When Jordan Anderson‘s truck suddenly caught fire and slid during a race last month at Talladega Superspeedway, he could see the wall as he unbuckled his belts.
Yes, he knew he could get hurt. But the heat in the cockpit was so intense, it didn’t matter to him that he might hit the wall while not being strapped into his vehicle.
“Everybody thought I couldn’t see where I was going,” Anderson said. “But I could see the wall. My goal was to shoot towards the wall because at least that will help slow it down and get me out of there.
“So that was my goal — to try to time it to hit the wall and come out of it at the same time.”
Anderson executed the exit perfectly as he was able to hop out of his seat and onto the door window as his truck hit the wall. He was either very lucky or has an innate ability to pull off a stunt in a life-threatening situation.
“Somebody said James Bond uses a stunt guy and I do my own stunts,” Anderson said. “Not exactly how you want to make the highlight reel.”
The 31-year-old driver and team owner was back at the track four weeks after his accident to watch his Xfinity Series team compete at Martinsville Speedway. He wore a turtleneck as he was recovering from burns to his neck and arms.
Few could believe he had not suffered any broken bones or other serious injuries. He had been airlifted to the hospital following the accident but was released that night after being treated for second-degree burns to his neck, arms, hands and knees.
Anderson, in an interview last month at Martinsville, explained what happened in the truck, his escape and the safety equipment.
The burns were the result of an intense fire that reached the cockpit. Some thought it was an engine failure that caused the fire, but Anderson said it was not.
“Something got into the oil line, the main feed line that’s in front of the motor and cut a hole in it and it basically dumped the contents of the whole oil tank on the headers. That’s why the fire was so big and so quick,” Anderson said.
The fire then apparently came through some of the duct work typically used to cool the cockpit, Anderson said. NASCAR took the truck after the accident and could consider changes to prevent such an issue in similar situations.
“It came in through the hose across me and out the window net,” Anderson said. “That’s why it was so bad and got so hot. It was just a freak deal.”
The truck, like all NASCAR national series vehicles, has two fire extinguishers. There is one at the area of the fuel cell. That extinguisher must be heat activated, and it appeared to have activated in Anderson’s accident.
NASCAR also requires a fire extinguisher in the cockpit. That one is manually activated (typically with a toggle that a driver can reach from the cockpit) with the driver option to have it heat activated.
Drivers can be reluctant to have it heat activated because of the potential for it to go off while the vehicle is still raceable and also filling the cockpit with extinguishing chemicals while the driver is still behind the wheel.
Anderson said he didn’t think about trying to activate the cockpit fire extinguisher because he was in a hurry to get out.
“There’s so much going on, that wasn’t even anywhere in my mind — it was just unbuckling, working to get out of the truck,” he said.
“Every driver handles things differently, but that was the last thing on my mind was to look for that thing.”
Anderson wore all the required safety equipment, including a firesuit as well as a helmet that had a neck skirt attached. The fire did not burn through his suit. He said he might make some adjustments to the neck skirt but everything worked as designed.
“My suit and everything did what it was supposed to do,” Anderson said. “It was just that the fire was that hot and for so long, it radiated through the suit.”
A driver is not required to wear anything underneath the firesuit, but Anderson had a cool shirt — a shirt that pumps cool water to help a driver keep from getting overheated — on underneath.
“I did have an undershirt on — I had a cool shirt on, so it served as that,” Anderson said.
“I’m really glad I had my undershirt on because my arm got where it was really, really bad.”
Obviously, the escape for Anderson was risky. He was unbuckling himself as the truck was sliding. Drivers obviously would want to stay buckled, but he felt he had no other choice.
“It got hot quick in there,” Anderson said. “People probably thought I was crazy for jumping out of there.
“But that was the best scenario at that point. I didn’t want to stay in there any longer. It was just a crazy deal for sure.”
Anderson has been to a burn center at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist for the severe burns on his lower neck and arm. He didn’t need any surgeries in the month after the accident as his burns healed quicker than normal.
“I just definitely count my blessings and thankful for God keeping me safe through all that stuff,” Anderson said. “It was definitely a huge reality check to go through all that.
“I’m just incredibly grateful and thankful that things weren’t any worse than they could have been.”
Some drivers who have been through life-threatening crashes prefer not to watch them and relive the agony.
But Anderson has not approached his recovery that way. He has wanted to analyze how it happened, what can be done differently in the future and just how he managed to escape.
“I YouTubed every angle I could find just to see what happened and how close it was,” Anderson said. “It was pretty crazy to see.
“I don’t try not to think about it. I just take it as I count my blessings that much more, and it is that much fuel to come back stronger and keep pushing.”
Yes, he will race again, starting in 2023.
“God is not done with me,” Anderson said. “I’m still here for a reason. That’s for sure.”
Thinking Out Loud
There was some discussion on social media last week on whether a one-race final “round” for the championship is the best format. Or whether it should be multiple races so that one bad day, one mechanical failure, doesn’t cost a driver a title.
A three-race championship format would be more fair. It would allow for a variety of tracks to determine a champion among the four championship finalists. NASCAR potentially could devise a format in which a win in the final race could virtually win the title unless a driver had a disastrous first two races.
I’d enjoy that kind of format. I think it would best crown a true champion.
But this elimination system isn’t designed to crown a true champion in many ways. A true champion, to many, is based on a season-long points system.
If the system is designed for a mix of competition and drama, the one-race championship format has delivered on both. NASCAR should rotate the championship track so it doesn’t favor (or disfavor) a driver year after year, but as far as whether the format needs a change, the playoffs have delivered in excitement and have worked well enough that the cliché of it’s not broke, don’t fix it, applies.
Stat of the Day
Many fans know that 19 drivers won a Cup race this year. But how about this?: 16 Drivers won a Cup pole in 2022: Joey Logano (four), Christopher Bell (four), Kyle Larson (four), Chase Elliott (three), Denny Hamlin (three), Ryan Blaney (three), Tyler Reddick (three), William Byron (one), Chase Briscoe (one), Austin Cindric (one), Martin Truex Jr. (one), Bubba Wallace (one), Aric Almirola (one), Chris Buescher (one), Brad Keselowski (one) and Cole Custer (one).
They Said It
“For us to have two championships in the same year, that’s what we’re here for. That’s the goal we have every year.” —Roger Penske on his IndyCar and NASCAR Cup teams winning driver championships in the same season for the first time
Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.
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