Veteran motorsport racer Michael Draper has last run


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 iconic Pukekohe Park circuit.

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 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 high-end New Zealand furniture design for more than thirty 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 Park 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 as he pulled off the track.

 - Sunday Star Times

 

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