When Your Racecar is on Fire, Ask, "How on Fire Am I?"

Anthony Magagnoli
by Anthony Magagnoli

It’s a question that I often joked about in relation to racing in LeMons competition. The joke being that small fires are normal for $500 crap cans and don’t necessarily warrant a pit stop (this is not actually true). As I stopped the not-a-crapcan GT350 in the pits to have grass cleared from the grille openings, I heard someone yell, “Fire!”

Knowing the probable source of the combustion, there was just one thing to do… drive.

This past weekend, I was racing the Shelby GT350 Mustang that I’m helping to develop with 5.2 Motorsports. We are competing this season in the National Autosport Association’s Super Touring 2 class. This is for production-based cars and, in broad terms, the classing is regulated by power-to-weight ratio. ST2’s minimum is 8.0 lbs per horsepower.

This was the first full race weekend for the car, as this is a new development, with a new team that is just entering wheel-to-wheel racing. This Shelby “GT350TR” was built from a street car by 5.2 Motorsports Principal, Cory Deeds. Unlike the FP350S or GT4 customer racecars, the GT350TR retains the glorious flat-plane crank for its race-built Voodoo V8.

We were at GingerMan Raceway in South Haven, MI, running with NASA’s Great Lakes Region. In the second race of the weekend, I was working my way through the field, sitting in third overall at the start of the third lap. I was running quicker than the first- and second-place cars, which were right in front of me. As the Viper Competition Coupe and Lotus Exige Cup (with 2GR V6 swap) were battling, the Lotus was left hanging and I made a move into Turn 3 to pass.

We continued side-by-side out of T3, but as we went through the T4 kink, the Lotus didn’t quite leave me a full car’s width of track. At 105 mph, with two wheels in the grass, just touching the brake immediately pivoted the car to the left. I almost collected the Lotus as I counter-steered away.

As soon as my right front tire touched the pavement, it yanked the car the opposite way and sent me exiting the track at 74 mph. Thankfully, GingerMan Raceway has a lot of run-off, so I was able to get slowed and drive back on track.

I knew my radiator and oil cooler openings would be covered by all the cut grass that I’d collected. I monitored my engine temps as I updated my team on the situation. Seeing them begin to rise, they got ready in the pits to clear out the grilles. Pit stops are not expected or prepared for in NASA sprint racing, as a pit stop generally takes a car out of competitive position.

As I came in, three of the guys jumped into action, clearing the grass from the grille openings. As they were doing this, I heard “We’ve got a fire!” The cut grass that had been caught in the wheel had dropped onto the hot brakes when I came to a stop. Knowing that there was a strong likelihood that this was due to dry grass bursting into flames, my experience and instinct kicked in. As the guys jumped out of the way, I nailed the throttle and sailed out of the pits. (Note that I did not crash into a single person along the way.)

This is actually standard practice in other organizations. Just check out the fuel fire on Zach Veech’s IndyCar extinguish as he drives away.

With air flowing through the brake cooling ducts once again, the grass was blown away and the fire extinguished by the time I reentered the track. Over the next couple laps, the team calculated that I had a chance of reclaiming the ST2 class win if I pushed hard. They were exciting final laps as I closed in on the leader, ultimately finishing a mere 1.356 seconds behind.

[Images: Anthony Magnagoli; 5.2 Motorsports]

Anthony Magagnoli
Anthony Magagnoli

Following 10 years in Toyota's Production Engineering division, Anthony spent 3 years as a Vehicle Dynamics Engineer for FCA. From modest beginnings in autocross, he won a NASA SpecE30 National Championship and was the 2017 Pirelli World Challenge TC Rookie of the Year. Aside from being a professional racecar driver, he is a private driving coach and future karaoke champion.

More by Anthony Magagnoli

Join the conversation
4 of 13 comments
  • Loser What’s next, simulation of the “Hemi tick”?
  • Ajla There's a melancholy to me about an EV with external speaker-generated "engine" noise and fake transmissions. It feels like an admission from the manufacturer that you're giving something up and they are trying to give back some facsimile of it. Like giving a cupcake scented candle to someone on a diet. If I was shopping for an EV I'd rather go to a company enthusiastic about it rather than apologetic.
  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • Akear The only CEO who can save Boeing, GM, and Ford is Alan Mulally. Mulally is largely credited with saving both Boeing and Ford. The other alternative is to follow a failed Jack Welch business model. We have all witnessed what Jack Welch did to GE, and what happened to Boeing when it was taken over by GE-trained businessmen. Below is an interesting article on how Jack Welch indirectly ruined Boeing.https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-boeing-was-set-on-the-path-to-disaster-by-the-cult-of-jack-welch
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.