IndyCar – Flaming Texas Failure and the Decline of Safety in the IndyCar Series

Silvestro on Fire in Texas

Simona de Silvestro’s effort at Texas came to an inglorious end on Saturday night. After an accident that left her stranded on track with the right sidepod spouting flames, it took the IndyCar travelling safety crew 40 seconds to extract her from the car. Apparently, the fire hose that they have attached to the safety truck failed and the fire bottles that they brought to bear on the blaze proved insufficient for the task. This resulted in one of the crew members forcefully yanking Simona from the car.

Simona escaped with only minor burns to her right hand and has been fully cleared to compete at Iowa next weekend. But this could have been far worse. Drivers are urged to stay in their cars until the safety crew has evaluated an accident. If Simona had incurred a head, neck or back injury in her accident, yanking her from the car could have been a bad course of action.

The IRL has already owned up to this safety catastrophe. They recognize that this level of response is unacceptable. Luckily this time, there were no bad injuries. But you have to wonder how Holmatro feels. They sponsor the IndyCar safety travelling safety crew and they provide much of the rescue equipment that the safety crew uses. The nature of the hose failure is unknown at this time.

Here is the IRL’s press release on this subject:

First and foremost, we make the safety of our competitors a priority when on the track. The primary hose on the series’ safety truck malfunctioned, so the safety team had to go to the backup of the bottles. All equipment is checked prior to going on track before every race. We are examining why the hose malfunctioned to ensure this equipment failure will not happen again.

Our Safety Team consists of approximately 24 highly-trained safety personnel with a minimum of 14 attending each event – 2 trauma physicians, 3 paramedics and 9 firefighters/EMTs. Team members have an average of 20 years of experience in their respective areas. The safety team is recognized for its high standards and high performance and this problem will be addressed.

Penske, Power and the Fuel Nozzle

But that is not the only safety related problem we have seen recently. At Indy, Will Power was released from his pit before his fuel nozzle was disengaged from the car. The fuel nozzle broke loose from the hose and remained attached to the car as it left pitlane. Power brought his car up to speed and remained on track for at least 2 full laps, all the while distributing bits of the nozzle onto the racing surface. race control brought out a yellow due to the debris and gave Will the black flag for leaving pitlane with pit equipment still attached to the car.

Once again, it is good that nobody was seriously injured but the incident itself shows poor oversight by race control. It appears that the IRL did not learn much from the death of Henry Surtees or Felipe Massa’s near tragic incident last year. Those were freak accidents, one caused by a bouncing tire from a racing incident immediately ahead of Surtees on the track, the other caused by a spring that fell out of a cars suspension. Why do I bring this up? Power’s fuel nozzle could have fallen off the car and caused another freak incident.

The fact that Power was even allowed by race control to leave the warmup lane is disturbing. Beyond that, it is reprehensible that Penske allowed Power to get up to speed and pass up pitlane twice hoping for a yellow so they could remove the nozzle without causing further damage to their race strategy. Simply put, Power should have been excluded from the race the moment he passed up pit entry on his out lap. That fuel nozzle was a known chunk of debris that could dislodge from Power’s car at any time. Unlike the other two incidents listed above, that chunk could have made contact with a car going 230mph with concrete walls all around.


The IRL would do well to reevaluate their safety procedures. Due to the speeds and the concrete walls surrounding, IndyCar is easily one of the most dangerous sports on the planet. The IRL has done well since their inception of being on the leading edge of safety technology, and rightly so because if they were not, the whole sport could be shut down by government oversight and public opinion. With new sponsors onboard (IZOD, Holmatro, etc..) the IRL has to be very careful that they continue to set the standard for racing safety or these newfound partnerships could disappear. Not to mention the human lives that could be lost.

Racing is dangerous enough as it is without the added danger of burning up in your car due to malfunctioning safety equipment or losing your life to a fuel nozzle hitting you in the face.

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11 Thoughts to “IndyCar – Flaming Texas Failure and the Decline of Safety in the IndyCar Series

  1. The safety team certainly came away with egg on their face, and I must admit that I viewed the league’s press release lame and unsuited to the seriousness of the problem. I understand that equipment will malfunction at times, and some times those malfunctions can happen at really bad times, but you should always have multiple contigency plans. Historically, the IRL Safety Crew has been an industry leader, but if they want to continue being considered as such, they really need to address their response failures at Texas.

    The Power/IMS issue with the fuel nozzle wasn’t a fault of the Safety Crew, but with the Penske organization’s and Race Control’s arrogant disregard of the other competitors’ safety.

  2. Scott Terner

    It also appeared to me that the first safety worker to reach her was woefully under trained in how to remove the padding around her shoulders and neck, he appeared quite confused. As a racer myself I’m not as concerned about hitting something or flipping over in the car……but fire is my BIGGEST fear…..I was on my feet the whole time SCREAMING for them to get her out of the car…..maybe there needs to be something looked into that will facilitate removal of those cockpit pieces faster and more efficiently in the event of a fire.

  3. Remmy14

    I agree with everything said. As I was watching the race Saturday, I could not believe the blatant laziness that the Holmatro Safety Crew displayed in getting to de Silvestro’s car. The car was on fire from the time she hit the wall, and yet as the truck pulled up to her car, three or four guys slowly got out of the car and walked over to get the hoses (which ended up not even working). They basically just sat around and watched as she was struggling to get out. I was screaming at the TV as I watched it live. The Holmatro team definitely needs to change something, because the Delphi crew never would have let something like that happen.

  4. Well said Doug, “arrogant disregard” is a good way of summarizing how I feel Penske and Barnhart treated this issue. I am saddened that the Penske issue at IMS didn’t get that much play in the normal IndyCar media. This is an extremely serious situation.

    Throw on top of that the failure of the safety equipment and procedures at Texas and Conway’s tire making it through the catch fence at Indy and we start to see a disturbing trend. All are completely isolated incidents where the blame can be assigned to separate parties, but the IndyCar series cannot let this trend continue.

  5. Scott, I have to agree with you. That was painful to watch, especially when the driver was in such imminent peril.

    I saw the same amateur style safety response at the USGP when Ralf backed it into the Turn 1 wall on the oval. Because of F1’s ridiculous rules, the medical car left pit lane and proceeded the full length around the track before arriving on the scene to render help. Marshals got to the car quicker, but were not allowed to do anything to help Ralf until the medical car arrived. Their response to his accident was atrocious, but what makes it worse is that the rulebook dictated that their response would be atrocious (since the medical could not go backwards around the circuit and the fact that they only had one medical car). What makes it worse is that Ralf’s broken back was caused by all the carbon fiber shards that were laid on the track by the lap 1 / turn 1 accident that didn’t get cleaned up, got embedded in Ralf’s tires on the following laps and then caused the puncture. In the end, Ralf’s broken back was caused by bad safety procedures in F1 which did not respect the concrete wall on the oval.

    IndyCar cannot be allowed to operate their shows with that kind of blatant disregard to the safety of their drivers and fans.

  6. Alan Turner

    While I completely agree with just about everything said here I do take issue with Mike’s last statement. “IndyCar cannot be allowed to operate their shows with that kind of blatant disregard to the safety of their drivers and fans.” IndyCar can do what ever they damn well please. If they do something and there are civil legal consequences then so be it. But to say that they can not be allowed sounds to me just like every time some terrible crime occurs people are shouting for more and more laws. Some times they are warranted and other times they just add confusion to the legal issues. I for one do not want any outside (i.e government for an example) involved in racing. I believe in New Jersey it is required that state police are present for all safety and technical inspections and as a result there is little to no racing in that state. Mike also made this point very well in his article.

    It is righteous to be outraged that the response was not better in these recent situations. But, we need to be careful with our indignation.

    I believe that had it not been for Massa’s horrible accident most of us would certainly be concerned about the Penske/Power incident but it would not be generating the horror that is now. I agree that there is probably an opportunity for an amendment to the rule concerning leaving your pit area with tool or equipment attached. I believe that exclusion is probably a very good solution.

    As for the Silvestro situation I believe complacency regarding fire is the root cause. For so long now serious burns and dangerous fires have been of such little concern outside of pit lane. Clearly the response by the crews to TK’s incident is a clear indication that fire during refueling is clearly on everyone up and down pit lanes minds. But, after an on track accident I can remember the last time fire was a serious issue. And in the Silvestro situation it was really almost a freak accident. I kept thinking that at any minute it would extinguish itself. It wasn’t until that I saw the bumbling response that it began to take on a more urgent feeling. Again, though this is a good opportunity for a review of the rules and procedures. Maybe a more complete testing of equipment prior to every on track session is required.

    Having said all of this, I think that with out a doubt the Holmatro crews are the gold standard but there is always room for improvement.

  7. Alan Turner

    After having reread my comment I realize “I think” allot.:-) And I suppose it’s true I do think allot. Doesn’t always lead to anything worth while. LOL.

  8. Alan,

    My intent with that statement was as follows:

    1. The FIA’s safety rules in F1 are pathetic and lax as evidenced by Ralf’s accident at Indy.

    2. The IRL has set a much higher standard for safety and cannot be “allowed” by the fans and the media to slip into F1’s poor safety standards and blatant disregard for the safety of their competitors.

    3. If you disagree that F1 has poor safety standards, then defend Ralf’s situation from the FIA’s standpoint. Nothing has changed.

  9. ATB73

    That donkey garden hose that would not deploy properly makes me sick. They got too fancy in their design, having it rolled up into the front bumper. All they really need is a big spool of old fashioned fire hose on the back of a pickup truck, a drunk monkey could deploy the thing. Aside from the NHRA safety safari, circa 1950’s, I was always under the belief that IndyCar, along with Dr’s. Henry Bock, Terry Trammel, and Methodist Hospital were the cutting edge of Race Rescue / Rebuild. NASCAR still doesn’t have a permananet safety team that travels to each and every race. Each track provides it’s own.

    F1 is certainly lax, the European mindset is much different than the American mindset. Drivers are expendable, and they aren’t supposed to crash. But when the do crash, they have been known to fly to states and visit Dr. Trammel.

  10. Alan Turner


    Uhm, I agreed with everything you said. I made a few comments concerning what I felt as I was watching the events unfold and near as I can tell those feelings were pretty much in line with everything you wrote both in your article and your comments. I wrote nothing regarding the FIA or your opinion of the safety response in F1 or specifically the RF incident at Indy. As such I am a little confused. Do you want me to make a statement regarding the FIA and it’s safety procedures?

    The only thing I said that was not in any way an echo of what you wrote is that we are not in the position to DICTATE to Indy Car how they run their business. We can comment and I agree with your comments. But your language seems to indicate that it’s your right and responsibility to make Indy Car do what you want. Sorry, as much as I would like to be able to do that sometimes it’s simply not going to happen. It makes me nervous when people start using some of the language that you used because as I noted it often leads to unintended consequences. I was simply trying to make clear that I don’t think we want outside interests involved in racing and I specifically noted that you made a good and clear point about that as well.

    I have no interest in making an argument for the FIA on any matter and frankly I resent that you seem to think you can dismiss my opinion unless I argue it from a perspective that you want me to. Which is what makes your response even more perplexing since I not only took the same position you did I even gave you credit for it. I can make arguments for my adversary and to be blunt when I do I usually win. If you want me to do that I suppose I can but since auto racing is my passion I must warn you that my heart will not be in it.

    Also, I have to tell you that writing “Nothing has changed” at the end of a sentence is much the same as writing “PERIOD!” and is usually a good indicator that you have run to the end of your ability to argue your point.

    Please reread what I wrote, what you wrote and hopefully you will come to the conclusion that you and I are really very much in agreement and in the mean time climb down off the wall Humpty Dumpty before some body gets hurt.

  11. “Nothing has changed” was put at the end of point #3 to indicate that the FIA has not yet changed their rules on medical cars and accident response, not to stick a hot poker in your face. Even in the face of Ralf’s situation, they did not change their safety procedures. In fact, they made great pains to tell us that their response was adequate. Ask Terry Trammel if Zanardi would still be alive if he arrived on the scene 2 minutes after that wreck at Lausitzring.

    I should not have put point 3 in my previous comment, because as you pointed out, you were not making any comment about the FIA’s safety standards. Sorry about that. My initial comment which you took issue with was based off of the FIA’s “blatant disregard” for the safety of their drivers. Yes, I think the IRL cannot be allowed to show that same kind of disregard that the FIA showed in that situation (and continues to defend). I guess the question is by what means I think they should they not be “allowed”? You have put some words in my mouth on that front, so I should clarify.

    The fans and media should tar and feather the IRL if what happened to Simona becomes a common occurrence. The fact that Conway’s tire made it through the catch fence at Indy, that Power was allowed to race at speed with a fuel nozzle attached to his car for at least 2 laps at Indy and that Simona’s situation was handled so poorly at Texas indicates a disturbing trend. Our outrage as fans and from IndyCar media should be more than enough to persuade the IRL to try harder to ascribe to the high safety standards that they have already set for themselves. If that is not sufficient, then maybe it will take another fan getting hit by a wheel, or a driver frying in his cockpit…. then “cannot be allowed” takes on an entirely different connotation as government oversight or track insurance companies might regulate our sport out of existence. So heck yeah, we cannot allow the IRL to digress on their safety standards. In no way do I feel that I can “DICTATE” how IndyCar runs their business, but I will use what mean I have available to call them on the carpet when they fail.

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