Safety worker grateful for well wishes

The driver of the safety truck that exploded into flames during
the Daytona 500 thanked NASCAR fans Tuesday night for their
concern.

Duane Barnes was driving the jet dryer that was hit under
caution when something broke on Juan Pablo Montoya’s car and sent
it careening into the truck. The collision caused a raging inferno
that scorched the track and stopped Monday night’s race for just
over two hours.

”I appreciate everyone for taking the time to write, call and
ask how I am,” Barnes said in a statement. ”I am OK, and I am
amazed at how many people have wished me well. I am also glad Juan
Pablo Montoya is OK, and thank him for his concern.”

Barnes, a 24-year employee of Michigan International Speedway,
was evaluated at a Daytona hospital Monday night and released. He
was one of two employees Michigan sent to Daytona to help with the
season-opening race.

Barnes often assists at tracks owned by International Speedway
Corp. by driving jet dryers. Michigan sent three jet dryers to the
race.

Meanwhile, Daytona president Joie Chitwood III said the 200
gallons of jet fuel that spilled across Daytona International
Speedway and caught fire was a worst-case scenario.

”The worst possible thing that can happen to a racetrack is
fuel,” Chitwood said. ”We hardly ever talk about burning fuel. If
we would have talked about having 200 gallons of burning jet fuel
on the racetrack during the event, I’m not sure what the likelihood
would have been of completing the race.”

Track workers put out the fire, then turned to laundry detergent
to clean up the mess because, Chitwood said, the detergent is
typically used to wash the track surface. The track was watered,
soaped, watered again, then a street bond was added.

The entire process took just over two hours, and racing resumed
right after.

”It was about a 10- or 11-step process,” said Chitwood.
”There is no true training manual to light a track on fire and
respond to it. But what the team did . I think is phenomenal.”

Drivers seemed concerned about racing through the area as they
turned laps under caution, and a collective sigh was let out once
Jeff Burton led a line of drivers through the high-side of the
track that seemed to be the riskiest area.

”The drivers did not get an opportunity to see the track before
we re-started, and I can only assume as I go through there and I
hear stuff flying up into the crush panels that it’s asphalt,”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said. ”When you’re a driver and you’re running
on a racetrack and you hear things flying up, that’s not typically
normal. So I just assumed the track was pretty soft, but it held up
well.”

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