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

Anthony Magagnoli
by Anthony Magagnoli
when your racecar is on fire ask how on fire am i

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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4 of 13 comments
  • VoGhost I'm clearly in the minority here, but I think this is a smart move. Apple is getting very powerful, and has slowly been encroaching on the driving experience over the last decade. Companies like GM were on the verge of turning into mere hardware vendors to the Apple brand. "Is that a new car; what did you get?" "I don't remember. But it has the latest Apple OS, which is all I care about." Taking back the driving experience before it was too late might just be GM's smartest move in a while.
  • VoGhost Can someone Christian explain to me what this has to do with Jesus and bunnies?
  • Del My father bought GM cars in the 60's, but in 1971 he gave me a used Datsun (as they were called back then), and I'm now in my 70's and am happy to say that GM has been absent from my entire adult life. This article makes me gladder than ever.
  • TheEndlessEnigma That's right GM, just keep adding to that list of reasons why I will never buy your products. This, I think, becomes reason number 69, right after OnStar-Cannot-Be-Disabled-And-It-Comes-Standard-Whether-Or-Not-You-Want-It and Screw-You-American-Car-Buyer-We-Only-Make-Trucks-And-SUVs.
  • 3SpeedAutomatic Does this not sound and feel like the dawn of ICE automobiles in the early 20th century, but at double or triple speed speed!!There were a bunch of independent car markers by the late 1910’s. By the mid 20’s, we were dropping down to 10 or 15 producers as Henry was slashing the price of the Model T. The Great Depression hit, and we are down to the big three and several independents. For EVs, Tesla bolted out of the gate, the small three are in a mad dash to keep up. Europe was caught flat footed due to the VW scandal. Lucid, Lordstown, & Rivian are scrambling to up production to generate cash. Now the EV leader has taken a page from the Model T and is slashing prices putting the rest of the EV market in a tail spin. Deja vu……