Harli White – A Racer And Survivor At Only 16 Years Old

I told them if they didn’t let me race again that I was dead anyway. – Harli White

When most teenagers turn 16 they start to stress and worry about getting their driver’s license. For the 16 year-old Harli White, driving was something that she already had much experience in. In fact, for a teenager, Harli has already been through more than some racers will experience in a lifetime of racing, including being pulled from the burning wreckage of a viscous accident, living to tell about it, and then stepping back into the cockpit.

In April of 2008, a young 12 year old Harli was entered into her first ever race in a micro-sprint at I-44 speedway in Oklahoma City. During the B-feature Harli had reached fourth position when the tragedy struck, “The car hit the wall, turned over on its side and burst into flames,” said White.

Harli was trapped inside of the burning sprint car for minutes. Her father, long time racer Charlie White and track crew, tried everything to pull her from the accident to no avail. The vivid video below shows just how scary things got before her rescue was made.

How Harli would spend her 13th Birthday.

In an amazing turn of events, another competitor who was waiting for his race to start came running from the pit area. It was Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, native Donnie Ray Crawford, who, reached into the burning car, released her harness, and pulled White from the inferno. In the eyes of many in the dirt track world, Donnie Ray Crawford became a hero that day, as he had saved Harli’s life.

The time spent inside the flames had left Harli with some serious wounds, Harli had sustained 3rd degree burns on over 45% of her body. “I spent 21 days in Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Galveston TX,” explained White. “Then another 6 months in therapy.” Luckily for Harli, the doctors gave them good news when the family was told that she would heal and be able to go back to a normal life, but with some very serious scars. With everything that had happened, only one question remained for Harli, “Where is my car, and can we fix it?’

Harli would bring up the thought of racing again to her parents quite often, “My parents would try to change the subject or tell be we would discuss racing again when I was well.” Her mother and father who were in the process of selling the cars were astounded at how much she still wanted to race, “She told us, If we didn’t let her race again that she was dead anyway,” Explained her mother. “My heart fell to my feet, what do you say to that?”

Harli would spend her 13th birthday at the Shriner’s hospital.

The Years After The Accident

In a year’s time Harli was back to her normal self. Six months of therapy had led to her playing middle school basketball, swimming with friends, and most importantly, she convinced her family to let her get back into a dirt car. In April of 2009 Harli made her triumphant return to the open wheel car that had narrowly taken her life. Harli did more than just get back in the cockpit, Harli would collect three 600cc victories and one ASCS2 victory. She would go on to finish 4th in points at I-44 speedway and at Dutton Speedway.

2010 would bring even more success for Harli, as she would collect 4 A-Class victories, 3 Non-wing victories, and 2 Outlaw-kart victories. She would also spend her December competing at the annual Tulsa Shootout where hundreds of cars compete for a coveted starting positions in their A-feature. In 2010 over 120 cars would try to make the 24 car Non-Wing field at the Tulsa Shootout. Harli would be one of the fortunate ones to make the main event.

The following year would bring more victories, and more experience for the young driver. The year would also bring with it an opportunity to run one of the largest events in the country at the start of the 2012 season.

The 2012 Chili-Bowl opportunity

Harli would audition for an all female team at Chowchilla Speedway near the end of 2011. In her first ever drive in a midget, Harli would win her heat and 4th behind Shannon McQueen. This would earn Harli the opportunity to drive McQueen’s midget at the Chili-Bowl with McQueen and Michelle Decker as teammates.

This is where we at OneDirt first saw Harli race. We didn’t know the story of her accident, all we saw was the way she drove the midget into the corners, she looked like a veteran. It made us ask one of the other photographers in the infield about her, “I don’t know who she is, but man does she stand on it,” the photographer shouted.

Harli would finish third in her heat race behind Zach Daum and Jason Leffler.

Harli would compete during Wednesday’s night qualifier and would run 2nd in her heat race to Nationwide star Jason Leffler, until a late race caution would allow Zach Daum to get by her putting her 3rd in her heat race. She would miss the main event that night and would have to start in the G-feature on Saturday. Harli’s first experience racing at the Chili-Bowl will certainly be one that she doesn’t forget, but not for the reasons that she wanted.

Saturday would bring the featured events, but along with it came devastating news that the very young man who had saved Harli’s life four years ago, had lost his in a tragic shooting accident early Saturday morning. Donnie Ray Crawford who was also competing at the Chili-Bowl, had tragically been shot and killed.

Today Harli wears her scars proudly, and calls them battle scars from a battle she won.

“Donnie Ray was a hero to many, a true hero to me. My life on earth has been longer because of Donnie Ray,  his time on earth was cut way to short,” Harli explained. “Donnie Ray left a lifetime impression on so many on how to be a decent, respectful, polite person on this earth.” The news of his passing shocked everyone in attendance, but more so the White family as they had become very close friends with Donnie Ray.

The Future

Despite nearly dying in a fiery accident, Harli continues to live her dream. She will be racing this year in her family owned cars in the 600cc, Multi, and Non Wing divisions.”I would love the opportunity to race a higher level of cars,” Harli told us. “Hopefully that will come soon.”

The proof of her accident is visible to anyone that lays eyes on Harli. Her scars will always serve as a reminder to what can happen when you strap into a racecar. For Harli the scars are more than just that, they represent a battle in her life,” Sure my scars are apparent, but I wear them with pride. They are battle scars and I won the battle with faith in God’s Healing, family, friends and People in the racing community.”

About the author

John Gibson

John has been around dirt track racing his entire life. In fact, he was almost born at Monett Speedway in Monett, Missouri. He has raced everything on dirt and asphalt from karts, to Indy cars, to 650 horsepower stock cars in the USAR Pro Cup where he currently races.
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