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Carnage captured: behind some of New Zealand’s wildest motor sport crashes

27 December 2015

Motorsport photographers always capture the good, the bad, and the ugly. We take a look at the ugly

They say shit happens, and, sadly, in the motor sport world, that’s true. When things go wrong, they tend to go wrong big time. Thankfully, though, all of the drivers involved in the crashes on these pages lived to tell the tale and were relatively uninjured. That is a real testament to the quality of race-car builds; the safety requirements implemented over years of racing; and, of course, the engineers, mechanics, and safety crews who ensure these guys are kept safe. While we’re aware there have been far more crashes than the ones showcased here, these are a few that caught our attention for all the right — or wrong — reasons. 

AJ Lauder

Photo: Matt Smith
Location: Manfeild
Year: 2014
Car: 2013 Toyota Camry TLX touring car 

One of our featured young guns (Issue No. 100) continued to prove he was fast last month, but perhaps for all the wrong reasons this time. A very wet practice session was the undoing of AJ Lauder’s Grand Prix weekend at Manfeild. It was a wet racing boot that ultimately caused the unfortunate crash: Lauder’s wet foot slipped off the pedals and got wedged between the brake and accelerator. Before he could get his foot un-wedged, Lauder mounted the BNT tyre wall, then the much higher Toyota wall, and nearly came out the other side (quite literally) in the process. We reckon that it’s pretty bad if you mount two walls and nearly keep going … We’ve heard that the car is easily repairable due to the easy design of the TLX, so that’s always a bonus! Moral of the story? Wipe ya boots!

Andrew Sinclair

Photo: Lyall Chinnery
Location: Pukekohe Park Raceway
Year: 2009
Car: VK Commodore

By Andrew Sinclair’s own admission, he went too fast through turn one at Pukekohe. What he thought would be OK, and finish with a spin on the grass, ended up being something far more spectacular. 
“What I didn’t count on was the combination of very wet (and therefore soft) ground and an earth ramp that was used by tractors to get up onto the horse track. It was about 600mm at the top side. Unfortunately, I hit this side on, the left front corner dug in, and the rest is history. I think I did a sort of sideways barrel/spin and then an end-over-end. Luckily, [the car] landed back on its wheels. The photographer said that if I’d bowed to the crowd I would have scored a 10!” Sinclair laughs about it now, but reiterates the importance of safety.
Thankfully, Sinclair walked away without a scratch; he gives credit for that to Mike ‘Bic’ Anderson at Sonic Race & Machine for building such a strong roll cage. “As the car was going over and hitting each corner, I could feel the HANS working and the straps pulling tight. That was my only conscious thought as it was flipping: thank f@#k I’m wearing a HANS.”
The car didn’t fare so well, as, despite the doors still opening and closing OK, all four corners were severely damaged. The car has been cut below both windscreens and new panels fitted, along with new struts, diff, and more. 

Mark Ross

Photo: Euan Cameron
Location: Mike Pero Motorsport Park
Year: 2006
Car: 1969 Ford Mustang

For Taupo’s Mark Ross, it was a long haul to Ruapuna for the Southern Festival of Speed, especially when he didn’t make it further than the first corner. On turn one, the car came together with a BMW and a couple of Porsches, which saw him ride up over the rear wheel of one of the Porsches, and fly through the air, before landing heavily in a mass of twisted metal and shattered fibreglass.
The Mustang suffered serious damage, including two destroyed wheels and tyres, broken rose-joints on the front suspension, and a damaged and holed engine sump. No drivers were hurt, but Euan Cameron’s photo looks spectacular.

Tim Watkins

Photo: NZV8 Archive
Location: Mike Pero Motorsport Park
Year: 2006
Car: Top Alcohol Funny Car

Imagine racing at an absolutely mental speed down a drag strip only to find out that you can’t stop — are you thinking “Bugger that!”? Well, so are we. But Tim Watkins experienced that exact feeling when he found out at the end of a run that his parachute wasn’t set up properly and fell off the rear of the car. While Watkins did have brakes, they’re not designed to slow a vehicle from the speed he was travelling within the distance he had to stop. Witnesses estimated the car to have been travelling at 150mph when the chutes failed to deploy. Obviously, by this point, Watkins had no way of slowing the vehicle and ran well off the end of the drag strip, through the catch net, and wedged himself into the trees. Almost unbelievably, he walked away from the wreckage — having set a time of 6.80 at 189mph only seconds before impact.

Clark Fiddes

Photos: NZV8 Archive
Location: Fram Autolite Dragway
Year: 2005
Car: Chev Camaro

Clark Fiddes, in his recently imported Camaro, was always a driver to watch, impressing the crowds with out-of-shape passes. On this particular run, he was lined up against Chris Tynan, and dialled-in an 8.0, meaning he was going to give it his all. The car got out of shape after half track, using all of the lane before hitting the Armco and becoming airborne right where cameraman Robert Miller was situated on an elevated platform. Miller was thrown into the air, and lucky to walk away without major injury. He did, however, suffer a gash on his leg that cut through to the bone. “I was on the platform filming the two cars coming down, following the car that was winning and facing the far end of the track … I heard a little bit of a tyre squeal and then a big bang. Next thing, I’m looking at the sky and [doing] what felt like a big, lazy backflip, and then I crashed into the ground.” The unconscious Fiddes had to be cut from the car but had only minor injuries.

Owen Evans

Photos: Supplied
Location: Goudies Road, Reporoa; Land Speed Record Attempt
Year: 1996
Car: Porsche 911 GT Le Mans Turbo

This is a crash that we all remember. If you don’t … well, you must have been asleep under a rock. After breaking the New Zealand Land Speed Record earlier that weekend, with a speed of 216.385mph, Evans decided to give it one last shot. But that one last run proved to be disastrous for him, as a tyre blowout caused the car to somersault multiple times at a ridiculous speed. The car that made his dreams come true also demolished them.
Evans was taken to hospital for treatment but made a full recovery. Rather than jumping back into the silly seat, Evans can now often be spied supporting his two equally fast sons, Simon and Mitch, at various tracks around the world, while the wreckage of the car is on display at Southwards Museum.

Parry Hunt

Photo: NZV8 Archive
Location: Masterton Motorplex, NZDRA Central Nationals
Year: 2010
Car: 1969 Chev Camaro

Parry Hunt’s Camaro crash is one of the most spectacular ever to have taken place in New Zealand. His Top Doorslammer Camaro was one of the best-presented race cars around, and had only been out to a handful of events before the accident. 
Upon hitting the painted lines not far from the start line on the old Masterton Motorplex track (airstrip), the tyres spun, and, although it looked as if Hunt had saved it, the car went into a tank-slapper before launching itself and barrel rolling many times over. During the crash, the engine gouged a massive hole in the track, yet Hunt was lucky the fuel tank was thrown well clear of the vehicle. 
Despite getting himself out of the car, Hunt was quite seriously injured, with multiple broken ribs and internal bruises. He’s since made a full recovery, and we’d love to see what he comes up with next. 

Paul Dumbrell and Craig Baird

Photo: Geoff Ridder
Location: Pukekohe Park raceway
Year: 2005
Cars: Dumbrell: V8SC Holden / Baird: V8SC Ford

Many crashes have been caused by Pukekohe’s tricky microclimate, and this one was no different. A light sprinkling of rain coated the track, but, with the field on slick tyres, it was simply a disaster waiting to happen. Jamie Whincup — now a multiple V8 Supercars (V8SC) champion — got wide and ended up on the grass at the top of Pukekohe mountain. As he re-entered the track down the pit straight, Kiwi man Baird moved over to give him some room. Unfortunately, Dumbrell didn’t see this move and got squashed at about 180kmh. The following sequence of events left both Baird’s Ford and Dumbrell’s Holden without bonnet or boot. Neither driver was injured, but the cars certainly required major surgery.

Shayne Alach

Photo: Colin Irwin /
Location: Waikaraka Park
Year: 2010
Car: Midget

During a race at Waikaraka Park, Speedway-veteran Shayne Alach had the unfortunate experience of rolling up and over the fencing — yes, over the fence. This is a rarity in Speedway races, and fortunately no one was injured. We’ve heard that the fences have been upgraded since then, but that doesn’t mean the carnage has slowed down trackside, as the guys still stick their elbows out at almost every meeting. The only casualty of Alach’s night: a beautiful-looking ute. Bugger! 

A selection of Allan Porter’s best

As an official New Zealand Hot Rod magazine photographer from 1968 till 1997 (plus covering the odd drag racing and feature hot rod event right up to the present), Allan’s seen it all. In his own words, “Looking for crash photos was an interesting exercise: most of the crash shots from my coverage of drag racing rarely happened directly in front of me, because in drag racing most accidents happen past halfway due to the acceleration and speed. Hence the shots show the ‘aftermath’.

“But I must say, even though the crashes were often spectacular, few [drivers] sustained life-changing injuries. Some were taken to hospital for observation and released a few hours later; one driver received a broken back, requiring long-term rehab. There were only two fatalities I can remember — one on the return road at Hastings, and one a passenger in a race car after an event at Teretonga, Invercargill. It says a lot for the safety requirements of drag vehicles.” 

This article was originally published in NZV8 Issue No. 107. You can pick up a print copy or a digital copy of the magazine below: