Sidecar Racer Died During Test Run

An inquest's heard how a champion sidecar racer died in a freak accident while on a test run at an airfield.

Nigel Parkinson, 53, was testing a rebuilt 1,000cc machine with pillion rider Graham Clifford on a figure-of-eight test track when he failed to negotiate a bend and skidded towards what they thought was a gap in the hedge around the airfield.

But the gap was covered by a barbed wire fence which rode up over the front of the purpose-built off-road racing machine and caused massive neck injuries to Mr Parkinson.

He died at the scene minutes after the accident on March 11 this year.

His inquest in Bridgwater, Somerset, heard today that the two men, who both lived in Weymouth, Dorset, were trying to fine-tune the carburettor in the steel and fibreglass machine and were going at less that 30mph when they crashed at Westonzoyland airfield, close to the Somerset town.

Mr Parkinson's wife Jackie broke down in tears as the inquest heard of her husband's final moments.

Giving evidence, Mr Clifford said they had headed for the ''gap'' and his friend had jerked backwards after they went through it.

''I just ducked down, thinking we were going to go through the hedge,'' he told the hearing at Bridgwater Town Council's offices.

''The next thing I knew we had stopped. He came back towards me and then went forward again, before slumping to the left.

''I could hear fluid running. I thought we had holed the petrol tank but we hadn't. It was the fluid running out of him. His eyes were open but there was no one in, he was already dead.''

Norwich-born Mr Parkinson, a fisherman who had three stepchildren, was in only his second season taking part in ''hill climb'' races.

He and co-pilot Mr Clifford were reportedly nicknamed ''Teletubbies Racing'' after winning the 2010 NHCA Sidecar Championship despite being bigger than most of the other competitors.

The inquest heard that although no firm cause could be found for Mr Parkinson being unable to steer around a traffic cone that formed one apex of the test track, he may have hit a brick being used to weigh down the cone.

When Avon and Somerset Police officers investigated the death, which took place at around 11.15am, they found traces of blue paint from the body of the vehicle on the brick, but they were not able to tell where it had come to rest because it had been moved by emergency services staff shortly after the crash.

Accident investigator PC Andrew Grigg said that if the sidecar had hit the brick, something Mr Clifford said he believed, it was no more than a ''glancing blow''.

He said the vehicle had skidded for more than 20 metres, but had been going no more than 35mph as it approached the corner. It was going slower when it hit the fence but it was impossible to tell how slowly.

''This sort of directional change may have been caused by the glancing blow with the house brick,'' he said.

''I strongly believe that the brick hit a part of the bike but we found no firm evidence to support this theory.''

He added that, after the crash, police had ''concerns'' about safety at the site, which plays host to a moto-cross track and several businesses which teach people too young to go on the road to drive.

But PC Grigg said health and safety officials from Somerset Council had since assessed it and deemed it ''fit for purpose''.

Tim Hayden, assistant deputy coroner for Somerset, ruled that it was an accidental death.

''Even after the investigation, it is not entirely clear why a turn to the right-hand side, that Mr Parkinson was anticipating and should have made, was not made, and why the vehicle carried on in a straight line," he said.

''It must have been a turn he had made on hundreds of occasions previously.''