As soon as Clint Ewing launched his motorcycle into the over 360-foot-long inferno for CMT's Tunnel of Fire, he thought something was wrong. A few seconds later, he was rolling on the ground trying to escape the flames.
"One of the first things I thought of when I got out was 'How bad am I burned?'" Ewing told CMT.com from the hospital where he has been since the stunt. "And the second was 'I failed.'"
When CMT's Tunnel of Fire premieres Tuesday (Aug. 20) at 8 p.m. ET/PT as part of CMT Bike Week, viewers will see just how lucky he was.
In 2008, Ewing was asked to set a world record in a similar stunt and succeeded. But since then, many other riders had surpassed that mark. He decided to regain the title in a feat that would call for him to ride at 30 miles per hour through a blaze longer than a football field. Fueled by cardboard, hay and wood drenched in gasoline, the tunnel was expected to reach almost 2,000 degrees.
Ewing spoke with CMT.com Tuesday morning and described what happened in detail.
CMT: I didn't realize you had done this before. Can you explain what kind of preparation goes into something like this?
Ewing: Mostly the gear that you're going to use, and the distance plays a huge factor for a breathing apparatus and whatnot. I did not go with a breathing apparatus. And then just mentally focusing on trying to do something like this. This is not something I would normally do. I just sort of got caught up into it and figured I could do it again. Last time it was a propane set, 200 feet long. This time around, it was fueled by [gas] and cardboard and fencing.
Did you have a fireproof suit on?
I just had fireproof gear underneath my riding gear. I had a dual layer helmet with two windscreens, and that came in handy because one of them melted off within the first five seconds. And man, if I had burned eyes, this would be terrible. My hands were just more susceptible than anything. They were just hanging out there, so that's why they got it.
Since you had completed it before, how much of a chance did you think you had to do it again?
I'll be honest. I thought I had over an 85 percent chance of doing this. I was like "I've done it before, I know what to look for." People think you just ride your bike through it and there you go, but you have to see and you have to remain calm and everything. You can't be taking a gasp of air inside a 1,600 degree tunnel. You'll burn your lungs out.
So, I was prepared, but I look back at the photos CMT has already sent me, and I can't believe I even tried it. It's scary. I literally felt like I was in hell. I've never felt like that in my life.
Can you take me through the stunt itself?
There's a Guinness guy looking at the tunnel, there's a guy up above the tunnel in a crane, there's a guy at the start. My heart was beating really fast, and I was trying to remain calm.
About three seconds into the tunnel I couldn't see an inch in front of me, so I knew I wasn't going anywhere. I have really good balance for stunt riding and can basically do anything I want on one wheel, but if you can't see where you're going and things are burning off of you, you're basically done.
I couldn't feel my brakes. I just started burning. About halfway down, I hit a pole on the side of the tunnel. But it's a good thing I did because when I hit the pole and the ground, I knew the pole was on the outside of the tunnel so I just rolled that way. And I think to myself, "Man, if I had not hit the pole and I would have stayed in there, no one would have gotten to me."
What are you injuries? And what do you hope to do now?
I'm a 12 percent burn, which obviously isn't bad compared to the 50 percents or 80 percents that are out there. Basically the front of my hands melted off. Luckily the inside palms did not, and then my wrists got it really bad. So I have third degree burns on my hands and third degree burns on my back. They've taken grafts from my legs and grafted them in with my hands, and I just talked with the doctors five minutes ago, and they think by the end of the year I should have a full recovery if I just stay on my physical therapy.
What I take away from this is that I can rise to any occasion and try to do my best, but there are just some things in life you can't do. But I feel happy to be here. I'm gonna try to get out there by the end of the year and keep riding, try to be a positive role model for people out there trying to just not quit.