How does a person handle the overwhelming experience of having their life saved only to see that angel join God earlier than anyone imagined?
Religion helped Harli White overcome her own near-death experience and it has guided her path forward following the tragic death of her guardian angel — Donnie Ray Crawford.
“I do know that Donnie Ray is in heaven and it’s a much better place to be,” she said. “I don’t let any of that bother me anymore. It’s God’s plan and God’s will. I continue to push along. Donnie Ray and his family are always in the back of my mind.
“I want to fulfill my dreams of being a full-time racer and keep my faith that Donnie Ray is riding with me. Life is short, so you might as well live it out. I’m just happy to be in a race car, anything related to dirt track or asphalt racing. The ultimate goal is racing a sprint car full time and doing it for a living. That’s my ultimate dream.”
That dream began as White traveled to stock car races as a youngster, watching her family compete. Her father, Charlie White, along with a grandpa and uncles, raced regionally. Charlie White eventually moved into the IMCA modified division.
“As a little girl I remember going to races and getting to pack the track, working on the modifieds and setting the tire pressure,” Harli White recalled. “I grew up in a racing family.”
The racing bug bit White at an early age and when she was 12 years old she received her first race car — a Restricted A Class micro sprint. White tested the car during multiple practice nights before her first race on April 5, 2008, at I-44 Riverside Speedway in Oklahoma City, Okla. — a short drive from her hometown of Lindsay.
“I remember bits and pieces,” she said. “I grew up around stock cars and modifieds. We never went to a race track that had micro sprints. I was a stranger and didn’t know how it worked. It was still dirt-track racing, but different cars and kids my age. I was a newbie. Nobody knew me and I didn’t know anybody. I remember it being a big race, a two-day show. We missed the first night because my dad was racing at the state fairgrounds. We went on Saturday. I don’t remember the hot laps or heat race or most of the B main. I do remember the crash itself.”
White was competing in the B main during her first race when disaster struck.
“I remember getting high off turn four,” she said. “The way the track is if you get up high you’ll tag the wall because it’s marbles up there. I skidded the wall and laid over. It really wasn’t a bad flip or a big deal. People’s hearsay is that someone hit the rear. After my car had stopped some people say the tank got ran into. Hitting the wall might have done it. We really don’t know.
“Something exploded and then the car was engulfed in flames. They couldn’t touch it or get to it so they weren’t able to flip me over. The car was laying on its left side. My dad ripped the top wing off. I had unbuckled and turned off the switches, which should have killed the fuel switch. My lap belt was caught on the pocket of my suit. The steering wheel had melted itself onto the steering column.”
White was trapped in the inferno. She could feel the flames, but the worst pain came from what she heard.
“The worst part was hearing everybody screaming and hollering, hearing the fear in people’s voices,” she said. “The fans were seeing it, so they were freaking out. That stays with me more than anything. I literally shut my eyes and started to pray. I opened my eyes and I’m laying on the ground next to the car. I didn’t know who pulled me out of the car or who Donnie Ray was. Whoever did it, I was so relieved and shocked that I made it out alive.”