After a heart-stopping crash at Arena Manawatu on Saturday night, stockcar driver Craig Healey will stay in hospital this week until a brace is fitted to his broken back.
Speaking to the Manawatu Standard from his hospital bed yesterday, Healey said he was relieved to know he would fully recover.
He was in a horrendous crash that took off the top of his roll cage and bent the rest of it while his seat was bent forward at a 45-degree angle.
"I remember being rolled and them putting me back on my wheels and taking me out to the pits, but I had blurred vision," he said.
"When I looked and saw there was no roll cage left, I'm feeling pretty fortunate."
Healey will be in a back brace for at least five weeks.
"I've got a fractured 12th vertebrae and it's compressed, but not enough to need surgery."
He has had an excellent season and could have gone close to the New Zealand title. Now he will take time out before he decides on his racing future.
"I'll give myself couple of months to get healthy again. I know it was a one-in-a-million freak shot, but I know I'm fortunate to able to walk away from it."
Healey had been forced up the wall on the opening lap and landed down on his side where Chris Knight, who had nowhere to go, hit him in the roof.
After what seemed like an eternity, Healey's car was carefully put back on its wheels. The grandstand crowd was stunned into silence because the roof had gone and Healey's helmeted head was fully exposed above what was left of the roll cage. The top plate protecting his head had been torn off completely.
Father Terry Healey had no idea his son's crash was as bad as it was, until he saw the roofless stockcar come through the pits gate.
"When I saw the hit I wasn't concerned; I just thought the wing had been taken off," Terry Healey said. "I couldn't see what was happening with all the safety crew and St John's staff around the car."
When the pit gate was opened, Healey thought his son had been knocked out and they were taking him to the track ambulance to check him over.
"It wasn't until he was 50 metres from the pit gate that I saw there was no roof on the car that my heart sank and I realised just how serious the crash actually was."
Terry Healey felt a little better when Craig waved to the crowd and told the St John's medics with him, `that's my dad', as he got to the car.
As he looked at the destroyed stockcar he had built, he said he was relieved his son had escaped a crash that could easily have been worse.
Incredibly, Craig Healey's helmet did not have a mark on it though the defender device, which is locked from around the neck to the helmet, would not unlock.
"It's done the job it was meant to but Speedway NZ have taken it away to look at it."
Terry Healey said his wife, Rose, and Craig's fiancee, Kelly, who had been in the grandstand when the accident happened, had both been in shock and were still getting over it.
"When you look at the extent of damage to the car, it's unbelievable really; a life-changing experience."
He said chief stockcar scrutineer JD Allomes had since checked the car to ensure nothing broke that should not have.
"He said everything did the job it was meant to and it was a freak accident."
With more than 25 years involvement in stockcars, Robertson Holden Speedway manager Bryan Puklowski agreed it was one of the worst accidents he had seen, but showed a strict scrutineering policy paid off.
"This is why we have such stringent and continuous car-checking procedures," Puklowski said. "Cars are green-sheeted before the season starts then have weekly checks on them."
- Manawatu Standard