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The inaugural NDRC Pro Alcohol Championship event quickly became one to forget for Gary Phillips after the many times Australian champion suffered a horrendous fire in the first qualifying session. The team have since shared an update on the incident and dramatic in-car footage.

After a long career in the alcohol and nitro funny car ranks, this was not Phillip’s first experience with fire, many will remember his infamous Nitro Funny Car fire from the mid-80s while competing in the NHRA. But Phillips believes this Sydney fire was notably worse.

Crew Chief and Gary’s son Cheyne explains what unfolded during Q1 at the Sydney Nationals.

“The car was on an awesome run with no shake and very smooth through low gear. Knowing the tune-up we had in the car, and what the incremental times showed, it was on about a 5.39 run,” began Cheyne Phillips.

“Everything seemed normal until the top of second gear, just before half-track, when it torched the head and block on #7 cylinder. This is the first time in Dad’s 53-year career he has done that. This is where everything went bad, really quickly.

“We run an AN6 braided hose from the oil pump to feed the rear main bearing on the back of the block, and have this hose laying down as close as it can to the block surface so it is out of the way of everything. Unfortunately where it torched was in line with the 7/16” chrome moly block dowel and that diverted the flame to act like a laser through this hose and cut it in half. At 150 PSI, there was a fountain of oil being sprayed straight up under the body, all over the windscreen, and at 200 mph this fed the fire big time.

“Dad got the fire system activated, but couldn’t see because the flames had burnt the windscreen and side windows and he made contact with the right header on the wall before coming to a stop about halfway down the shutdown area. After getting hung up on his neck restraint system on the roof hatch, Dad got out of the car and was hosed down by the fire rescue team. After that, he was walked to the ambulance and then had to sit by in anticipation as our Monte Carlo body was fully engulfed in flames.

“The fire rescue team then got to work to put out the fire. Dad was attended to by the outstanding paramedics on the scene and was given the all-clear after a very thorough checkout with only a small burn to the palms of both hands, which were healed by the next morning. The safety gear did its job, and he is still here to tell the tale. A big thank you to all involved!

“Dad says this was significantly worse than his 1986 nitro fire in the US because that body came off when the car entered the sand trap, whereas this time, the body stayed on the car against the wall. We stayed around for the remainder of the race on Saturday before driving the transporter home on Sunday, and then getting the car unloaded that night so we could begin the clean-up process. The fire burned through both the left front and rear tyre sidewall, and thanks to Hoosier’s great rear liner system, the tyre stayed intact, which prevented further damage to the chassis.

Once the team returned to Queensland and began the autopsy on the charred funny car they concluded the Monte-Carlo body was a complete write off, and there was significant fire damage to most of the componentry, particularly down the left-hand side including both front and rear tyres.

The chassis looks okay at first inspection, but that can’t be confirmed until the car is stripped clean and every part of the chassis checked and measured.

As for the cause, it was initially a mystery. The tune-up was a familiar one the team had used hundreds of times, and was even softened for the qualifier due to the excellent atmospheric conditions. However, on this run the engine torched a head and the block causing the fire, but didn’t kick any rods, backfire the blower or drop a valve. The team suspected something internally failed, and after disassembly their suspicions were justified, identifying a failure of a $50 part – which the team will provide details on at a later date.

The team have posted the wild in-car video footage of the fire on their social media Facebook page.

“This is how a perfect run turns bad really fast without warning, and into a 200+ MPH blazing inferno,” said Cheyne. “The camera itself was destroyed but I managed to salvage the footage from the SD card with some repairs to the file.

“Ignore the drop in the stage RPM. I had the clutch air gap a bit tight and it was pulling Dad through the beams so he dropped the RPM down to stop it. He caught it and still managed to leave within 100 RPM of our target.

Looking to the future and the the team have taken a massive financial hit, and don’t know when they will be back out.

“We have engine and other parts in stock, but the body is a total loss, depending on what we find with the chassis will help us formulate a plan. Also, given that there is unlikely to be any suitable Camaro or Monte Carlo bodies available in Australia that would fit our McKinney chassis, we don’t have a lot of time before the next round we had planned to compete at in the first week of December,” said Cheyne.

Safety has always been in the forefront of the Phillips Racing team, and every racer can learn and benefit from such terrible incidents.

“Dad has always been really safety conscious, always going above and beyond any rules that mandate certain equipment. For him to walk away with no injuries, is a testament to that,” said Cheyne.

“We will be implementing some new safety ideas that we have learned ourselves from this incident. Hopefully, other racers will benefit from our experience. Some of these ideas we have spoken about previously, and some things we had never thought of before.

“This includes adding more high-pressure fire nozzles to the top half of the motor. The existing nozzles down low – normally designed for rod failures – did their job and there is minimal fire damage below the top frame rail. Most of the fire damage to the engine is from the rocker covers up.

“We will also be adding thick titanium deflector shields on all four ends of the heads. We will share more of our safety ideas when we implement them on the car during the rebuild.”

Like and follow Gary, Debbie & Cheyne Phillips Racing for continual updates.


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