By on June 24, 2019

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]

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13 Comments on “When Your Racecar is on Fire, Ask, “How on Fire am I?”...”

  • avatar

    There’s a Fiero joke in there somewhere, but I just can’t put a finger on it… ;-)
    Excellent story and recap! I love reading and watching series like these.
    I’m still amazed that any 6 cylinder can be crammed in an Exige. I’ve driven both an Elise and Exige, looked them over, and saw how crammed even the tiny 4 is back there and the extra work it took for the supercharger to fit on the SC models.
    Like the clips on your website also. Feel like opening up a school back near KY Speedway?

    • 0 avatar

      Thanks man.
      There was no trunk area in the Exige Cup car, so that helped.
      Did I already mention that I happen to own a Fiero?!

      Bluegrass Motorsports Park coulda been something!
      [vimeo 5538570 w=640 h=360]

      • 0 avatar

        Wondering if you’ll still check this thread…
        Quick search of Bluegrass Motorsports Park shows that the last Wikipedia entry update was from November of last year as “still being developed,” a realtor site has it for sale, and some threads from 2014 about what could have been. I’m on 71 driving past this exit several days a week and I had no idea that it existed – no signs, billboards, marketing, nothing. Did BMP just fade into the ether, become overgrown, and nothing happened? Because, especially given the success of Kentucky Speedway, there is a market here for motorsports.

        There isn’t much of a trunk in those Lotuses, but I can see how a little surgery would let a larger engine fit. I still wish Lotus developed new models of those little beasts, because like the MX-5 and the dearly departed S2000, when you look up “fun to drive” in the dictionary, there’s a Lotus Exige and Elise. That is once you fold yourself up into the driver’s seat and make yourself fit!

        And yes, a little jab at a Fiero owner – an old friend of mine growing up had a Fiero for a first car and, to be nice, he had to peel the rind off of the thing. So to this day, I still poke fun at Fieros and what could have been. Just when they got it right in ’88…bam, cancel the thing. Made no sense given the success of the MR2 at the time and then Mazda showed there was a market for fun, small, 2-seaters. All the while, GM kept saying it would sell…oh well.

        • 0 avatar

          Yeah, my understanding is that they ran into permitting issues when it was realized that all the runoff from the track ended up in the Ohio river. That stalled construction and it was a domino effect from there until bankruptcy was claimed. Its really too bad.
          If you want to revive it, I believe its for sale for $5M. It’ll take about that much to finish it up, too.

          • 0 avatar

            I think 5/3 Bank might have a slight double take if I were to ask for a $10M loan to fix it up! I know it takes a lot of money to build and maintain a track, but ouch!
            My mind is blanking at the moment – isn’t there a private track just north of NYC that also is part of a larger housing/condo development? Given the growth of this area and the right developer, just maybe this could become a reality.

          • 0 avatar

            Not sure. Are you referring to Monticello Motor Club?

          • 0 avatar

            Replying to your latest comment to mine (the Reply button is gone) – that’s the one. I’ve always like the idea of having a place where serious car fans can live nearby, have a place to garage their cars at the track, and a track to run at whenever they wanted. Given Bluegrass’ location, it seemed perfect – right off of 71, no close neighbors to bother them, but close enough to Cincinnati where the commute wouldn’t be hell.
            Wild that we were all writing about Bluegrass because on my drive to Louisville yesterday, Waze picked up on the hellish delays on 71 south (finally repaving…about time, 2 alignments in six weeks because of that road), and dumped me on US-127N to 42W. Took me right past Bluegrass with the approach looking empty and rather deserted. You’re right. What could have been.

  • avatar

    A Ford on fire, a natural state (sorry, it’s low hanging fruit)

  • avatar

    That looks like a lot of fun.

  • avatar

    Light-hearted as it was, I really enjoyed reading this and watching the videos. Thanks for writing it up!

  • avatar

    Great article. Posts like these have been missing here for some time. Hopefully they let you stay full timr Mr. Magagnoli.

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