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Drag Racer Escapes Fiery Mishap Almost Unscathed

Pro drag racer Jim Head was speeding down a Topeka, Kansas track in his third race of the day Sunday when his hot rod suddenly burst into flames.

Drawing on all of his 30 years of experience, Head kept the flaming funny car off the wall and somehow emerged from the inferno with only some scratches and bruises.

"Very rarely, we have an internal engine component fail and the results are pretty much always the same," head told "Early Show" co-anchor Harry Smith Tuesday. "Frankly, that's the first time I'd actually ever done that. It's happened to my competitors on occasion.

"You don't have a whole lot of time to think. You're pretty busy in there. You've got to control the car, activate the fire system, and hopefully all the safety devices that you've worked on over the years all work. And they did."

By the time the car stopped, the flames were just about out.

"Basically," head said, "we did self-extinguish it. Between the fire system and my fresh air system … I'm not going to say it's not scary, but it's survivable. Twenty years ago, we would have been in real trouble."

The car's fuel, nitro-methane, is extremely combustible. "It makes 8,000 horsepower as it goes down the racetrack," Head pointed out. "The racecar goes 310 mph in under a quarter-mile." Races last roughly four seconds.

"Actually," head continued, "the fire wasn't the worst part. If I hadn't have hit my competitor … we actually could have brought that same car back within a few hours. Unfortunately, by running into the back of the other car, we bent it pretty severely. But we build our own racecars. We'll be back in under ten days."

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