Tornadoes & Fire…but like a Phoenix, we will rise from the ashes

The 2017 season has come and boy, has it had a dramatic start. I was going to do a blog post after the first race at Wildhorse Pass Motorsports Park in Phoenix, but now I’m glad I waited until after the second race in Parker, Arizona at the Bluewater Resort & Casino. If you’ve followed my Facebook posts religiously, you know it has been a very interesting start to the Lucas Oil Drag Boat Racing Series season.

 Photo Creds: My boyfriend, Cody Springer

We started in Phoenix at the beginning of April, and man was I ready to be back in that seat! We signed on Lucas Oil Marine Products as our 2017 primary sponsor and I was so excited to unveil or new crew shirts and my new driving suit! We got to Phoenix on Thursday night and the guys had been there since late Wednesday night, so they had everything already set up. We were hanging out, talking, thinking about going to bed, when the wind picked up dramatically. We start seeing this sand looking stuff blow by us, and it had us all really confused as to what it was. Pretty shortly after that, mom yells, “FIRE!!!” Turns out, the cover that was on my boat had been blowing in the wind and hitting the battery charger just right for it to catch fire. Dad quickly ran over to the boat and lifted the cover and put his hand in the fire to unhook the battery charger, then put the fire out with a water bottle that was in his hand (Note to all race teams: have a fire extinguisher in sight at all times). After all of that craziness, it was time to go racing the next morning. It had been a very long winter, and making that first pass was like riding a bike. For me, the first race of the season is always nerve racking. It had been months since I had been in the seat of my pro mod and there had been changes made to my cockpit over the winter that I was not yet familiar with. We went over the new controls for about 2.2 seconds before my first pass on Friday in Phoenix, and luckily, I have a pretty good memory because my steering wheel looks completely different than it did in the 2016 season. On Friday in Phoenix, Lucas Oil had a test day trying out a new length for our starting line. For the past however many years, the length between the holding rope and the start line was 125 feet. On Friday, though, we were trying a 50 foot start. The idea behind this was to slow down some classes MPH’s because they were getting a little too fast for the official’s liking. My second pass of the day, I ran a 7.41 at 182 mph. Typically, I run around 177-180 mph. Lucas decided later that day, at the drivers meeting that we would go back to the 125 foot start. Honestly, I was perfectly happy with either or. As long as I get to go racing, I’m pretty flexible with trying new things. On Saturday, we ran too fast both qualifying passes that we got, which put us towards the bottom of the ladder for Sunday. During the day on Saturday, I was in the toterhome with Remi when I heard a bunch of noise going on outside. The boys were working on the generator so at first, that’s what I thought it was. Turns out it wasn’t. I opened the toter home door and all I see is one of our E-Z-Up’s up against the side of the toter blocking me in. After awhile, I go outside to find out that my whole team had been in a mini tornado (dust devil) and it had actually picked my boyfriend and Barney up off the ground while they were holding on to the E-Z-Up’s and moved them about 10 feet. The E-Z-Up’s scratched up  my boat, the toter, the trailer, and one E-Z-Up was completely destroyed. That night, Barney goes “the only thing that is going well for us is the boat!” Well, he spoke too soon. Sunday morning comes around and we head to the ramp for round 1 just like normal. I get out on the line and it comes my turn, I give the starter the thumbs up, the lights start blinking, I go to start the boat, and nothing. The motor turns over but when I hit the ignition switch, nothing happens. The even worse part about this whole ordeal was that when we got back to the pits, the motor fired right up. We think what happened was that it was cold that morning and the guys had primed the motor like normal but because it was so cold, the plugs got wet and that wouldn’t allow the motor to start. It was super disappointing. My mom, Cody and I had a flight to catch the next day, but it was obviously pretty early when we lost. The boys loaded up and headed home, and we tried to get our flight changed, but we couldn’t. So we were still in Phoenix by the time the boys were already back in Kansas. It was just a teensy bit irritating, mostly because I had a ton of homework to do before going back to school on Tuesday. But, we made the best of it and enjoyed the record setting Top Fuel pass on Sunday afternoon.

 Photo Creds: David Gillen

On to Parker…

In the airport, on the way to Parker, I told mom “This is going to be our race! It’s gonna happen” and it very well could have been, in like, another lifetime. First of all, two day races make me crazy. Two day races mean that you only have 2 or maaaybeee 3 chances to qualify well and feel confident about cutting a light before race day comes around. First round on Friday went pretty well, we ran a 7.10 which isn’t bad and I cut a .121 light which isn’t horrible, but I was definitely  not happy with that. Second round on Friday, I’m on the holding rope and I notice during the run before me, there was something funky going on with the clock. I figured it was just a glitch or something, and the person before me went ahead and ran so I brushed it off like it wasn’t a big deal. I was up next, and it did the same thing. It blinked three times then went immediately to the number countdown. At this point, I go through a debate in my head of whether I rush to make a pass, or shut the boat off and probably wait quite awhile while it gets fixed. Being my impatient self, I go ahead and go. Big mistake. I get to the end of the track and it’s pretty rough, so I’m bouncing around pretty good in the capsule. At this point, I can tell the motor had shut off. My dad comes on the radio and says “Shelb, I think you lost the blower belt. Go ahead and turn it off.” Before I could even think about what he was saying, I go on the radio and say “we have issues,” he says, “what issues?” At this point, I’m really frustrated with the clock being messed up  but in the midst of my next sentence, I realize I can feel heat in the capsule and can smell something burning. I come on the radio and say “First of all, the clocks are messed up, and second of all, I think I might be on fire.” Very calmly, dad says to get out and rescue is on their way. Keep in mind, that conversation all happened within like 15 seconds. I frantically start to unbuckle and open the capsule lid. Once it’s opened, I confirm that yes I definitely am on fire. I see black smoke coming from behind me and I quickly try to unhook my radio so I can step out of the capsule. I realize that turning my oxygen bottle off is going to take too long, and I step out without unhooking my bottle. It’s pressurized so now I’m standing on the boat, trying to get my oxygen bottle unhooked so I can decide what to do next. I can see a pretty big fire around the motor at this point and I finally get my air bottle unhooked. Now, rescue is about 5 feet away and is using a ton fire extinguisher foam to try to put out the fire. One of our divers tell me to jump on the rescue boat so I do. Once on the rescue boat, I can finally really tell how big the fire is and I totally break down. I’m 99% sure I was the first person to cry on the rescue boat (lol), but at that point, I didn’t care. The driver asks me to open my mouth which I’m assuming was to see if I had ingested any fire extinguisher foam. He asks if I’m okay and I tell him all I’m worried about is my boat. He gives me a bottle of water and within a few minutes, the fire is completely out and the put me back on the boat. A jetski starts pulling me to the out ramp and I can see my crew on the bank. Surprisingly, they seem pretty calm (I was expecting mom to be a mess, but she wasn’t). After the boat gets put on the trailer, the guys immediately start looking at the damage. Luckily, my brand new Lifeline driving suit and all my safety equipment was undamaged. What had happened was, we always kept a primer bottle in the boat by the v-drive mount. We had never had any problems with it being there, so it was always there. The roughness at the end of the track made it come out, get against the headers, catch on fire, which burnt up the ignition wires, which made the engine turn off, which made the blower belt come off. The perfect storm, right? We get back to the pits and they start tearing into stuff. We decide that the motor seems to be alright, but there is a lot of wiring to do. They worked on it for a few hours before everything necessary was hooked up again. We thought everything was good for Saturday morning, but before we went to the ramp for first round, the motor wouldn’t start. At this point, I’m so frustrated, but the guys start tearing into stuff to figure out what the problem is. Whatever they did, it worked for first round and we came out with the close win over Casey Beal. You would think all our problems are fixed, right? That’s what I thought anyways. Wrong. Before second round, the motor won’t start AGAIN. Seriously? The guys start tearing into things again to see what’s wrong this time, but it didn’t seem to be as easy of a fix. Finally, right before we about missed our call, the motor started in the pits. We rushed to the ramp, knowing that it was about a 75% chance that the motor wouldn’t start on the line. I get on the holding rope and give the starter a thumbs up, go to turn the motor on, nothing. Absolutely nothing. At that point, I knew there was nothing I could do. What we have figured is that it’s either a wiring problem from the fire or it’s a leftover problem from Phoenix. It was disappointing, but it was awesome to get a round win and make it to the semi finals in the second race of the year. My team gave 110% all weekend long, even faced with all of the challenges that we had. We have 6 weeks until Wheatland, and we’ll get everything fixed right before then. It has been a crazy & exhausting first two races, but I know that we will get a race win this year!! Stay tuned for the next 2017 season update!:) And I pray that I have no more fires to report the rest of the season;) Photo Creds: Marsha Waz

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