Vet­eran racer Michael Draper’s last run

Franklin County News - - YOUR PAPER, YOUR PLACE - 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.

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.

Pukekohe 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

‘‘I haven’t done it for so long now but I love mo­tor rac­ing and I love the speed.’’

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 tech- nol­ogy that goes into it,’’ he said.

‘‘I don’t like any thought of be­ing hurt so I al­ways spent a lot of time and money on the safety of rac­ing.’’

Af­ter mo­tor­sport, Draper’s at­ten­tion to de­tail and de­sign forged a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in high­end New Zealand fur­ni­ture de­sign for more than 30 years.

His de­signs are utilised in the Te Papa and Auck­land Mu­se­ums and the out­door seat­ing area at Villa Maria Es­tates.

But his days on the Pukekohe track were ce­mented when he was given a book on its his­tory.

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

Michael Draper, cen­tre, in his ear­lier days.

LAWRENCE SMITH/FAIR­FAX NZ

Michael Draper af­ter his fi­nal race at Pukekohe Park, with long-time part­ner Rowena Yal­land.

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