Adventures with Dr. Mud

Jenny Scarborough

A minivan ready to compete in a demolition derby caught fire on Wednesday evening.

As the van was being loaded for transport in the parking lot of El Faro Restaurant, the muffler caught on the trailer and was shoved up into the gas tank, said Ocracoke resident Tommy Barnette, known to many as Dr. Mud.

There was "no warning," and the minivan was "fully engulfed in seconds," said Barnette, who is also known as Tommy.

Adventures with Dr. Mud
Photo courtesy of Sean Death.

"My kid was in the driver's seat." In preparation for the demolition derby, the side and rear windows had been removed, and the doors were welded shut.

Witness Terry Lukefahr said Tommy yelled to his son to "get out." After Tim quickly scrambled out the rear window, he reassured his father, "'You didn't have to tell me that.'"

The flames sparked in the gas tank instantly spread under and out from both sides of the car's frame. Then the engine ignited. "There was a panicky moment when everyone realized the fire was not going to go out," said Terry.

"It was like a flash fire, but it kept burning. We heard the tires popping, and kept waiting for the gas tank to blow," said Barnette.

Witness Aurora O'Neal, picking up to go dessert at the Cafe Atlantic around 5:45 p.m., was overheard saying she saw a big black cloud of smoke.

El Faro owner Julio Zapata raced out with fire extinguishers, 911 was alerted, and Barnette grabbed a hose to cool the tail end of his truck. While the minivan burned in fury it was impossible to unhitch his truck from the trailer. The trucks duel fuel tanks were full, and Tommy knew the problem would only be compounded should they ignite.

Owners of other cars parked near the flame quickly moved them. The heat was contained and intense. "Everything that could melt, melted. Metal melted," observed Barnette.

Ocracoke Volunteer Firefighters were on the scene within five to eight minutes, said Tommy. Those few minutes "felt like forever," he said. Jesse Spencer pulled up in his truck to help, and Micah Bassell and Mark Justice were the first to arrive in gear, with a firetruck.

The fire took about ten or fifteen minutes to put out, said fire chief Albert O'Neal. He told me to call Dick or Ernie or Van, as he admitted to arriving as the fire was being extinguished. There were no injuries. I called Ernie, who told me to call Mark or Micah. Micah didn't answer my call, but admitted in a text that he was one of the first to pull out a hose. Mark didn't answer my call, but I still added his name to my phone's contact list. After the fire was laid to rest, OVFD sprayed the site with a foam to prevent the gas fire from re-igniting.

"Thank you to the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department. They did a top notch job doing what they do best," said Tommy. "Nobody was hurt and it didn't destroy any property. I'd have lost my pick up truck if they hadn't come."

Adventures with Dr. Mud

The tailgate and tail lights on his truck melted during the blaze.

Not a big deal. These things can be fixed.

"I will fix your broke ass shit for money or for beer" says the motto on the Dr. Mud team driver shirt.

"A whole bunch of us rednecks on the island are still heading up there," to the Muddy Motorsports Park in Currituck County, said Tommy. The fun starts Saturday, April 6, at 2 p.m. Ocracoke, as represented by Dr. Mud, will compete in the super stock division on the auto cross track, driving John Kattenberg's old suburban. The vehicle now has a full race cage; other adaptations Tommy made means the gas guzzling beast is not street legal, but more engaging and responsive to drive.

He'll sign himself, both of his sons, and possibly another driver up to take the vehicle through its paces on the mud track in Aydlett, NC.

"It's gonna be a blast. Come support the goofball misfits of Ocracoke." Tourists arriving or leaving via Currituck are in a good position to check out the mud bog. It is culture in action, with a little bit of dirt thrown in.

For now, hopes of competing in the demolition derby are on hold. The fire "ended that cars career," said Tommy, noting that "the carnage is horrible, like something you'd see on the side of the road in Afghanistan." Tommy is in the market for another demolition derby car for Tim to drive. Contact him at Hard Core Tees if you have a good option and don't want to pay to have your beater removed from the island.

Demolition derby driving "is a young man's sport," said Tommy, who has not been deterred from competing in the mud bog, even after breaking four ribs during an event last fall. "We don't do it to win, we do it because they let us."




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