Not even the most crazed special effects artists could have pictured the scene in turn one at Evergreen Speedway in Washington State Saturday night.
On lap 28 of the night’s 75-lap Super Late Model feature, a massive firestorm consumed a portion of the track, including three of the speedway’s finest competitors. Thankfully the flames died down after a few seconds and out of the smoke Trenton Moriarty, Tyler Tanner and Jeff Knight all walked away with just minor injuries.
After resting up and examining the damage on Sunday all three drivers spoke with Speed51.com powered by JEGS on Monday, describing what they saw and thought at the time, and what they now think looking back.
Trenton Moriarty was third at the time ahead of Tyler Tanner who was right behind in fourth, and Jeff Knight who was a bit further back in fifth. Moriarty was still a little shaken up, but is determined to get back in the game to protect his points lead in the Super Late Model standings.
“I’m doing alright, still overwhelmed honestly,” Moriarty said. “It’s so crazy how fast it happened, and still processing why it happened. My crew and I have gone through the car. It’s stripped down to the bare chassis now. We’re going to make a run for it and get it ready for the next race in two and a half weeks on the three-eighths mile oval to see if we can finish this thing off.”
The trouble Saturday night started when Moriarty’s engine went out in a big way. He explained exactly what happened on Monday afternoon.
“What happened was I was going down the straightaway, all my gauges looked fine, and I happened to look at my mirror and noticed that Tyler (Tanner) was on my bumper,” Moriarty began. “I was actually going to let him and Knight go because they had faster cars at that time, and I didn’t want to hold them up. But going down the stretch, it over-revved itself, popped out of gear and when it blew up it threw two rods out of the engine, so I had two holes in the block. All the oil was shooting on my rear tires, I back spun, Tyler got collected. As soon as I hit the wall, it blew off the top cover of the fuel cell and that’s when it exploded and ruptured.”
While Moriarty had avoided most of the flames, the crash damage had caused a bit of a moment during his exit.
“The only thing I was hesitant with was my window net rod was actually bent up on the front side. The plunger had bent itself up and bent the tab crooked,” he stated. “I had to really give it some force and beat it down to where I could get the window net all the way down so I could get out of it, so that took some time. One of my belts was also hung up, so that was pretty scary.”
Upon getting out of the car, he got a first look at the devastation behind him.
“When I got out, I hadn’t realized that Tyler and Jeff (Knight) were involved as much as they were. When I turned around I didn’t realize that they had gotten collected and they were both on fire. I thought Tyler had gotten in the wall just a little bit, I didn’t realize how much damage in the back that had caused. It was overwhelming, that was my first big wreck with a fire and stuff. Last year at the Summer Showdown I got a concussion from flying into someone else’s melee, but this one tops last year.”
With the next Super Late Model race in September, Moriarty is putting all his focus forward into getting the No. 12 back on track.
“I just got off the phone with my dad, my sponsors are coming together. We got guys getting ready to help us out, we got body parts coming. The rear end was fine, we just need to order some lower control arms for the right front and a new fuel cell, obviously.”
Tyler Tanner was in a difficult position as he had a front row seat for the initial explosion, and had gotten hit multiple times from in the front, the side and from behind. Luckily he was able to walk away with just a few minor burns.
Tanner described his perspective of the crash during a phone conversation on Monday.
“I really didn’t notice anything until the end of the straightaway. I was tight to the 12 car (Moriarty) and at the end of the straightaway his engine blew up,” he said. “They run dry sump motors so there’s more oil in the oil pan than a regular engine, and it’s all in the engine. Once he blew up, there was oil everywhere and you can’t do anything about it. I got into the fence, there was no fire until I hit the back of him, it bust his fuel cell open. It started the fire and it was early in the race so it was still full.”
“All I could see was fire, but it wasn’t really hot yet while the car was still moving. At that time my spotter said to pull the (extinguisher) pin and get out. But it hadn’t got that hot yet, I took off the steering wheel, I was reaching for the pin, about the time I was about to cock it was when my car came to a stop that’s when it got really hot. I was still buckled in at the time, so I skipped going to the pin at that point, went right for the belts and got out as fast as I could.”
The situation for Tanner then took an even more frightening turn, which now has him altering a usual habit of his.
“Some of the burns on my face, I always have my visor barely cracked during a race to circulate a little more air across my face. It sucked some of the fire inside my helmet and that’s where part of the panic came in, where I didn’t even get to the pin, once I felt that I just went straight for my seat belts and window net, then got out.”
Despite being slightly flustered, Tanner regained his composure and then gave fellow competitor Jeff Knight a hand.
“By the time I got out it seemed like forever from when the fire first started to when I got out. I looked over and Jeff’s a pretty tall guy, he was kind of wedged in the window and not getting out all that fast. But there wasn’t that much fire left, he pulled the pin in his car, so there was just a little burning on the cowl,” Tanner said. “I didn’t know what the deal was, I just grabbed him and pulled him out. He said he was alright; he just seemed kind of dazed. I didn’t know if it was from the crash. We walked off, I went to my pits, saw Trenton on the way, talked to him for a few seconds and that was about the end of it.”
Unfortunately for Tanner, Saturday’s blaze might mean the end of his 2017 racing season.
“It came home the next day on the flatbed,” he said of his race car. “I didn’t pull the pin and the car sat there and burned until the safety crew got there. We had a similar situation back in May in the same spot, Garrett Evans blew a power steering line and I got the wall, just no fire. Spent every bit of my own money to get the car back together so we could race the Summer Showdown and this was the second race. We’re just out of resources to fix it for the rest of this year, so we’ll probably just sit and regroup for next year.”
Behind Tanner at that point in the race was Jeff Knight, who Tanner had assisted. Despite walking away with Tanner, Knight made a trip to the hospital just to be sure everything was in order.
“I’m okay, I got some second-degree burns around my neck on the left side. I spent a couple of hours at the hospital on Saturday night just to check out the burns and make sure I didn’t inhale some of the super-heated air,” Knight explained. “Make sure my lungs were okay, but I lost some nose hair and some of my eyebrows, but I’m okay.”
While Knight had a greater distance on Moriarty then Tanner, the size of Moriarty’s engine failure was more than enough to sweep up Knight and his No. 70 Super Late Model.
“Coming off of four, I could see Tyler out in front of me and I was getting ready to settle in behind and follow him to the front. As I crossed the start/finish line my windshield instantly covered in oil, and everything went blurry,” Knight began. “I went to pull to the bottom, because I knew somebody was blowing up, I didn’t know who, but I didn’t have any steering in the oil. My thought at that point going into the fence was that I didn’t want to hurt my car too bad, so I tried to go in with the right-rear, and did the best dirt pitch I could to get it to go in with the right-rear instead of the right-front, and I was just along for the ride at that point.”
After passing through the flames, Knight tried to handle things inside the car, but realized that it was too much.
“I’m a big guy, six-foot-four, it takes me a bit longer to get out than these little guys. I was in the car a little longer because I thought I could put the fire out on my own,’ Knight said. “I was trying to pat myself off. I don’t know if I got some oil through the window net when Trenton’s motor blew up, but the left side of me was the part that was still burning. When I realized I couldn’t put it out, that’s when I went for the net, my belts, and the wheel. I was just trying to get out, I appreciate Tyler coming over and giving me a hand, I guess I needed it.”
Upon exiting the car, that was when the scope of the accident struck Knight.
“In the moment when I got out of the car, the track was still burning between me and the grandstands. I looked up, my car still had a little fire on it, I pulled the pin for my fire bottle. I could see Tyler’s car was on fire, Trenton’s car was on fire, it was apocalyptic there for a moment. But I didn’t understand the full magnitude of it until I saw the video myself, it was huge.”
Knight, who is second to Moriarty in the points, is confident that he can get back into competition come September.
“Rear clip, the whole body is burned, all the windows are melted, knocked the right upper a-plate out of it, but I saved the front clip,” he said. “That’s a win for me when considering the rest of the race car. I’m making plans already, (Tony) Eury, Jr. from Fury is in town working with me because we were supposed to test today to try and win this championship. He flew home early, but they spent yesterday helping to strip down the car, so we’ll see.”
Looking back, Knight feels that all three drivers involved in the fiery crash are winners for the simple fact that they are in good health and will be able to race again another day.
“I also feel like I won just getting minor burns, after I saw the photos and what came out on Sunday from all the photographers. I got to tell you, I’m super grateful that Trenton, Tyler, and myself weren’t seriously injured; that was no joke what happened there.”
-By Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com CT, MA, RI & Long Island Editor –Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo Credit: Horsepower Project/Michele Martin