From inside the truck, Brooksville fire Chief Tim Mossgrove could hear the tremendous rumble over the din of speeding cars and a roaring crowd. Moments later, he looked up and saw "a rolling junkyard flying by me."
As predicted, the Big One had happened at Talladega Superspeedway. And Mossgrove had to deal with it.
"It seemed like everything happened right in front of me," Mossgrove said this week. "It was pretty dramatic."
The first of three big wrecks Sunday at the legendary racetrack in Alabama unfolded mere feet away from Mossgrove. It was an eye-popping 14-car pileup that knocked several top drivers — most notably Jeff Gordon and Matt Kenseth — from the race.
Mossgrove and two other Brooksville firefighters, Mike Dow and Alan Regis, were in Talladega as part of the 180-member fire crew working the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499, one of the largest and most important on the circuit.
However, the event was highlighted, as is often the case at this track, by the crashes. The 2.66-mile course is generally known for its unusual speed factor and has seen its share of memorable smashups over the years.
Sunday was no exception.
The most notable of the three wrecks happened on the final lap of the race, when leader Carl Edwards attempted to thwart a winning pass by driver Brad Keselowski. The cars connected, sending Edwards' car airborne and into a safety fence, the only thing separating thousands of spectators from the jagged, spinning missile.
Edwards avoided injury but debris from the accident flew into the crowd, injuring seven fans. One woman was rushed to the hospital with a broken jaw.
Edwards' wreck came as a particular disappointment to Dow, who was working in Edwards' pit and was preparing to celebrate on victory lane with the rest of the crew.
"We were all fired up," said Dow, who has worked racing events at Talladega since 2002. "Everybody's arms were up in the air and then we heard a bunch of curse words that I can't repeat."
Hours earlier, just seven laps into the race, a massive accident happened right near Mossgrove's tool truck and three-man crew. This one sent 14 speeding vehicles careening in every direction.
Peering through the plumes of smoke and swirling debris, Mossgrove rushed over to check on driver Kevin Harvick. From inside his damaged car, Harvick told Mossgrove that he was okay.
"We're just there in case they need something," Mossgrove said. "I guess we can say that we were the busiest crew this week."
Eight of the 14 cars involved in the crash were towed away, Mossgrove said.
Of the Brooksville trio of firefighters to make the trip to Alabama, Regis might have had the most demanding job. And he didn't even have to work a wreck.
Regis, who is also a paramedic captain with Spring Hill Fire Rescue, was one of the crew members responsible for keeping tabs on the racetrack's inventory of headsets and radios, Mossgrove said.
"It's probably one of the biggest responsibilities at the track," Mossgrove said. "They dumped a tremendous job on him. And he did great with it."
But after all the excitement and responsibility that comes with working at Talladega, Mossgrove, Dow and Regis were ready to return home and get much-needed rest. The trio left the track about 1 a.m. Monday and got into town about 10 hours later.
"We're there to do a job," Mossgrove said. "It's a chance to get away from our everyday lives. But getting back home and seeing your family … that's what it's all about."
Joel Anderson can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 754-6120.