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SEVENTEEN BOTTLES How Tavo Vildosola Narrowly Avoided A Fiery Catastrophe By Stuart Bourdon Fire in a race vehicle is a scary and dangerous thing, but sometimes you get lucky as in the situation which faced SCORE Trophy Truck racer Tavo Vildosola. At the 2022 SCORE Baja 1000, Vildosola had teamed up with Alan Ampudia in the No. 10 AWD Monster Energy truck. It was Vildosola’s turn at the wheel when he had his encounter with a vehicle fire. “The front drive had become so hot that one of the O-rings connecting the front drive to the coolers started to seep and then melted,” said Vildosola. “The temperature gauge stopped reading at around 500 degrees and the line had started to spill oil from the middle-front cab area (where the coolers are) onto the bottom of the truck. We started to see just a little smoke at first, but at one point the oil came into contact with hot parts down there, including the engine. That’s when we started to see flames.” Not sure what was wrong, Vildosola kept driving. “We had kept going when we started seeing smoke because there wasn’t any support ­– no people around. Once there were active flames – it had gone from a little bit of ‘backyard barbecue smoke’ to full-on flames – we pulled off the racecourse and both of us (navigator Javi Valenzuela) jumped out of the truck. My co-driver ran back to grab the fire extinguishers.” Vildosola could see the smoke and flames and wanting to save the truck, he wanted to activate the manual in-vehicle fire suppression system but was unsuccessful. “I reached back into the cab of the truck (three times) and tried to activate the fire suppression system, but I couldn’t get it to engage. It’s a lever and link mechanical activator and we learned later that it had become so hot in the tunnel (where the engine and transmission were) that it had fused to the surrounding metal surfaces.” When asked why he went back into the cab a third time to try to activate the fire suppression system, he said, “To be honest, we have so much protection on ourselves. I mean from my three-later fire suit, fireproof underwear, gloves, and helmet, I felt confident that I would be okay. At that point, even though the flames were starting to come into the cab, I felt protected by my gear.” Vildosola and Valenzuela were lucky because their pit was less than half a mile away, so there were lots of spectators and pit crews from other teams. According to Vildosola lots of people ran towards them with fire extinguishers to help. In all, he said it took 17 fire extinguishers to put the fire completely out. At one point, they were also throwing dirt onto it. The problem was that it was so hot and there was so much oil that it just kept catching fire. “Once I knew we were no longer in danger of the whole truck burning down, I sat underneath the truck with a fire extinguisher and pointed it at the engine compartment,” said Vildosola. “Anytime a little fire would start up again ­– that would happen about every five seconds – I would hit it with the fire extinguisher and put it out.” “That same race is where Paul Weel’s truck burned to the ground, but there was no one around to help where he had to stop. We were extremely lucky that our fire happened where there were so many people. That’s what ended up saving the truck. I learned a lesson from the experience. As they say, where there’s smoke, there’s fire. I should have used the fire suppression system as soon as we saw smoke. Even at my age, you live and learn.”

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