What do you do when your car rolls over?

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Watch motor racing on the box and you will be presented with roll-overs, followed by drivers, in most cases, stepping out of the wreck. In my motor racing career I have had two roll-overs and two fires. And I’m still very much alive to tell the tales.

Rocked and Rolled.
Rocked and Rolled.

The last roll-over was at the Kaeng Krachan circuit about 60 km from Hua Hin. First lap and the tyres were a little cold, but as we came to the tight corner before the run down the straight and I changed into second gear, the gearbox decided it wasn’t going to play only giving me neutrals, and I understeered into the barrier. I could see a broken headlight coming up and was in a state of alert.

However, the barrier was made of tyres and I bounced off it and then began a series of barrel rolls down the straight. By this stage I was merely a passenger, there was nothing I could do to alter the outcome.

Now the biggest danger in roll-overs is parts of your body fly out the window. Arms generally, and heads next. Remembering this, I put both hands on the top of my helmet and brought the forearms together to stop anything going into the front of the helmet. All you do after that is wait for the noise to stop and look for the easiest way out. Even after the noise stops, you have to listen for other cars that might hit you.

The five point harness has a quick release button, which I immediately hit, and the belts came loose, but forgetting that I wasn’t the right way up! Picking myself up from the inside of the roof I could see that the easiest way out was through the space where the windscreen once resided. By this time the flag marshals were there and helped drag me through the windscreen aperture.

The rescue crew rolled the car onto its wheels and it was taken away on the back of a flatbed truck.

Catching up with the very battered race car, I saw that every panel was damaged, one wheel was torn off, and it was a very sorry sight. I began to wonder where I could find a new body shell for a 40 year old Escort, when a little Thai chap came over and said “I can fix that.” A price was agreed then and there with a handshake.

Thai panel beaters are famous for their skills with the hammer and dolly and this chap turned out to be an excellent tradesman. But not so good a time estimator. Two weeks became eight, but you could not tell that this car had been looking like scrap value. Very little filler was used and it was all square again. It required one new panel, but all the rest were worked on. That car is still running today.

The fire in 1992 was probably more exciting, and was a time where my life really was in danger.

It was a Saturday afternoon Qualifying and I was running an Isuzu Gemini. Coming down the back straight I was given a tap in the rear quarter and the car speared across the track towards the steel barrier on my right. “I’ll do a headlight here,” I thought to myself. The words had no sooner formulated in my brain when there was an almighty bang and when I focused my eyes I was facing up the track, not down. The next thing I noticed were waves of orange licking across my windscreen and it was also getting very hot.

The rear vision mirror started to melt and looked like a Salvador Dali painting and if I needed to think carefully it was now. Freeing myself of the safety harness I went to open the door to find it was distorted and jammed shut. It was difficult not to panic at that point. I was trapped inside a burning car and even though I was in a fireproof race suit, you only get 40 seconds, and it was time I escaped.

Turning sideways in the seat I kicked the door open and went to get out, but there were flames as far as I could see. I was sitting in a sea of petrol which had caught alight.

By this stage, having worked out it was now or never, I rolled myself into a ball and jumped out, rolling through the flames until I was clear.

I had blisters on my back, no eyelashes, nor eyebrows and fairly heavily shaken.

We then pieced together what had happened. As I hit the fence, another car came down the back straight and lost control at 180 km/h, spearing into the back of my car, going into the boot, bursting the fuel tank, then through the rear firewall and into the cabin where I was seated. The hot exhaust ignited the fuel and there I was BBQ Doctor!

The chap who started the whole thing off came and apologized, saying that he thought he had killed me. He also made the offer of using his car on the Sunday. I took it, like getting back up on the horse and have been doing so ever since.