Home » Watch Jay Leno Joke About Setting His Face On Fire In A Steam Car Accident

Watch Jay Leno Joke About Setting His Face On Fire In A Steam Car Accident

Jay Leno Talks Fire

Last month, funnyman and legendary gearhead Jay Leno was badly burned while working on one of his steam cars. He’s been out of the hospital for a while and is talking about the incident that cooked his face. Now we know the full story of what happened to him on that day.

Leno described the terrifying accident in an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Hoda Kotb. Despite the serious subject at hand, Leno fires off a solid joke in the first ten seconds. Kotb starts by saying that she’s so happy to be sitting across from Leno, to which he responds: Well thank you, I’m afraid I had to get on fire to be on the TODAY Show.”

Leno from the jump reminds us that not even being on fire can take the funny out of him. The two also discuss the support that poured in for Leno from fans, fellow car enthusiasts, and even President Joe Biden.

But Kotb didn’t waste too much time with the chat and among his great collection of cars, the two got right into the discussion of what happened:

As Jason wrote in his explainer on how steam cars can cause a gas fire, Leno doesn’t just collect cars; he also enjoys working on them. He has enough money to pay the best mechanics, but Leno gets his hands dirty working on vehicles that some of us will never even see in real life. In this case, the vehicle was a 1907 White Model G steam car.

Jay Leno’s Garage

Here’s Jason’s explanation for why a steam car has a gas tank:

Even though steam cars are powered by steam, you still have to make the steam, which means heating up water. The methods used to heat water can involve burning wood or coal or really pretty much anything, including gasoline.

In the case of the White steamer, there’s a “pilot fuel” used to light the flame to get the water hot, and, as you can hear Jay say at this point in the video, the White uses gasoline to light the pilot of the car. It’s also worth noting that the gasoline tank in the car is pressurized, so if Jay was under the car and something happened to a fuel line, it’s not going to just drip out like a non-running internal combustion car would, but instead would spray out, since it’s under pressure.

You can watch Jay Leno get this thing running in a 2012 video on his YouTube channel. In that video he burned his hand a little getting the fire started in the car’s burner:

As Leno explained to Kotb, the White’s fuel line was clogged and Jay was underneath the vehicle trying to free things up. Leno then had air blown through the fuel line, which caused gasoline to spray out in such a manner that Leno’s face got covered in fuel. Then, like real life imitating a Final Destination film, the pilot light jumped, igniting Leno’s face.

Leno called over his friend Dave, who describes the situation as Leno being completely engulfed in flames, so much so that he couldn’t even see Leno’s face. Dave says that he smothered the fire by pulling Leno into his chest, to which Leno jokes “I thought it was a bad Tinder date, what’s going on here.” After a quick laugh, Dave gets back into telling the story. Leno’s face is now out, and Dave told him to go put some cold water on it. Meanwhile, Dave put the fire out on the car before going to check out on Leno. Dave describes layers of skin peeling off of Leno’s face and they called 911.

Doctors told Leno to immediately go to a burn center, but at first, he drove himself home to his wife, Mavis. The pair would then go to the Grossman Burn Center, where doctors had to peel away layers of burned skin. Throughout the ordeal, Leno spent a lot of time cheering up hospital staff and even buying them lunch.

Screenshot (133)
Jay Leno shows how to light the pilot on the steam car. – Jay Leno’s Garage

When asked about if he worried about the outcome of his procedures, Leno said that when you look like him you don’t really worry about what you look like. He further said that his left ear was reconstructed and he underwent grafting procedures; he also spent eight hours a day getting hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This treatment involves a patient getting pure oxygen in a chamber where air pressure is 2 to 3 times higher than normal, allowing for faster healing.

Leno closes out the interview by saying that keeping upbeat was part of his recovery. He says that accidents happen every day with people who work with their hands and he didn’t want to be the rich guy crying about getting burned. So he kept the jokes flowing. As for lessons learned? Leno jokes that he didn’t learn anything and that he will not be skittish about working on his own cars.

We’re happy to hear that Leno is recovering well. Leno’s friend Dave says that he underplays how serious this situation was, and he’s not wrong. Thankfully it didn’t end worse, and hopefully, Jay Leno will be fully back in action soon.


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26 Responses

    1. I don’t want to discredit the severity of his burns or the quality of care he received (partly due to his money) but there’s likely some make up here too.

      1. Well, a little bit column A, a little but column B. Most people who suffer bad, yet not life threatening burns don’t get to do ultra-intensive hyperbaric chamber sessions to help with the healing process (and he likely got to choose the best doctors and specific emergency treatment available, while regular folks just get whoever’s doing ER that day – and will end up bankrupt even if they get sub-par treatment). And while I don’t know this for sure, I’d imagine cosmetic skin grafts aren’t covered by most health plans – if live saving treatment often isn’t, I just don’t see health insurance companies covering for much more expensive stuff. So yeah there’s probably make-up, but the fact that he can conceal it so well with a bit of make up tells you he had access to better treatment than most people in the same situation.

        1. I didn’t meant to post that comment. What I meant to say is that you can buy a hyperbaric chamber for “large pets” for less than a course of treatments at your local burn center.

  1. I watched that interview yesterday and I was really impressed with Jay’s overall sense of humor about the incident, his graciousness to everyone involved in helping him and holy cow – he looks great for 72! The hospital photos from his 9-day stay in the burn ward really show how serious this was. He’s lucky his buddy Dave was there to smother the fire. Also, the fact that he works on his own cars and keeps them all in running condition is truly amazing. What a wonderful representative of automotive culture.

  2. I’ve always been so thankful to Leno that he not only keeps his collection maintained but that he shares them with the rest of us through his YouTube channel and on his website before that.

    Unlike other “collectors” that just have a dark warehouse full of cars stashed away somewhere, that aren’t maintained, aren’t driven, and (in the case of locally famous lawyer we used to have here in Houston) haven’t even been seen by the owner.

  3. It’s good to see that he’s recovering well from such a horrific accident. Jay is a stand-up guy (no pun intended), a true asset to the gearhead community, and an all-around class act. I wish him the best.

  4. Leno’s a rich guy and he almost certainly benefited from that during his burn treatment and recovery. Personally, though, I don’t begrudge him anything for that. He’s the rare rich guy who does it right, and the world would be so much better off if more rich guys were like him. It’s great to see him doing so well.

    1. The problem isn’t that rich people get awesome medical care, it’s that such care is not universally available. The mindset should be that we need to lift everyone else up, not drag them down.

  5. Man you really get to see what kind of person Jay is as opposed to other far less successful celebrities who think the world revolves around them. But as he is joking about…
    1. Jay this is not how you do a roast.
    2. At least he kept his best physical feature that wonderful grey mane. I am surprised i had a fireball encompass me from a BBQ grill every hair was immediately eliminated from my head. Funny thing was i was lucky no burns and no pain.
    3. Had to be set on fire to get on the today show? Definitely a joke. If Jay happened to mention he was interested the Today show would be like okay how much time do you want?
    4. Have to admire the I am lucky so many have it worse attitude.

  6. Glad he’s ok and keeping others spirits up. I know he got his mechanic Dave’s Nomad fixed up on Overhaulin’ but that guy should definitely get a raise!

  7. As a lifelong welder I know a little about burns.Arms, hands, hair , hot MIG BB’s down the sock that burns itself out just to name a few . I * may * have set myself on fire once or twice but nothing like what happened to Jay . He’s very lucky to have had someone nearby to help as well as a world class burn center close by .

  8. His hyperbaric chamber story reminded me of a visit to the UK Motor Show back in the 1980s, where one of my friends and I somehow locked ourselves into a Renault Alpine. We couldn’t find the lock release and it must have had power windows, so we were stuck, getting very hot and panicky under the spotlights.

    We tried catching the attention of the stand staff, but this was the 1980s and a French manufacturer, so the staff consisted almost entirely of skimpily clad young women whizzing around on rollerskates. Knocking on the windows and waving to them just prompted them to smile and wave back.

    I’m still here to tell the tale, so I suppose we got out somehow.

    1. The shit he did to Conan was what really turned me off to him initially. Prior to that I didn’t really even think about Jay Leno other than ‘He’s got a lot of cars. That’s cool, I guess.’

  9. You know how instructions for every car repair begin with “disconnect battery?” I bet Jay disables the pilot flame from now on when working on his steam cars.

  10. Pretty sure I saw him the other day with his busted brown MB 600(?) On Coldwater. Didn’t look too bad but hard to tell as it was 3ish and the traffic coming down the hill was busy already.

  11. While doing some lampworking (propane torch with small glass rods to make shapes) I managed to break off the lollipop I was working on (really, about the size of a lollipop) broke off and fell into my lap. I was wearing the recommended cotton shirt and it went up in flames. My favorite aloha shirt too. The lollipop bounced around and landed on my left side where I now have a lollipop sized scar. It must have also hit or I hit it with my left thumbnail. A year later my nail is still showing the affects of the burn. As a result of this event was for a flame retardant apron to always be worn when lampworking. I still do lampworking. I was awarded the non-coveted t-shirt with the picture of someone running on fire with the words “Do Not Be on Fire”.

  12. The fact that he apparently wasn’t in crippling pain during and right after and was able to nonchalantly ask for help and walk to the bathroom to clean up tells you all you need to know about how severe these burns were, 3rd degree wrecks the nerves so you dont feel anything

    1. It’s almost funny how the worst injuries are often times the least painful…

      I slammed my thumb into a brake rotor backing plate and instantly knew without any pain that I had royally f’d up… Then I saw the blood and nearly passed out, i thought I cut my thumb off at first but luckily it was just a lot of blood and a very deep slice (kept the thumb and motion in it and still have a scar after many many moons as a reminder)

      Nothing scarier than wrenching on something and feeling the wrench slip, feeling your hand smash into something and then just warm… Other than ya know, lighting your face on fire…. I am so glad this wasn’t worse and Jay is a national treasure at this point.

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