Dennis Martin survives near-death experience to return for another Manfeild weekend
Palmerston North's Dennis Martin is characteristically cheery a year on from the event that was nearly the death of him.
New Zealand motor racing team owner, mentor and driver Martin is again running his SpeedSport Scholarship at Manfeild.
He will head to Manfeild this weekend in a positive frame of mind, thinking more about the excitement of the star of the future search he orchestrates at his home circuit, rather than the close call he had 12 months ago.
Martin is glad he's still here to see it after a brush with death.
A week after last year's scholarship run, he was hospitalised with pneumonia.
He spent 55 days in Palmerston North Hospital, all but 10 in the intensive care unit, where he was mainly in critical condition, including being in a coma for two weeks.
Martin knows now he was probably susceptible.
That weekend he was fighting a head cold with antibiotics and had a heavy workload, in addition to running a busy race team schedule.
Also, on scholarship weekend, he'd spent a day weathering rain showers and a bitterly cold wind.
"I was feeling pretty run down … I remember getting into the truck [at the end of the scholarship] and I was totally drained."
The illness struck brutally. He awoke from a night's sleep drenched in cold sweat and his heart racing. An ambulance was called.
"I can't tell you what happened next. All I know is that I woke up in a hospital bed thinking I'd just nodded off and when Cherie told me I'd been in a coma for two weeks my immediate thought was 'I cannot afford to spend two weeks away from the workshop.'"
Wife Cherie said: "While he was in the coma his kidneys started to fail. He had tubes everywhere and he was so close to passing away in some stages.
"It was a pretty scary time."
They also thought he might have had a stroke because he lost all strength and movement. In fact, it was his body fighting back, drawing protein from his muscles to fight the infection.
"You don't need your arms and legs to survive, so it took all the protein from those muscles first. I couldn't even lift my arm off the bed."
A year on, he celebrates the amazing support from Cherie – "she singlehandedly kept everything going" - and friends who ensured Sabre cars were on the grid for their Manfeild winter series outings.
Valued at $20,000 and now in its 18th year, the SpeedSport Scholarship Martin was heavily instrumental in creating provides entry into the primary single seater circuit racing class, Formula First.
Past racers who started out with Martin's Sabre team then went onto much greater things include some very famous names.
Shane van Gisbergen, Nick Cassidy, Richie Stanaway, Mitch Evans, Simon Evans, Brendon Hartley and more all came through his team in the early stages of their careers.
This year 10 young hopefuls will be striving to shine in the showdown elimination on the Manfeild back circuit.
A former multiple champion of the entry level single seater category, Martin said the 1.5km tarmac ribbon is the best driver training circuit in the country because it simply cuts no slack.
"There is nothing there that can help them," he said. "It is a demanding piece of flat, constantly curving track.
"It's hard to get it right and, when anyone gets it wrong, we can see it all. There is nowhere to hide when mistakes are made."
He also reflects how fortuitous it was that the scholarship was reorganised several years ago to be operated by a trust, meaning it would have kept going regardless of his eventual circumstance.