Austin Manzella celebrated his 21st birthday one week ago. He almost didn’t live to be 21 for more than one week.
On Saturday night at California’s Bakersfield Speedway, Manzella’s UMP Sport Modified crashed with another car on lap 19 of the 25-lap feature. Both cars went up in flames. Manzella’s car burned to the ground, leaving nothing but a badly damaged frame and drivetrain.
Manzella immediately tried to find a way to put the fire out, but found none. Instead, he had to stand by and watch his race car burn to the ground.
“At the track they didn’t actually have a designated fire crew,” Manzella told Speed51.com powered by JEGS. “They had one guy in a suit on the front straightaway who is an official, but he was nowhere to be seen. Then they had one charged fire extinguisher that they shot right into the center of the fire and it didn’t help us get out of the cars at all. No one was getting anywhere near our cars to help us.”
He recalled an incident last year when a Midget burned down at Bakersfield. Manzella said he and his fellow racers were told that measures had been taken to prevent any similar incidents from taking place in the future, but there stood Manzella on Saturday night anyway.
“They said they’d taken precautionary measures by putting a tank in the back of a truck that they’d always have charged with foam and have that ready,” Manzella explained. “That had always been the track, so we all assumed that he’d have it charged so it was usable. When it came to this, that truck was nowhere to be seen, and we found out it wasn’t charged. So we had been lied to by the promoter that there were safety measures to stop something like that from happening again.”
Speed51.com made multiple attempts to reach Bakersfield Speedway management, but our attempts were unsuccessful.
Manzella was running second at the time of the crash and was headed towards his fourth podium finish. He said his goal is to be back in a Sport Modified by next year.
“I’m starting to become a better racer so we don’t want to quit now.”
While Manzella is pretty certain that he’ll be back behind the wheel of a race car sooner rather than later, he’s unsure if he’ll return to Bakersfield Speedway until the proper steps are in place to prevent another incident like his.
“We’ve actually gotten in contact with the Kern County Fire Department,” said Manzella. “We’ve been told that they’re going to step in and basically force the promoter’s hand to step up his fire game. We have two dirt tracks in Kern County and the other dirt track is already set with all the new designs in fire safety because they’re sanctioned by NASCAR. We’re trying to put pressure on Bakersfield Speedway to step up and match what we’re doing at the other one. Until that happens, me and my race team will not be back at Bakersfield. But we will be back if they step up and make it a safer place to race.
“My family and friends have been racing at Bakersfield for over 20 years. We aren’t trying to tear anything down. We’re just trying to make it safer so we don’t end up losing someone’s life like that. It’s 2016. We need to be on top of these things.”
-By Rob Blount, Speed51.com Southeast Editor – Twitter: @RobBlount
-Photo Credit: Austin Manzella Facebook