A "Cacklefest" Warning! with Roger Lee
The following is from West Coast former racer and master craftsman Roger “Riceman” Lee. It sounds a very stern warning to all the owners and drivers of nitro-fueled dragsters and funny cars who participate in the sport of “cackling” their cars at events…….
So you’re behind the wheel of a cackle car having fun, smiling and all….
The first thing is that Nitro EXPLODES, and doesn't burn like gas. Then something breaks in the motor while it is idling…...BOOM!! A flash fire has occurred - so fast – and it’s over before the fire extinguisher can be activated. Suddenly you are a sitting duck with nowhere to go! Hair-sprayed hair goes up pretty quick too.
Your luck just ran out and you have 2nd and 3rd degree burns. You may not be feeling any pain from shock as the EMTs now load you into a Medivac Helicopter. A half-hour ride in one is around $50,000, including IVs, pain shots, dressings, oxygen and whatever.
Third-degree burns require skin grafts. So let’s say your forearms need grafts from their blocking of the fire flash. The replacement skin is removed from your thighs.
Now, not only do you have to heal from the burns on your arms, but from the area on your thighs too. Depending on how fast you heal and can overcome the pain will determine your hospital stay. It’s usually a 3-4 week stay. No one should ever feel the pain from these injuries - it’s the kind that will make you pass out. Taking a shower with an open cut hurts, right? So multiply that by a thousand times!
Finally you are released from the burn ward and go home. For the next year you have to wear compression garments so the grafted skin stays put and heals to your body. Nerve ends attach to the grafted skin and the new skin that your body regenerates on your thighs has to be carefully taken care of as well. The new skin on your arms will never sweat again - no sweat pores. And now you have new hair on your head too, along with no sun exposure either for a year to the burned areas. You’ll also probably be out of work for awhile.
This is what could occur, and it is not pretty. It actually happened to my best friend Ken Riley in one of my cackle cars. We had done over forty fire-ups with no adverse problems, until this one time…when IT happened. Like we always had done before, he was not wearing any safety gear. It's like “feed a shark. Oh, everyone does it” and then, just that one time it takes a big bite out of you. One time is all it takes!
You can ask Ken about it or just about any front engine dragster or funny car driver who has been burned with fire. I can't even look at pictures with people I know in a cackle car without safety gear on. It makes me sick to know what could happen.
The maintenance of a cackle car is the same as if you raced it, but remember: stuff breaks and what is the guarantee that something on the car won't fail?
So if you decide to be in the seat of a cackle car, or own one, please heed this message: If you or your driver doesn’t want to wear the safety gear, stay out of the seat! Wear the fire suit jacket, face mask, goggles, helmet and gloves; it will save your skin. Besides, it will give you the full experience of being properly attired and suited up in a nitro-powered front engine Top Fuel car for a few minutes. Then, instead of being burned, you can smile for the cameras amid the cheers of the crowd when that powerful engine is finally silent!
NDW - by Roger "Riceman" Lee; Photo of Roger Lee in the M&R Top Fuel dragster by Kim Fuller