A couple of metres from death

By Nicolás Sánchez Sepúlveda @nico_s.sepulveda

When safety wasn’t a priority, and a couple of metres was all that stood between life and death, a quick decision saved the life of Juan Ramón Sepúlveda.

Juan Ramón, a Chilean professional rally driver in the 70s, was born in Valparaiso but at a young age moved and grew up in Peñaflor.

One of the most difficult things about racing in the 70s was the lack of safety.

“To begin with the helmets and seat belts were not as good as they are now, and there were no rules about the clothes,” Juan Ramón said.

The materials of the helmets have changed a lot through the years, in the 70s most of the helmets were made of fiberglass while today’s ones are made of carbon fibre.

The seatbelts used to be a four-point seatbelt, while today’s ones are a six-point harness seat belt, adding two extra straps between the legs.

In the 70s in Chile there wasn’t much requirement of what clothes the racers were meant to use, most of the competitors raced with casual clothes such as jeans and jackets.

Now rally drivers use suits made of nomex, a synthetic fiber with heat and flame-resistant features.

When he was asked about his favourite achievement he answered: “I won many races but the one race that I will always remember was a race in Puerto Varas where I finished second without brakes, just using the gearbox to slow down the car.”

That shows great skill, not only being able to race just slowing down the car with the gearbox but being fast enough to finish in the podium is just unbelievable.

Juan Ramón stopped racing when he was only 25 years old.

“I was in a race in Las Vizcachas as a steward,” he said. “I was in a turn after a hill and two cars were driving really close almost touching each other so I thought that the spot where I was, was a bit dangerous so I decided to move a couple of metres.

“A couple of minutes later both cars came out of the circuit to where I used to be, five spectators died.

“At that moment I thought that if this wasn’t my time, the next one will.”

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