Bay driver dies in raceway crash

Guy Rogers rogersg@avusa.co.za

TOP South African racing driver and Port Elizabeth businessman Curt Alchin, 44, died in a horrific accident at a stock car racing event in the city at the weekend.

The Victory Raceway on Schoenmakerskop Road was packed on Saturday night for the monthly stock car race event, and heat two of the American Saloon V8s had just got under way when the excitement of the packed crowd turned to horror.

Legendary racer Alchin, who also owned Body Man auto towing and panel beating, roared down the back straight but then, instead of drifting into the turn, hurtled straight into the concrete wall.

With the crowd screaming in horror, he “went airborne” with two wheels just touching the ground and the other two up against the wall, flattening 20m of fencing on top of the wall before crashing down again on all four wheels.

Chief marshall Theo Jonker said he had immediately signalled for the race to be stopped and had then sprinted across to Alchin’s car with the bodywork and medical rescue teams.

“Curt looked very bad. Blood was coming from his nose. Getting him out was difficult and the first thing we did was to fit a survival collar for his neck. We battled, but we eventually managed to lift him out.”

A hole was cut in Alchin’s chest to try to get the blood clots to drain and to allow him to breathe better, and he was loaded into an ambulance. He died en route to St George’s Hospital.

Jonker, who was at the raceway yesterday to lay a wreath of flowers, said it was not yet clear what had caused the accident. “But the speed he went into the turn tells me something must have gone wrong in the car.”

Marshall Dalene de Villiers said that in the tragedy she had been reminded again of the calibre of the V8 drivers.

“As soon as they realised what was going on they drove very slowly out the gate and then, led by Pieta Victor, who had been leading the race, they all ran back inside to see what they could do for their friend.

“If you’re in this game of stock car racing, you are all family.”

Jonker said Alchin would be sadly missed. “He lived for this sport and was one of our best drivers. He had won a number of national championships. He raced various classes and surfaces.”

Alchin was also one of the important sponsors of stock car racing in Port Elizabeth, regularly offering the services of his Body Man team at race events, Jonker said.

Victory Raceway secretary Sakkie Berglund said that as dramatic as the accident had been, it had not looked fatal when it happened. “We’ve had much worse ones, and the driver walked away.

“Nobody caused this accident. Just before it happened, Curt climbed the back wheel of the car in front of him, and that car spun away into the in-field. Then Curt hit the wall. It seems like this is when he got his injuries. He died of a fractured skull and injuries to his spine.”

On Saturday Alchin was having trouble with his normal race vehicle and was offered a replacement, Berglund said. “There was nothing wrong with this replacement vehicle. It went through scrutineering before the event, the way all our cars have to, in terms of Motorsport South Africa (MSA) regulations.

“But the fact that he did not slow down going into the corner tells me his accelerator cable hooked. These things do happen.”

At Victory yesterday, all that remained of the tragedy was a deep scrape and dent in the advertising billboard where Alchin hit the wall, the flattened fence, skid marks in the dirt track, a patch of oil, and a few ball bearings.

By mid-morning, fans had started to arrive to relive what they had witnessed the night before or to confirm what they had read on Facebook.

The American Saloons are custom-built around their massive engines. They hit great speeds on the straights at venues like Victory Raceway, but no one yesterday could pinpoint the speed Alchin might have been going.

Peter Gardiner, 17, son of caretaker Eddie Gardiner, said he had been in the pits on the other side of the track when the accident occurred. “When he went up on the wall, he was so much on his side we were looking at the top of his roof. It was like that famous scene from the movie Herbie.”

The vehicle Alchin was driving was owned by his friend, Johnny Weitz, who was driving in the same race. A member of Weitz’s team, Andre Kriek, said his boss had to be treated for shock in hospital.

Well known Port Elizabeth racing driver Tschops Sipuka said although stock car racing was not his focus and he had not been at the event on Saturday, he had heard the news that night from a friend who had been there.

“It is a very sad thing. I raced against Curt in other classes and he was a sly old fox, ready to punish you for any mistake you made.

“He had a lot of experience and he was a very good driver.”

And Alchin had been much more than that, he said. “He was one of those guys who symbolise the passion of the sport.”

Police spokesman Captain Johan Rheeder said a regulation inquest docket had been opened.

Alchin was divorced and is survived by his twin son and daughter, both of whom used to race.

Curé Alchin, 19, a second-year law student, said she had not been at the event on Saturday night.

Her father had been a man of many parts, she said. “He was stubborn, motivated and disciplined. He was a daredevil, and very intelligent. From when he was a child, he raced anything that moved. He lived life to the fullest. He was a hero to many.”

MSA said Alchin had been “one of South Africa’s most versatile racing drivers, the holder of Springbok colours and 10 championships”.

“MSA mourns his tragic passing.”

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