Two of three crewmembers injured in a scary fire Friday night at Richmond International Raceway remained in a local hospital Saturday morning. The fire erupted during ToyotaCare 250 NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Richmond just before the halfway point.
The incident happened on lap 111 of 250 when driver Brendan Gaughan pitted. During the stop his Richard Childress Racing Chevy burst into flames starting at the rear of the car near where it was being refueled. Rear-tire changer Anthony O’Brien of Cambridge, Minnesota, was changing the right-rear tire when the flames enveloped him. He was able to move away from the flames. O’Brian was still ablaze however after he jumped back over the wall. He was taken to the ground by Clifford “Doc” Turner, a crewmember for another team. Also involved was fuel can man Josh Wittman. Wittman could also be seen on fire as he moved away from the car. Nearby fire rescue personnel quickly began extinguishing the flames on O’Brien and Whittman with fire extinguishers.
Gaughan ‘s crew chief Shane Wilson indicated that a failure with the fueling head, which seals the fuel can to the car, caused fuel to spill. Sparks from the lug nuts hitting the pavement as the rear wheel was changed, ignited the fuel.
All three of those involved could be seen standing and talking immediately after the incident. The three were eventually transported to a local hospital from the infield care center . According to the team O’Brien and Wittman were kept overnight for observation and remained there Saturday morning, while Turner was released Friday night after being treated for inhalation of fumes from the fire extinguishers.
Gaughan raced to an 11th-place finish, one lap down to race winner Denny Hamlin. He said his primary concern after the stop were his crewmembers.
“NASCAR racing, we’re athletes and these boys are athletes also,” Gaughan said. “That’s part of the sport. Fortunately, one of our boys knew what to do and the other one, the shock took him. I’m going to go check on them now and see how they’re doing, but it’s definitely … I’m always an emotional guy, so it’s definitely tough to worry about that and try to keep driving. But at least you have to stay focused and get your gig done, and now I’m going to go check on my boys.”
Wilson met with NASCAR officials after the race to examine the faulty fuel filler. He said it would be examined more this week at the sanctioning body’s Research & Development Center in Concord North Carolina.
Saturday evening just after NASCAR postponed the Sprint Cup race due to rain, a team spokesperson said that Wittman had been released but O’Brien remained hospitalized and released the following statement:
“Following last night’s pit road incident at Richmond International Raceway, Richard Childress Racing pit crew member (gas man) Josh Wittman of the No. 62 XFINITY Series team has been released from a Richmond, VA-based hospital after overnight observation. Thanks to quick action that was taken by the Richmond International Raceway fire crew and NASCAR medical staff.
Rear tire changer Anthony O’Brien remains under the care of physicians at the local hospital for further evaluation and is in good condition. The Sparco safety equipment, including the crew members’ firesuits, did its job in protecting them.
We thank the NASCAR community for their continued support.”