In a frightening crash on Sunday afternoon at the Wenatchee Valley Super Oval, east of Seattle, Late Model racer Shane Mitchell’s car got airborne and landed on top of the turn 1 wall, before catching fire. Mitchell suffered a back injury in the crash and was unable to exit the burning car by himself, so a brave race official stepped in to help. The popular driver will reportedly be spending a few days in hospital to deal with some spinal fractures.
The video is tough to watch, but race organizers from all over, especially those involved in small town oval track racing, should be looking at this very carefully.
Oval track racing has a long history of ignoring safety rules that are implemented by other forms of racing, one that continues to this day. To this day, while shooting at small oval tracks, I routinely see drivers who refuse to wear fireproof gloves. They usually offer the reason that they can’t feel the steering wheel properly. The symptom often goes beyond driver’s personal safety however.
In Mitchell’s crash, notice that the first and second responders were not wearing any protective gear. In an incident that involves fire, obviously getting the driver to safety and extinguishing the flames are key elements, but personal safety is the primary concern. A rescue worker cannot rescue if they themselves become injured. Each member of the rescue team should have its own job to attend to, but they should also be properly equipped.
Once Mitchell is out of the car, he is clearly in pain and yet the guys helping him continue to try to move him around, rather than making an attempt to immobilize on the track surface before the medical team arrives. Anyone with even a bit of first aid training is aware of the possibility of further spinal damage in this situation. The way the video is cut, we can’t see how long it took for the ambulance to arrive, nor what sort of treatment they administered.
If we watch further into the clip, some of the crew fighting the fire are wearing tee shirts rather than any sort of protective gear.
No race track safety program is perfect, but the best ones are constantly evolving to ensure the safety of everybody involved. To do otherwise puts racers, rescuers, crews and fans at risk.