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THE MADNESS OF THE RACING DRIVER

THERE are no points given for bravery in Motorsport, but lets pretend for a moment they exist and then give them all to Todd Hazelwood. 

We all know racing car drivers are, for the most part, completely mad – so we shouldn’t be surprised that the young South Australian fronted for a Dunlop Super2 Series race just over an hour after his Cooldrive BJR Commodore was destroyed in a staggering, 220-plus km/hr shunt at turn six at Sandown.

Crazy or not, the fortitude required to back up mere moments after the largest accident of your career has drawn deserved praise for the young rising star of Supercar racing.

Few begrudge his rise through the ranks, one driven by hard work, loyal supporters and a dedicated and committed family behind him, rather than a cheque book.

It must be said there are few sports in the world that allow an elite athlete to rebound from such a severe incident and get back on the field of play in such a quick fashion.

It would be like a footballer tearing his ACL and fronting up a week later to play again – Especially if the footballer in question was protected by a couple of meters of steel, carbon fibre and nomex. And yet, that’s what happened today.

As Todd clambered from the muddy wreckage of his destroyed Commodore and realised everything in and on his body was still working as it should, his thoughts almost instantly turned to the next job at hand – defending a tiny points margin in the second-tier Supercar series.

There’s something in the makeup of most drivers that allow them to compartmentalise something like today and move on immediately.

As he was checked over by Supercars chief Medical Officer, Dr. Carl Lee, soon after the crash he questioned how long the checks would take so he could get ready to race.

It was only after changing overalls, taking a deep breath and getting to the pre-grid area behind Sandown’s paddock area that a final doctors check cleared him to race – and that he did.

An impressively composed, thoughtful and considered interview with Greg Rust in between all of this occurring belied the fact his brain must have still been as upside-down as his race car was moments earlier.

Some will argue that he was just doing what any other racing driver would do – and they’d be right – but there’s no question that he went above and beyond to keep racing today at Sandown.

That he raced competitively and finished third was merely a side note to the challenges faced in the hours prior.

Some won’t know that it had already been a tough day for Hazelwood: having to stand and watch as his major sponsor Jason Gomersall crashed his Holden Torana Touring Car Masters car at the same corner he would ultimately come to grief at, earlier in the day.

Not only is Gomersall a sponsor, he’s also a teammate: Todd does the signwriting on the Matt Stone Racing Torana that is run out of the same stable as his own Super2 series Commodore.

So this Saturday won’t have been easy, mentally.

The story behind Todd’s rise to the main-game probably had a role to play in the impact – pardon the pun – the crash had on those watching too.

Still, he did what all racing drivers do and got back on the horse and did it without any apparent side-effects from his earlier moment.

He’ll also take solace that it was absolutely nothing of his doing – just a case of wrong place, wrong time.

The main outcome from today, of course, was the positive chatter around the remarkable efforts that continue to go into making the sport safer for all involved.

Replays of older accidents at the same corner show less tyre-barrier protection and less debris fencing protecting spectators watching from the outside of the Rothmans rise – even as recently as five or six years ago.

It’s impossible to change the runoff at that corner but the improvements made in recent years have made it as safe as perhaps it can be given the circuit’s short potential lifespan.

Even more importantly, the remarkable durability of the Next-Gen Supercar chassis came to the fore once again.

Some fans bemoan the fact the cars share nothing with their road-going counterparts but today was another perfect example of how a purpose-built race car is a must-have in this arena.

Recent developments in leg protection have helped the cause, too, and it’s suggested that BJR’s decision to put them in their cars in time for the Enduros was a major factor in Hazelwood being able to, quite literally, walk away.

A crash of that ferocity with the old car would have delivered a much, much worse outcome for the nut behind the steering wheel than the one we witnessed today.

The fact Todd was able to deliver today’s remarkable turn-around at all is one of the most positive stories of the year.

WORDS: Richard Craill
IMAGE: Todd Hazelwood Facebook Page.