Safety Safari

A Safety Safari Chevy Silverado with Amkus rescue tools and firefighting equipment. (Photos by the NHRA.)
A Safety Safari Chevy Silverado with Amkus rescue tools and firefighting equipment. (Photos by the NHRA.)

Several years ago, in one of my Web columns, I highlighted another safety team for racing that concerned the Indy Car Series. If you are a drag racing fan, you probably already know about and have seen this team in action either at one of the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) national events or on TV. The team I am referring to is the NHRA Safety Safari.

Team Background

To give you a little background about the team, I have to go back to the 1950s. Members of the NHRA Safety Safari perform some of the toughest and most important jobs at every NHRA national event. They are there to respond to on-track emergencies and help provide a track ready for competition at each of the 24 NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series events.

The Safety Safari, the first full-time team devoted to safety in North American motorsports, is known as the finest in racing. The Safety Safari is part of the team of first responders to incidents, along with other emergency and medical responders.

In the 1950s, the NHRA formed the Safety Safari to educate competitors at small dragstrips across the United States. A four-person crew made up the original Drag Safari, as it was then known. That crew used a station wagon to pull one small camper-style trailer containing all the gear needed to stage a drag race: timing equipment, a public announcement system, field telephones, a one-cylinder generator, and miles of stainless-steel wire to bring all the electronic equipment to life.

Two track sweepers and a tire guiding tractor in the rear.

Today, a fleet of trucks pulls a variety of trailers to all NHRA Mello Yello events, bringing customized track maintenance equipment, electronic equipment, firefighting and other safety apparatus, and a track dryer built from a jet engine.

The full-time Safety Safari crew arrives at the track Monday of race week to prepare the track. Workers use hand scrapers, blowtorches, a tractor-mounted sweeper, and a large vacuum sweeper to remove excess rubber and groom the surface. The final step is spraying a traction-enhancing compound on the racetrack.

Once the event begins, the full-time crew is joined by additional staff members to prepare the track early each morning and provide the stage for the world’s fastest motorsport and keep it ready for competition during each race session.

Team Fleet

According to Bob Lang, the current Safety Safari director, the team is currently comprised of 15 fulltime members and 80 part-timers. Some may work one race, some 16 or more races. On the circuit, the team is made up of volunteer firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians with various certifications and training. The Safety Safari members will also train track workers at each event throughout the year. Each track will also have two contract advanced life support ambulances and a backup as well as an emergency medical services helicopter on standby and a medical center with a nurse, a doctor, and paramedics.

Some tracks also have additional apparatus stationed around the area to combat car fires and respond to other emergencies as well, but the Safety Safari is only concerned with the racing part of the equation.

Two Safety Safari vehicles on scene of an on-track emergency.

“Our current safety vehicles are two 2017 Chevrolet Silverado duallys that are used for track safety,” Lang says. “We also travel with several Volvo tractor-trailer 18-wheelers pulling trailers stocked with communication equipment, tools and supplies, safety equipment, and marketing and technical gear.”

Also traveling with the team are sweeper trucks and jet dryers as well as vehicles that spray the track to prepare it with special glue to aid in traction and tire rotating tractor machines. You will see these tractors guiding the racecars at the end of the track after they shut down their engines.

The two Chevy Silverado duallys have two complete sets of Amkus rescue tools; 80-gallon booster tanks that are pressurized with nitrogen, with water and FireAde product that is added to the water; a booster line; and several pressurized fire extinguishers with FireAde, CO2, halotron, halon, and Purple K as well.

Continuous Training

The vehicles are placed strategically at various areas of the track that will provide the quickest access should an accident occur. The main objective is to get the driver out of the car as quickly as possible, then quickly extinguish the fire involved. In some instances, if you have watched this highly-orchestrated ballet on TV, it is sometimes performed simultaneously and flawlessly, I might add.

Considering Top Fuel dragsters and the Funny Car classes with 10,000 horsepower will travel the quarter mile in 3.5 seconds and at 300+ miles per hour, this is no easy feat.

The NHRA Safety Safari has evolved through the years with new equipment and is constantly training its full-time and part-time members. It has been truly proactive to stay on top of what’s new in extrication methods as well as firefighting.

If you ever get a chance to attend one of the NHRA national events or just witness a race on TV, you will most surely see the Safety Safari in action, doing what it does best.

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April 2017
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