Harli White was still on fire when Donnie Ray Crawford helped pull her from the burning race car. Crawford pounced on the 12-year-old girl, trying to smother the flames. "I thought for sure I was smothering a dead girl,” said Crawford, who was strapped into his race car waiting for another race to begin when he saw the smoke. Harli had been inside the sprint car since it burst into flames minutes earlier on the fourth turn of the I-44 Speedway at SW 149 Street on Saturday. It was her first race. Witnesses hailed the efforts of Crawford, 20, and others who helped pull her from the fire, including her father. Today, the Lindsay girl has third-degree burns over half her body and is recovering from surgery at a children's burn center in Texas. "I think it was a miracle of God, really,” her father, Charlie White, said of her survival. The owners of the racetrack refused to comment on the incident. Children as young as 6 years old regularly race high-powered vehicles at the family-oriented track. Crawford said he doesn't blame the racetrack for what happened to Harli, but hopes the incident helps set a higher precedent for safety at tracks nationwide. Both Harli and Crawford were wearing fireproof suits, but Crawford's was thicker.
‘Never seen a fire like that'The White and Crawford families both have racing roots stretching back generations, so Crawford didn't think much of it when word of a fire crackled through the radio Saturday night. Small fires are common at racetracks, he said. It took the screams of a panicking man in the pit area to get Crawford's attention. Harli was trapped in the burning car. "I just jumped out of my car and ran over there as fast as I could,” Crawford said. "When I got there, I'd never seen a fire like that.” Witnesses agreed. "It was the most horrific thing I've ever seen. No one should ever have to see something like that,” said Scott Waddell, who has two daughters who have raced at the track. "It just erupted ... it was like it had an endless supply of fuel.” Waddell could feel the heat of the fire from the stands. The crowd screamed in horror as a group of men, including Harli's father, struggled to free the girl. When Crawford reached into Harli's car and removed the steering wheel, things looked grim. The girl was spitting up the flame retardant emergency crews had doused on the car. She wasn't fighting the flames. "I saw her hair. I saw she had her helmet off. I thought this was going to turn out to be horrible,” Crawford said. "It wasn't near as bad as you'd expect. It's an absolute miracle her face wasn't just completely burnt off because she had no cover, absolutely nothing fireproof on her face.” The men emerged from the inferno with Harli. EMSA paramedics, who are always on-site during races, quickly rushed her away.
‘Just a freak accident'Harli's family has described her as a fighter. Now she's having to prove her mettle. She remains hospitalized at Shriners' Burn Hospital for Children in Galveston, Texas, recovering from one of many surgeries she will have to undergo in the next few weeks, her father said. "She's a tough little booger,” said Misti Southern, Harli's aunt. Charlie White suffered burns on his left hand while helping pull his daughter from the car. He was by his daughter's side in Texas, where she was flown after being taken to OU Medical Center on Saturday night. "It was just a freak accident. There's no reason why it should have caught fire. We had the best safety equipment possible,” Charlie White said. White would know. He's been racing stock cars at local tracks for years, but admitted he's considering "retiring” after what happened to his daughter. Until her car hit a wall and burst into flames a few laps into her first race, White's daughter was doing something she'd waited most of her life to do: race. "She's a natural. A born natural race car driver,” Charlie White said. Harli was alert and talked to her family shortly after her first surgery, but doctors are keeping her sedated to help her body heal from massive burns, family members said. Contributing: Staff Writers Jeff Raymond and Ray Martin
Harli WhiteThe Lindsay 12-year-old has third-degree burns over half her body and is recovering from surgery after a racing accident Saturday.
Helping out•T-shirts: At the One Way Print and Stitch, Harli's relatives printed shirts that said, "God Has the Power So ... Pray.” "We're printing up 500,” said Koye Baade, Harli's aunt who owns the print shop. Shirts are $15, and $7.50 from each shirt will go toward Harli's medical bills. Shirts are available at One Way Print and Stitch, 218 W Main St. in Purcell. •To donate: A fund has been set up for Harli White at American Exchange Bank, P.O. Box 128, Lindsay, OK 73502. Phone (405) 756-3101.