Blaine Hale peered over the singed metal, the peeling surface materials scorched to a curl, and all the ash and soot now blanketing his racecar.
He had just opened the trailer’s back door, to let the sun pour in and all across the 1970 Camaro he had ridden for so many miles — a quarter of a mile at a time.
A week had passed since the car went up in flames, and as he climbed into the cramped trailer with what’s left of it, stowed outside his home off Highway 191 between Odessa and Midland, he said he couldn’t help but look over the mess of machinery and power at its front, uncovered where the hood used to be, and think about what else could’ve gone wrong.
“I’ve been afraid, actually, to take it out,” he admitted. “It makes my stomach hurt.”
The night of May 5, Hale rolled his way out of the Camaro as it lit up at Penwell Knights Raceway west of Odessa, igniting to flip the night’s small-tire finals race into a scene of concern.
This was the same weekend a driver died in a crash at a drag race in nearby Abilene the afternoon of May 5, and an NHRA drag racer died in a crash in Atlanta the afternoon of May 6.
But Hale escaped his Camaro without any major injuries, and no one else on the scene was hurt.
And for Hale, as much as it pained him to watch the car he’s been attached to for 13 years go up in fire, those thoughts about his car and competition only came after he was out of the car and safely away, and no one on the track was hurt.
“It’s all about winning, but it’s about going home at the end of the day, too,” Hale said, during a visit to his home this past week.
“Luckily I got to get another chance at it. Some people don’t.”
Hale has owned and operated Hale’s House of Speed for more than a decade in the Midland-Odessa area, putting together specific racing builds for customers in the drag-racing and off-road-racing communities. Personally, he has competed on the drag strip, either on a motorcycle or in a car, ever since he was a teenager.
Hale, 41, called the fire the first major scare he’s been a part of in drag racing — but he said the incident isn’t going to push him out of the industry or the culture, and he said it shouldn’t be seen as a black eye on either.
“It is the nature of the deal. They say if you do it long enough, something’s going to happen, obviously,” Hale said.
“I attest that to how many passes I’ve made versus how many episodes I’ve had. That ratio’s really pretty good. I’ve literally made thousands of runs.”
That night in Penwell, Hale was racing for $10,000 in the event finals after three wins in a 16-car field, when he said his nitrous system backfired. While that usually would just result in a quickly exhausted burst of flame and a lost race, this time, Hale figures, the concussive force from the backfire pinned open the valves on the carburetor, fuelling the fire to grow bigger and bigger.
Hale rolled out of the door and emerged from the smoke as more than a dozen supporters and track personnel rushed in to ensure his safety and extinguish the fire.
A week later, Hale said he was still seeing that kind of care.
“The support and stuff has been overwhelming,” Hale said. “I’ve had racers call me and offer their cars. … Several people have called wanting to donate parts.
“West Texas people are nice. They’re just friendly, help-everybody-if-you-can type deal,” he continued. “But I never expected them to call me and offer their own cars and stuff. That’s pretty wild.”
Hale said he shouldn’t have to take up many of those offers. His business is in the sport, but his family is supported from his company’s builds for customers more so than race-day winnings. He still races because winning on the track is the best advertising his company could get.
Now, Hale isn’t sure if he’ll rebuild the Camaro he’s grown fond of since he first rode it in 2005, or if he’ll build another small-tire racecar, or if he may get back on a motorcycle like he spent much of his career on, and on which his father, Clayton Hale from Midland, made a career.
But he isn’t leaving racing, and with safety at the forefront of his mind, Hale says some good has already come of the incident, in that he’s thought of more safety ideas he hadn’t even considered before, which go above and beyond widely accepted standards, that he’ll employ in future builds both for himself and his customers.
“It was a freak accident that I’m just thankful that I got to walk away from, and it’ll make things better the next time — and for my customers,” Hale said.
“I’d call it research and development, maybe,” he joked.
That, and a new chapter for his career — but not the end of the book.
“This sport’s been good to me,” Hale said, back out by the Camaro. “It’s made my living for most of my life.”