Skaife’s moment of fear: ‘The car was about to light up’
At Adelaide in the 1990 Grand Prix support race, I had a huge crash. Richo and I were battling for pole position and it was my first lap in qualifying.
We now had the PI System data logger in the cars so we could look and get measurements around what was happening. Importantly we could find out exactly what the car was doing at any given part of the lap.
I knew I was getting big gains on Jimmy coming on to the back straight, which was onto Dequetteville Terrace, a really fast right-hander where Mika Häkkinen had his big crash a few years later.
It was a great corner, a really fast fourth-gear corner that is a little bit like turn eight now, but slower. It had a big kerb on the inside and a massive kerb on the outside, and I remember driving up over it in practice and knew I could get away with it, no problem.
So I blazed in there, turned it in and slid towards the outside kerb, but the turn had a bit more force in it than on other laps because it was on new tyres and it was pretty wild.
When I hit the kerb, it broke a wheel; the car turned straight over on its roof and was still going fast. I remember turning down to try and stop the car from turning over, but it didn't really work. no matter how hard I pressed the brake pedal, it just wouldn't slow down.
Man, it hit hard.
As it was running towards the fence on its lid, the road ground its way through the top of the A pillar and the roof and into my helmet. So it got grazes all over it and it flattened a big section of my helmet as it was heading towards the fence.
When it hit, oh man, it bounced back right back into the middle of the track and it was rotating on its roof, and they couldn't get me out because the door was so damaged. A heap of guys pulled up, like Joe Sommariva who was driving a BMW 635, Colin Bond and I think Peter Brock too. But when I was stuck in there the marshals were yelling out, 'Fire! Fire!' God, it wasn't getting any better. I was stuck in there and she was going to light up. It was just unbelievably frightening.
No-one knows this, but I actually damaged my left eye in the crash and I was so sore I lay in a Nissan Patrol the whole of the next day.
I went to the medical centre, I was chewing Panadol Fortes like Smarties and I've never been in so much pain in my life. It was really hot over in Adelaide that time of year and I just lay there in the Patrol with the air conditioner on; I couldn't move.
I kept blinking all the time and there was a fuzzy spot in my eye. If you've ever been knocked out you'd remember all those little fuzzy spots that go into your vision - it was like they were all compacted together in one little spot, right in the middle of my eye.
I couldn't get my brain around what it was - it was very strange. So I went back to Melbourne and Christine Gibson took me to the hospital to have my neck and everything checked. We did all the MRI stuff and then the doctor said I should have all these others scans to see why my eye was funny.
Dr Kevin English, an ophthalmologist in Brisbane, had looked after a minor eye injury for me in the past, so I got on a plane and flew up to see him. He went through a whole host of checks and said I had scarred the retina with the impact. Everything in your head moves in a crash like that, and some of the movement had damaged my eye.
We never told anyone, though - we kept it quiet the whole time. Kevin said my eyes would find a work-around for it, and they have, but it is still there. My brain has rewired itself to make it a non-issue, but if I take the time to find it, I still can.
There was also some damage to the L5/L4 discs in my spine, which had been dislodged when my back was basically crushed. The roof had been pushed down and the seat wasn't moving, so something had to give, and the something was those discs in my back.
That crash was a real drama. I almost missed the next race meeting which was the Nissan 500 at Eastern Creek and Neil Crompton was drafted into driving with Jimmy just in case, but I arrived pretty late and got in the car and drove.
It was obviously good to get back on the horse, but it was also very frightening because I didn't know how much the vision thing was going to hurt me. Fortunately, when I drove the car I was on the pace. But it was quite a nerve-racking time.
Originally published as Skaife's moment of fear: 'The car was about to light up'