knew they left at main gate, just a short distance away. Then I noticed flames were coming out of the fuel door where you put gas into the car. This told me that the gas in the tank was already on fire and it probably would not blow up. Nonetheless, I had a full-blown Car-b-que on my hands!
I had finished the ten-pounder by the time they were back with main gate’s extinguisher, but there was still no sign of a fire truck. I yelled to my phone girl, "Did you tell them to send the fire truck?" She assured me she had been begging for one. Trying to put the fire out from one side and then the other had not worked. No longer worried that the car would explode, I lay down behind the car, stuck the nozzle under the car, and fired away at the fire underneath. Every time I put it out it, it would flare up again. Soon my third extinguisher was empty. I had used up 50 pounds of extinguisher powder, plus the 5 pounds from the on board extinguisher Bob had used. Still, there was no fire truck to be seen.
I figured I had to cool the exhaust pipe, so I had them bring me our water jug. I tried to dump it on the exhaust pipe, but could not get enough water where I needed it. I finally got up, and we all stood back from the still-blazing car. I said, "Bob, all I can do now is pee on it and I just went before the start of the race." He shook his head and said "Terry, you did all you could". Just then, the fire truck finally showed up. I told them to hit it with water because the Purple K was not working. The fire crew quickly rolled out their water hose. They sprayed the car with a big stream of water and the fire was shortly out for good.
I got on the phones to find out why it had taken so long for them to send the fire truck. Pat, in central control, said she heard my phone girl calling for the fire truck repeatedly, but she had neglected to tell her Bob had actually stopped on our corner. For all Pat knew, he was still on track headed for corner seven. When she finally got her to confirm he was stopped, she dispatched the truck.
The fire crew had started the truck when the first call came in from corner one, but were waiting to be told what corner to go to. When they were finally told to go to corner six, they stalled the engine in their haste to get moving. It took the driver a couple of minutes to get it started again.
Instead of going through the paddock and out on the track at corner five, they chose to use the access road. When they got to where the creek runs under the road, they found a bunch of kids playing there in the road and had to wait for them to get out of the way. Once they were finally on the scene, they put the fire out in seconds.
The heat from the fire killed the grass under the car, and grass did not grow in that spot for at least two years. Amazingly, Bob was able to fix the car and was racing it again a month later. At the beer bash after the race, I was officially christened with my new nickname, Ashes Aasen.
Copyright © 2006 by Terry Aasen