Superior race-car driver back on track after bad burn
Bruce and Mark Niemi were working in Jayme Lautigar's Superior race shop in May when they heard Lautigar yell from another room. The Niemi brothers initially thought the dirt-track driver hurt himself changing a tire, but Lautigar's yelling was p...
Bruce and Mark Niemi were working in Jayme Lautigar's Superior race shop in May when they heard Lautigar yell from another room.
The Niemi brothers initially thought the dirt-track driver hurt himself changing a tire, but Lautigar's yelling was prolonged and increasingly intense.
"We ran over and pulled the door open, and there was fire everywhere," Bruce Niemi said.
Now, a month later, Lautigar has recovered from second-degree burns to his lower right leg and resumed racing. It didn't take him long to return to the front, either. Lautigar finished second in the Modified feature at Hibbing Raceway on June 13, less than a month after the accident.
"It felt great just to get out there and have some good laps," Lautigar said. "I still put ointment on the leg and cover it with bandages to keep it protected and clean, but other than that, it's no problem at all. It never needed skin grafting, and the pain is gone."
Lautigar, 35, is a nine-year veteran of the Modified class who has enjoyed some of his greatest success in recent years, with a second in the Como Modified Series in 2007 and a third in the season points standings at Proctor Speedway last year. His accident will derail any hopes of improving on that this season, but he doesn't care. He is just happy to have a chance at next year.
"I was just itching to get going again," Lautigar said. "I couldn't wait to have everything be normal again."
Normal in the summer means racing for the Lautigar family, which includes his wife, Brandi; son, Mack, 7; and daughter, Lauren, 5. Jayme spends much of his free time during the week at the shop preparing the car for a weekend of racing at Superior, Hibbing and Proctor speedways.
Bruce and Mark Niemi were working on Lautigar's Modified engine on May 16 while Lautigar was changing tires. He started filling fuel jugs, but when the fuel barrel was empty, he pulled the power cord on the electric pump he had been using to fill the jugs. When the plug disconnected from the extension cord, it sparked, igniting fuel spilled on the floor and on Lautigar's leg.
"The whole thing probably only lasted 30 seconds, but it felt like forever," Lautigar said.
Lautigar panicked. The pain the fire was inflicting on his leg was incredible, but his initial reaction was to try putting out the fire in the shop so that the fuel jugs and empty barrel, loaded with fumes, wouldn't ignite.
"Like dynamite," Bruce Niemi said.
Fortunately, the Niemis came to the rescue, with Mark helping beat out the fire on Lautigar's leg with a towel and Bruce grabbing a fire extinguisher and putting out the fire on the shop floor.
"Jayme kept trying to take his pants off, and the reason it burned so much was because of his shoes," Mark Niemi said. "If you've ever tried to pull your pants off with your shoes on, you know, it's kind of hard.
"Everything happened so fast. What do you do? Put the fire out first or run? Fortunately, we were there."
Lautigar, who works as a lineman for East Central Energy, was treated at the Miller-Dwan Medical Center burn unit. He didn't move off the couch for nearly two weeks and had to keep the burned leg elevated to alleviate the pain. Eventually, the leg began to heal and a month later Lautigar had his car at the track.
The accident has changed the way Lautigar operates around the shop, where he no longer uses an electric pump, relying instead on a spigot and gravity.
"Old school safe," said Bruce Niemi, who said he saw fires in his 30 years of racing but "nothing like that."
Lautigar, meanwhile, certainly appreciates the value of teamwork.
"If I had been there by myself, who knows what would have happened," Lautigar said. "I know it would have been a lot worse."