Vet­eran racer takes fi­nal spin

Central Leader - - WHAT’S ON - BROOKE BATH

It was the fa­mil­iar rush from be­hind the wheel that got an 80-year-old man with Alzheimer’s back on the race track.

It’s been more than 40 years since award-win­ning fur­ni­ture de­signer and ex-race­car driver Michael Draper put on a rac­ing hel­met.

On Satur­day his mind was sharp as he slipped back into his rac­ing kit for one last burn around the Pukekohe Park Race­way, south of Auck­land.

While it wasn’t the Fiat 125 sa­loon Draper once drove, he was at ease in an i30 Hyundai as it breezed round the track.

This was vet­eran driver Draper’s old stomp­ing ground.

He paced be­tween V8 Holden Com­modores, a Subaru WRX and some grunty rigs for a few laps of the open cir­cuit.

He was one of the first driv­ers on the track when it opened in 1962 and he raced for more than 10 years.

This was the last chance to feel the speed be­fore he would no longer be able to drive the car him­self.

‘‘It all came flood­ing back, it was amaz­ing ac­tu­ally,’’ Draper said.

‘‘What we could have done was do the speeds we used to do,’’ he laughed.

Speed was Draper’s hook into motorsport, a pas­sion­ate hobby he got in­ter­ested in back in his home coun­try, North­ern Ire­land.

He also en­joyed help­ing build en­gines for cars, but the power be­hind driv­ing them was what gave him a rush.

So much so he worked on and test drove the world’s first pulse jet pow­ered car.

The 1951 Cooper JAP 500 MkV12 was brought out from North­ern Ire­land and first demon­strated at Ard­more and West­ern Springs in Auck­land about 1958.

It is al­leged the jet pow­ered sin­gle-seat ve­hi­cle shat­tered light bulbs over the West­ern Springs track and could be heard from Pen­rose, more than 8 kilo­me­tres away.

Al­though Alzheimer’s has taken its toll on Draper and his long time part­ner Rowena’s life, Draper held on to old rac­ing mem­o­ries and was still hooked on motorsport.

‘‘I haven’t done it for so long now but I love mo­tor rac­ing and I love the speed and I love the tech­nol­ogy that goes into it,’’ he said.

‘‘I wanted to mo­tor race for the feel of the speed, but not the stop, I didn’t want to stop.’’

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