Todd Hazelwood can still remember it like yesterday.
That crash. A ton-and-a-half of race car, spinning like a top, trampolined off a tyre barrier at over 150km/h.
In a year Hazelwood secured the Dunlop Super2 Series crown, 2017 will forever remain punctuated by his horrific accident in the co-driver race at Sandown.
This weekend’s Penrite Oil Sandown SuperSprint marks Hazelwood’s first visit to the circuit as a full-time Brad Jones Racing driver.
Hazelwood is launched into the barrier
Back in 2017, on his main game debut driving for the team, Hazelwood was subject to an accident which has become attached to his name, despite his numerous successes in racing.
“I can still remember it like yesterday,” said Hazelwood, who reminisced on his accident at Turn 6 with Supercars.com.
“It was a pretty dark day for me, to be honest.
“It was obviously my debut race in the Supercars Championship with Brad Jones Racing, it was certainly not the impression I wanted to make.
“I can remember from the moment I got hit, to the moment I was barrel-rolling in the air, to the point I was in the medical centre. It is all very clear in the memory.”
Hazelwood was alongside David Russell heading to the notorious fast left-hander, and was speared into the barrier from behind by the trailing Jonathon Webb.
Webb’s Tekno Commodore went in head-first, while Hazelwood went in backwards, with the CoolDrive entry skating across the wet grass.
The car went in from the rear, and was launched into the air, driver’s side facing the ground as Hazelwood was rag-dolled.
Pieces of the car were flung into the air, and when it came to a rest, it resembled little more than a muddy, bent chassis.
The car is thrown into the air
At the time of the accident, Hazelwood was the Super2 series leader, and was readying for a maiden main game start.
Instead, he was subject to one of the largest accidents in Supercars history, and was initially left concerned over his own health.
“It was a pretty tough moment to take in,” he admitted.
“I was leading the Dunlop Super2 Series at that point of the incident.
“A lot of panic set in straightaway of the fact that, ‘Am I even going to be able to get in the car and go racing again?’
The field moves past the crash scene
“That was honestly my initial thought. I was badly winded at the time; I thought I broke a rib.
“I was ripping the belts off and pushing my fingers into my ribs… there was so much adrenaline going through.
“Once I knew I was okay, I was instantly okay. I’ve gotta get back into the Super2 car.”
From there, Hazelwood was thrust into a medical car and sent to the medical centre.
Once cleared, he immediately readied for the Super2 race, somehow lifting himself off the canvas to get behind the wheel.
Regardless, from the point of impact to strapping back into his Matt Stone Racing Super2 entry, Hazelwood’s thoughts were running rampant, believing he had scuppered his chance at the big time.
“We’ve worked so hard, year after year, to be in the position that we’re currently in,” he said.
“You try and do the right thing by the team, to just do your job, bring the car back and let Tim [Blanchard, co-driver] finish off.
“My debut as a co-driver was shattering. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I got out of the car.
“It was an absolute mess… when I saw the state of the car, I knew we were out for the weekend. I could see the crease in the roll hoop, and a few other things.
A stunned Hazelwood surveys the carnage
“I was proper panicking, I didn’t really know if the incident was my fault, or Jono’s fault.
“There were a lot of emotions, from the point I got picked up in the medical car, to sitting in the medical, desperately pleading, ‘Can I go racing again’?”
Remarkably, Hazelwood finished third in the Super2 race behind primary title rival Paul Dumbrell and Jack Le Brocq.
He didn’t even get to watch any vision of the accident unit he returned him later that night, but one viewing was enough.
However, with the accident becoming a feature of highlight reels and broadcast packages, Hazelwood was followed by his nightmare at every turn.
“I didn’t even get time to even look at the incident until I got home that night,” he said.
“I was staying in the same room as my Super2 engineer, Wes McDougall, and I knew he was watching it.
“I asked, ‘How bad is it?’ and he said, ‘Look, when you’re ready, you should watch it, it’s pretty spectacular’.
“I watched it and thought, ‘Yep, that’s pretty much how it felt’, and that was enough, I didn’t really need to watch it again.
“Now, I’m bombarded by the video, and it’s on the intros… you sit in the car and you’re getting ready for a session, I’m zoning in and there’s me doing a backflip at Sandown.
“You learn to deal with these things; at the time, it was still a bit raw, and it was probably the week after Sandown where it was more of a mental challenge than anything else.”
He bounced back to clinch the Super2 crown
He made a triumphant return in Bathurst to finish 12th alongside Blanchard in the Great Race, before going on to overturn the points deficit to Dumbrell to clinch the Super2 title on the streets of Newcastle.
For Hazelwood, the Super2 title was vindication of his talents, paving the way to a main game seat with MSR in 2018.
To 2021, Hazelwood is embedded in the BJR stable, with the new season his second with the Albury-based team.
Last year, he secured a maiden podium at Sydney Motorsport Park, and later clinched a brilliant first pole position on the streets of Townsville.
Critically, he proved to himself and others with the 2017 Super2 crown that he was more than the driver who became another victim of Sandown’s notorious Turn 6.
“A big motivating factor going into that Newcastle finale for the Super2 title was I want to be known as a champion, not a guy who crashed at Turn 6 at Sandown,” he said.
Hazelwood enjoyed a strong 2020 with BJR
“That can be the case for a lot of drivers; they can have a big crash, and it kind of writes them off for all the wrong reasons.
“Sometimes, it’s not through their own fault. For me, I felt like I wasn’t at fault. These things happen, but it can write you off.
“The motivation was high to come out swinging at that Newcastle round; we were actually behind in the points, and we had a fair old points deficit to Paul Dumbrell.
“We had a dream weekend, we clean-swept the weekend. We poled both races, won both races, and got the championship.
“I remember a sense of relief, for so many reasons.
“One of them being that I’ve done the job, I’ve proved to everyone in Supercars that I’m not the kid that crashed, I’m the guy that’s ready to make that next step into the Supercars Championship with those credentials behind me.”
Hazelwood will hit the track at Sandown on Saturday for Practice 1 at 9:20am.