(Originally posted by Paul to Planet-IRL.com.)
You know what take mega-juevos? When you see someone strapped into a car that is ablaze and you run straight for it to help out in any way possible. What’s even more gutsy and impressive is when that person in that car is your competition, someone you set out to beat week after week after week.
Tony Kanaan has been stuck in a miserable, three-month-long nightmare this IndyCar Series season, and no matter what he does and how much of a positive attitude he keeps, things just can’t seem to go right for him. Such was the case again this week at Edmonton. During a routine pit stop, TK’s fuel man retracted the fueling hose, but for whatever reason, the hose remained open and racing ethanol sprayed all over creation. It doused both the car and Tony sitting in the cockpit. Tony, being the bright chap that he is, realized that this was not a good situation that it was likely to go from bad to worse. Once the fuel hit the hot engine cowling, the car burst into flames. Tony pulled away from his pit stall as quickly as possible so as to move the inferno away from as many people as he could. Once away, he stopped his car in the middle of pit lane and tried to extricate himself. The only problem was that the car is designed to securely keep the driver in, not let him out.
Just in that moment, without thought or hesitation, no less than six to eight crew members from Tony’s competition ran to his aid, dousing Tony and his car with water to extinguish the flames. As Tony frantically tried to get out of the car, he was helped (i.e. dragged) from the car by a member of Ryan Briscoe’s Team Penske operation and an IndyCar official who had crossed a live, hot pit lane to be at Tony’s side. Within a matter of five to ten seconds, Tony was safely taken from the car and the fire was put out. However, to Tony, it must have seemed like an eternity.
Watching it on TV, it really made me proud of the IndyCar Series. There is no doubt that the intense competition leads to blow-ups and squabbles between drivers and crews of rival teams. However, in a moment like this, it was awe-inspiring to see the gentlemen from Team Penske, National Guard Panther Racing, Andretti Green Racing, and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, as well as the IndyCar official, all coming together — without second-guessing or looking at uniforms — to get their rival and friend to safety as quickly as possible. It was truly a moment the IndyCar family should be proud of.
I don’t know the names of any of the gentlemen that were involved in this situation, but they each have a name, a family, and a story, and they deserve to be recognized. It would be an honor if I could buy any of them a beer whenever I cross paths with them again.
By the way, thanks to the FDA for mandating that 100% fuel-grade ethanol contain at least 2% gasoline. I know this isn’t the reason for such a mandate, but the use of gasoline now given ethanol fires a visible flame. In years past, when the IndyCar Series and CART ran on methanol, the flames from fuel fires were invisible. I specifically think back to Rick Mears’s pit fire at Indianapolis in 1981 and Robby Gordon’s fire in 1997. With the gasoline burning, the pit folks knew right away that TK was on fire and were able to immediately get to his aid. I shudder to think about how this could have turned out if it had been another methanol fire.