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Two motorcycle drag racers made an astounding escape from high-speed disaster at Santa Pod Raceway on Sunday. As thousands of spectators watched in horror, Greek racer Filippos Papafilippou’s machine got “out of shape”, crossed the dragstrip’s centre line and collided with British Top Fuel Bike opponent Steve Woollatt in the adjacent lane. Both riders were travelling at over 150 miles per hour.
To spectators near the start, the searing image of the Greek’s bike bouncing and rolling away up the track amid clouds of smoke and flying bodywork spelled only the worst.
But where was the rider? Spectators nearer the finish line had a better view of the breathtaking turn of events.
Catapulted off his own bike, Papafilippou had landed on the metal “wheelie bars” which extend several feet rearwards behind Woollatt’s machine, getting his foot wedged between the bars as the motorcycle hurtled away into the distance.
“It looked for all the world as though he was just sitting back on a deckchair,” said one astonished onlooker.
Woollatt had spotted his opponent’s motorcycle veering towards him and had managed to maintain control after the impact, but imagined it was engine damage that accounted for his bike’s sudden heavier handling and loss of speed. Only as he slowed and was able to look round did the veteran British rider discover he had picked up a passenger.
The emergency crew arrived on the scene as the bike came to a halt and had to cut Papafilippou’s trapped foot free from under the wheelie bar. After a brief trip to hospital the Greek racer was soon back at Santa Pod, thanking his lucky stars and getting used to his role as drag racing’s newest folk hero. His only injury from this near-death experience? A skin abrasion to the trapped foot where contact with the track surface had burnt through his leather racing boot.
For British rider Woollatt, a weekend that had almost not begun – early technical problems had cast doubt on his participation – then turned surreal, only to finish in triumph. Following his brush with disaster, Woollatt not only returned to action but, with two further round victories under his belt, went on to win the race.
Image: Callum Pudge