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.”