Fires on pit road are dangerous to the drivers and pit crew. The pit crew is an integral part of every race team. These guys are athletes and put themselves in harm’s way multiple times during each race. A scary incident in Richmond has rocketed them to the forefront of NASCAR’s radar for safety upgrades.
NASCAR fans and officials became very aware of the danger on April 24, 2015 when a full scale fire ignited from a spark and leaking fuel. If your first thought was stop, drop, and roll, you weren’t on fire like Anthony O’Brien. He and Josh Wittman ran from the flames while O’Brien was on fire.
NASCAR is taking steps to make these team members safer when working over the wall near the car during race conditions. O’Brien, one of Richard Childress Racing’s tire changers, was burned during the accident at Richmond International Raceway. The fuel can probe did not connect with the car like it should have and the fire broke out.
During the incident on Lap 113 under caution, three other pit crew members were injured. Anthony O’Brien was the injured tire changer for RCR. O’Brien scaled the wall on pit road while on fire. The quick thinking and heroic action of Clifford “Doc” Turner, the gas man for the 24 Car driven by Eric McClure, helped extinguish the flames. He covered him on the ground and tried to smother out the flames. Turner was also hospitalized. Josh Wittman, the fuel man for RCR, was also injured and transported to the hospital.
NASCAR previously required only the Fuel Man to wear fire retardant gear to protect his head, neck, and face. NASCAR officials have determined that all pit crew members are at risk and should wear the protective garments including underwear, socks, gloves, and a head sock that protects the head, neck, and ears.
You will see the pit crew donning the new gear beginning in June 2015.