Homemade roll cage saves driver's life
Kapiti drag racer Stu Lawton has walked away from a horror crash virtually unharmed.
The highly modified Mazda SP20 he has built up over six years was written off in the accident at the new Masterton Motorplex on Sunday, but his custom-built roll cage did its job, he said.
''As I launched it went slightly to the middle lane, and then I got off the throttle and as every driver does I got back on it gently.
''I thought I had it saved, and then it went round and I thought I'd just go round with my back into the wall, and then it rolled and I knew I'd gone over the wall.''
The car flipped twice down the track before ricocheting about five metres into the wall and cartwheeling at least another three times on the other side.
The accident unfolded right in front of his partner, who was on the sidelines right where it happened.
''She was about five feet away; she was pretty worried.
''I'm a little bit sore - maybe a broken finger.''
Mr Lawton had been running sub-eight second quarter mile times, reaching about 290kmh by the end of the quarter-mile track.
''It was a test run, I'd been knocked out of the competition, but you're always trying to go better and better each time.
''It was only on the first part of the track, close to 100kmh; it was a real fast 60-foot time, and normally you can gauge your final track speed from that.''
He praised organisers at the Masterton Motorplex, and the safety crew and ambulance staff who were on hand almost immediately.
''It's no-one's fault, the track was good, and the crowd was all back [from the track, behind a fence], so it was pretty safe.
''Climbing the wall like I did - it's not that often it happens, but hey, it's just a racing incident, it just happens.''
Mr Lawton said he built the car's roll cage himself, after researching designs and techniques.
''Two years ago I built a brand new chassis, which was safer than the old one, and made more of a roll cage behind my head.
''It's the rear and front of the car that's taken all the impact, and the roll cage hasn't moved at all. It's done the right job in all the right spots.''
While acknowledging he was lucky to walk away from the accident, Mr Lawton said losing the car was a huge set-back for Lawton Motorsports after years spent fine-tuning and redeveloping the project.
''I was sitting in the ambulance looking out the window at what was left of the car. ''Definitely we will be back, but I don't know how long ... we don't know''.
The Lawton crash was one of three at the Masterton Motorplex over the weekend of racing.
Phil Webber, another Kapiti driver, also wrote off a race car about half an hour later, but ''he got out of the car and waved at the crowd'', Mr Lawton said.
The same day a motorcyclist came off his bike at 240kmh. The Lower Hutt driver walked away with just a broken collarbone.
Video footage of the crash shows that his bike somehow righted itself, and continued down the track passing the finish line before the bike he was racing.
The Dominion Post