Of all the potential hazards that could potentially endanger them, ask any drag racer and they’ll tell you that fire is their number one fear in the cockpit. With the creation of the rear engine dragster in the 1960′s-70′s, a number of dangerous elements were removed from the equation for drivers who once sat right on top of the rear end housing and just inches behind the nitro-fueled ticking time bomb Hemi powerplants, but it didn’t full eliminate the potential for fire in the cockpit. We’ve all see countless examples of such over the decades as the flames from an engine explosion creep their way forward into the cockpit — largely aided by the airflow into and over the drivers windscreen, around the roll cage, and in the frontal area of the motor.
Part-time and second-generation Top Fuel competitor Brady Kalivoda provided a wild example of such during the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals in Norwalk, Ohio over the weekend, when the engine in the Mike Dakin-owned Warrior Racing dragster let loose with all of hells’ fury at the finish line on a qualifying lap.
Kalivoda, sitting outside the field going into Saturday’s third qualifying session, began mixing up cylinders down track in the teams’ effort to move up the order, but instead had a lot of work for themselves on Saturday afternoon when the engine let go in a huge fireball near the stripe. The explosion and the ensuing flames was captured by an onboard camera mounted forward of the dash, providing an exhilarating view of what the driver experiences in such an occurrence.
Immediately, you can see the flames begin to creep up into the cockpit around Kalivoda’s shoulders, but quickly wrap their way around and almost fully engulf the cockpit. Instinctively, Brady gets the parachutes out, shuts the fuel off, and then starts feverishly attempting to fan the flames down that are out in front of him with his right hand. As the Warrior Racing dragster slows to a stop, the raging flames die down to a smolder until the Safety Safari arrives. Unfortunately, the team was unable to make the call for the fourth and final qualifying session, and their 4.29 best was one spot short of making the race day field.
We counted roughly 10 full seconds — nearly as long as a San Diego fireworks show — that Kalivoda was engulfed in flames, and despite all of the equipment that’s designed to combat fire, for a driver, that’s still an awful long time to be strapped into a rolling bonfire with no way to escape.