A plaque above Gorge Road marks the site of a Queenstown motor racing tragedy that occurred 20 years ago yesterday.
Towards the end of the 1998 Queenstown Classic Car Race, a Holden Torana became airborne after veering off the road.
Spectators Bob Tubman, 35, of Queenstown, and Bruce ‘Z.Z.’ Mackie, 36, of Arrowtown, who were sitting on a grass bank near Boundary Rd, were killed.
Two other spectators were injured but the driver, Kel McBeath, of Blenheim, emerged from his upended car relatively unscathed.
It appeared his car had clipped another during an overtaking manoeuvre.
Race committee chairman Stuart Maclean says the tragedy was “devastating”.
“I’ve been involved in motorsport and as an official for over 50 years, and I would not have expected a vehicle to go off where it did.”
Two years later, police charged four race-day officials with criminal nuisance.
They included the track inspector, the late John Osborne, of Christchurch, who was also charged with manslaughter and injuring by an unlawful act.
Arguing the prosecutions threatened volunteer involvement in all sports, MotorSport New Zealand raised more than $150,000 to defend the officials.
Bumper stickers were sold proclaiming, ‘Volunteers Not Criminals’.
During a depositions hearing, MotorSport NZ pleaded guilty to a new criminal nuisance charge in return for the ‘Queenstown Four’ walking free.
It was ordered to pay $10,000 each to the partners of the deceased, and $2500 each to the injured spec-tators.
Maclean says “I don’t think the police handled the thing as well as they could have.”
He adds he never spoke with the Torana driver – “he was protected by a very good lawyer by the name of Kevin Phillips who’s now called Judge Phillips”.
Maclean had held hopes the race would be held again but accepts it didn’t happen due to the cost of enhancing spectator safety, and the increased traffic downtown.
Local mayor Jim Boult, a regular street race competitor, founded the Classic Car Race’s predecessor, a CBD ‘bent sprint’, in the late ’80s, in conjunction with his brother Rob.
He says the street race was “a very successful event, and it was tragic that it finished in those circumstances”.
“I still regularly think about it.”