Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Chaplain's work after Fatal Accident.

We’ve had a real tough weekend at Willowbank Raceway. What is usually one of my favourite weekends of the year, the Nostalgia Racing meet, was marred by a fatal crash at an open practice on Saturday night.

Nostalgia racing is for pre 1970 cars and dragsters and is a one day event. However, every Saturday night there is a public ‘Test n Tune’ night where anyone can turn up and have a run on the track. A lot of the Nostalgia guys used that as an opportunity to test and dial in their cars for the Sunday competition.

One racer took his rail dragster (not unlike the one pictured) for a test. He crossed the finish line and his shute did not deploy, it seems he didn’t brake very hard and tried to turn his dragster at the end of the track instead of running into the braking sand. A rail isn’t designed to turn at all, let alone make a wide arching turn at 150km/h, the dragster rolled, and ended up slamming into a concrete barrier, killing the driver instantly.

Dad and I as chaplains had planned to be at the Sunday competition, but do not usually attend the Test n Tune nights. We were both at a friends 21st birthday party when the Track Manager called Dad and asked him to come out to the track.

The wife of the racer had been at the track watching the run, and with all the other stuff going on the officials just did not know how to handle a grieving wife and family. We had a quick conference at the party, and decided Dad would go out with the Whitehill Minister Darryl, and I’d take Mum home before waiting to see if I was needed at the track also.

I didn’t have to go out Saturday night, but during the race meet on Sunday I talked to a few of the officials who were there that night. And in letting them tell their stories to get it off their chest I ended up with a vivid and very real picture of the situation, especially from the crash rescue team who were first on the scene. Dad was there until midnight Saturday, but the body could not be removed from the car until about 3am – due to Crash Scene Investigations and Police reports. The car was removed by the Police at about 3:30am, and the last official left just before 4am. All officials who were at the crash site were back at the track early in the morning to set up for the competition day ahead. So there were lots of very tired, and very down people at the track on Sunday.

Dad did a great job, caring for the family, making sure they had a way to get home, and the support they needed. He also sat and chatted with all the officials before he left Saturday and between us we met with them all again individually on Sunday (Dad being the official Track Chaplain did do most of the work, mainly because everyone recognises him and came up to start the conversations themselves.).

Something Garry Coleman (V8 Supercar chaplain) said to us when we first started, was that unfortunately it usually takes a tragedy before the people at the track realise what value the chaplains are. I’ve seen this first hand now, with the change of attitude towards us as chaplains.

The Sunday racing went ahead, and was good hard racing – but there was just a real heavy feel over the whole event.

A very silly crash added to everyone’s distress levels when the owner of a beautiful Z28 Camaro let his teenage daughter drive the car on a parade lap. When trying to do a burnout (which wasn’t suppose to happen anyway) she lost control and slammed the wall straight on (which meant she spun the car 90 degrees to the track). At the time all the show cars were just cruising down the track to show off their rides, so for a car that wasn’t even racing to crash is bad for the track, embarrassing for the owner (and expensive!!!) and just annoying to the staff! It took 45 minutes to clean up for racing again, the Camaro is pretty well a right off - and it all happened because of a lack of responsibility mostly on the father’s part.

Please pray for all the people who have been affected by this accident, especially the family who have lost a husband and father (he was over 60 so there may be grandchildren as well, I don’t know). The officials have had to deal with a lot, especially with the body remaining in the car for over 3 hours while they had to clean up around it.

Pray also for Dad and I as we continue to deal with this ourselves and others issues arising from it.


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