“If you are going to race Sprint Cars, sooner or later you will hit the wall or flip. – Heath Hall
“If you are going to race sprint cars, sooner or later you will hit the wall or flip,” said Oroville, California’s Heath Hall, adding; “I’d rather flip.” As it turns out, if you are a winged sprint car driver at Marysville Raceway Park, you can do both at the same time.
Earlier this year we decided to do a monthly column that features a photo that looks like there was an interesting story behind the shot. We posted a request on our Facebook fanpage for people to send us interesting photos that had a big story to go with the picture. We immediately received this photo with this explanation:
My husband Heath Hall qualifying at Marysville Raceway Park in Marysville, California, on April Fools’ Day in 2017. Hit a slick spot coming out of Turn 2, and it all went to hell from there! It wasn’t a very good April Fool’s joke – Raquel Hall.
Marysville Raceway Park is a pretty popular dirt track in northern California having opened in 1967. The quarter-mile semi-banked oval track has operated as Triple M Speedway and Twin Cities Speedway, but was renamed Marysville Raceway park after 2003.
It didn’t take long for us to figure out this was exactly the type of photo and story we were looking for when the idea was originally thrown out by the creative team for potential monthly columns. BINGO on the first response.
We started to dig into the incident a little bit and discovered a video that was posted the day after the crash by one of the track’s film crews, Black Flag Race Photos. After watching the video of Heath’s wickedly violent wild ride, a couple of things stood out. First, Raquel Hall is pretty fast. She got to the car just after the safety crew did. Probably not the safest thing to do, but it was qualifying so no other cars were on the track. Second, and most shocking, Heath was conscience and moving in the car. He flipped up his visor and was working on getting unstrapped when the safety crew arrived.
Heath’s wife Raquel, also a sprint car driver, recounts the story from her perspective. “I had just finished qualifying myself, and a couple of cars went out after me. Heath was up next and by that point, I was already out of my car,” she said. “at Marysville there’s only one-way on and one-way off the track, so they have us park in the infield until everyone’s done qualifying.”
Pieces of car went everywhere. The hits were hard and violent. I’m baffled as to how he didn’t get knocked out. – Raquel Hall
She continued, “I was looking down at the lap times on the race monitor and all of a sudden, I hear the motor rev up, and then silence. Those are never good signs. I look up just in time to see Heath literally ON the wall, and then continue to flip down the back stretch multiple times… HARD. Pieces of car went everywhere. The hits were hard and violent. I’m baffled as to how he didn’t get knocked out. After all that, he said the worst part was when the cap came off the brake reservoir and brake fluid got in his eyes. He said that burned really bad.
“Those that aren’t familiar with the track don’t realize, but that corner is where all the cars and water truck enter and exit the track,” Heath clarified. “There is an area right at that spot that gets hard-packed and slick. All of the racers know about it and stay underneath that area. It’s just one of those weird little things,” he said.
The first lap around in qualifying Heath avoided the hard-packed spot and clocked 12.899 with a top speed of 70.239 mph on the quarter-mile track. Good enough for sixth quick time on the evening. It was on the second lap when things went awry.
“At that time of day and that time of year, the sun really plays havoc coming out of that corner. A lot of drivers use tape on the rock screen or visors to help combat the glare,” he continued. That day it caught me just right and I got up a little high and hit that slick spot. You can see the rearend step out on me.”
I knew there was going to be trouble when I was looking down the back straight sideways. – Heath Hall
Heath continued; “I knew that I was going to climb up on the wall and the worst thing to do would be to get out of the throttle – so I stayed in it. The car climbed up the wall, and I knew there was going to be trouble when I was looking down the back straight sideways. After that, it’s kind of a blur.” Raquel added, “He had a great first lap and the second lap was looking even better until turn two.”
“It was very hard to watch,” Raquel said. “I always get nervous watching him race. But it’s just part of the deal. He says he gets nervous watching me too. But at the same time, it’s something we both absolutely love to do, and we both accept what the consequences can be. The adrenaline took over at that point, and my only concern was making sure he was okay and getting him out of the car. That wasn’t my first time witnessing a bad crash of his, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. But that was definitely one of the worst crashes I had seen in a long time!”
The 44-year-old got out of the car once his eyes stopped burning from the brake fluid, waved to the crowd, and loaded up the pieces of what used to be his racecar. A week later, Heath was back in a 360 sprinter on the same track, ready for his next qualifying lap. “He walked away with only bruises and was ready to go again,” said Raquel. “That tells you how far safety equipment has come these days.”
“I actually add a lot of safety to my sprint cars,” said Heath, who is a FAA licensed Airframes and Powerplants mechanic with an IA designation. Having repaired and inspected aircraft that have been involved in hard landings and crashes, Heath has a better-than-average understanding of crashes. “I add a lot of material to my Ultra Shield seat, he said. “The Ultra Shield seat just feels better to me, but it needs some extra support in my opinion. I add that support, and that’s why I believe that I am still here today.”
Just barely over a year later and the husband and wife team still race at least a couple of times a month. We’re planning a trip to northern California to visit some of the tracks on a west coast swing, and we will stop by and watch the Hall team at Marysville Raceway Park. Look forward to a followup to this amazing story.