Race car drivers have often been called a different breed.
An incident during the running of the Frontier 500 off-road race near Las Vegas last weekend did nothing to alter that opinion. What started as a picture-taking excursion wound up as a dramatic rescue that saved the life of another driver.
The drivers-turned-heroes were Eric Arras and Dave Simpson of Riverside. Arras, a co-driver of the McDonald's Racing Team entry, and Simpson, who is also a driver but was helping out as a pit crewman for the team, were filming cars at an isolated spot on the course when a car suddenly hit a bump and flipped, catching fire.
Simpson raced to the machine and found the driver, Aaron Hawley of Las Vegas, unconscious in the burning vehicle.
"I ran over and undid the belts but I couldn't get him out," Simpson said. "The dust was so bad I couldn't find the fire extinguisher, so I used my hands and arms and dirt to beat out the flames. Fortunately it wasn't a big fire and I was able to get it out, but gas was still leaking out of the car and I was afraid that the whole thing would go up. Fortunately it didn't."
By then Arras had joined Simpson, and they decided to leave Hawley in the car until he regained consciousness in case he had other injuries.
"When he came to, he didn't want to get out of the car but we finally coaxed him out," Simpson said.
Hawley suffered only minor burns on his shoulder where his safety harness had caught fire, but Simpson suffered first- and second-degree burns on his hands and forearms while putting out the blaze.
"It was just a case of being in the right place at the right time," Simpson said of the rescue. "(Hawley) was lucky that we were there. If it had happened a mile or so down the course, where nobody was, he probably would have burned to death."
Despite the ordeal, Arras returned to the pits and relieved Frank Snook at the wheel as the pair drove to victory in their class.
Simpson, meanwhile, continued to do his work despite his burned hands, until he finally consented to have them treated almost an hour after the accident.
OFF-ROAD RACING--Stadium-style racing will return to the Orange Show Speedway in San Bernardino Saturday night for the second-last race in Mickey Thompson's Off-Road Championship Gran Prix series. Previous events on the course that uses both the quarter-mile paved oval and the infield have been among the best in the series, but Thompson said that Saturday night's races will be even better for a couple of reasons. There are close races for the season championship in every class and Saturday's program will be run over a revamped track.
The new layout will be wider for more passing, the jumps have been rebuilt for longer jumps and the turns have been widened. There is also a 6-foot deep, 15-foot wide ditch that slashes across the track in front of the grandstand. The racers will have to jump the ditch.
In the point races, most of the attention will be focused on the featured sport trucks where Steve Miller and his Toyota are the leaders. Mazda's Glenn Harris is only 59 points behind, however, followed closely by Ivan Stewart in a Toyota, Sherman Balch in a Nissan and Jeff Huber in a Ford. Although he is out of the running in the standings, Roger Mears is the driver the rest all fear. Mears, the defending series champion, hasn't won a race this year, but he and his crew might have just about ironed out the many problems that have plagued his Nissan this year.
Point races are close, too, in the other categories--ultra stock, three- and four-wheel ATVs, super 1,600s and Odyssey. The program will get under way at 5:30 with a photo-autograph session, during which fans can meet the drivers and see the cars close up. The first race will start at 7.
SPRINT CARS--It was a long time coming, but Mike Sweeney, who has been in second place in the California Racing Assn. standings most of the year, finally won his first main event of the year last Saturday night and will try to repeat in Saturday night's program at Ascot Park. Although it is too late for Sweeney to overtake leader Brad Noffsinger, the victory did wonders for his pocketbook, since he collected $3,000, including a $1,000 bonus from happy car owner Frank Lewis. Despite the win, Sweeney gained only nine points on Noffsinger, who had to go to the back of the pack after grazing the wall while avoiding another car. Noffsinger, however, still finished fifth and now holds a 219-point advantage over Sweeney. . . . The World of Outlaws Western swing will continue Friday and Saturday night at Santa Maria Speedway where a $46,200-purse will be at stake for the two-night program on the third-mile track. Sammy Swindell will be gunning for his third straight victory, having won at Placerville and Baylands last week.