Tighter rules may have saved driver

PAUL EASTON
Last updated 05:00 26/11/2012
Rick Fuller of Wellington
MATT DUNCAN/Fairfax NZ
LUCKY ONE: Rick Fuller of Wellington spins his stock car (left) during racing on the opening night at the Te Marua Speedway last month.

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A stockcar racer who smashed into a concrete wall at an Upper Hutt speedway may owe his life to safety measures introduced after a driver died at the same track in 2000.

Rick Fuller's car collided with another and hit the wall at the Te Marua Speedway at 8pm on Saturday. He was trapped in the wreckage for an hour.

He was cut from his car by on-track emergency services, and flown to Wellington Hospital by the Westpac rescue helicopter with chest injuries.

His condition was initially listed as serious, but he improved yesterday to be in a stable condition.

Wellington Speedway Society spokesman Kevin Win said Mr Fuller was "well and truly on the mend. I've spoken to him myself this morning in hospital."

The death of a stockcar driver at the Te Marua Speedway in 2000 prompted coroner Garry Evans to call for safety changes.

Gary William Heberley, 39, died of neck injuries after his stockcar was shunted by another and he crashed into the concrete side wall.

He was flown to Wellington Hospital by rescue helicopter but died of his injuries later that day.

In 2002 Mr Evans asked Speedway New Zealand to amend its rules so that experienced drivers checked safety for new drivers for their first three races, and to make head restraints compulsory.

Speedway NZ requires drivers to wear extensive safety gear, including an approved helmet, flame-retardant gloves, a head restraint and/or a neck collar. An approved first aid team and ambulance must also be trackside.

Chief executive Tim Savell said there would be an extensive report into Saturday's accident, the cause of which was not yet known.

Speedway was one of the most heavily regulated motorsports, he said. "The guys on the track are never more than 100 metres from an ambulance."

He believed improved safety measures may have saved Mr Fuller from neck injuries. "There have been a lot of changes since 2000."

He was pleased to hear Mr Fuller was recovering.

The Te Marua Speedway had a safety upgrade before racing began this season. A wire safety fence and raised concrete wall were installed at a cost of $150,000.

The fence and 1.2-metre-high wall were put in place after more changes to national safety standards by Speedway NZ three years ago.

Joanne Kinnaird, whose husband and son were at the track, said racing was stopped for about an hour while rescuers got Mr Fuller out of the car.

They cut the top off the car and roll cage using a gas axe and grinder.

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