A grandfather with a love for speed died when his stockcar crashed at a speedway meeting last night.
Ray Channing died at the Huntly Speedway track after hurtling backwards into a wall during a race at the Waikato Stockcar Championship King of the Dirt race.
Spectators said Channing's distinctive yellow car was racing in the third heat of the evening and lost control.
An eyewitness said no one at the track realised the seriousness until Channing failed to emerge from the car.
Ambulance officers were called to the track at 8pm but Channing was pronounced dead.
The meeting continued for one more race before organisers called it off.
Channing, who owned Reconz Auto Machinists in Rotorua, was also being mourned by his partner Alex Munro.
He was a dedicated family man who "idolised" his grandson Aza, according to longtime friend Clive Pritchard.
Pritchard, who had known Channing for 20 years, said he was also a talented musician who had played guitar in a covers band Nitelife.
He said: "He had a real humorous side. He was an awesome guy. It's really bizarre. He was just out there for fun, he wasn't a big hitter. He absolutely idolised his grandson."
A statement from the Waikato Stock & Saloon Car Club, which operates the Huntly track, said members were "grieving" over the "sudden and tragic passing" of the driver.
Speedway New Zealand (SNZ) president Dave Jones said the police would handle the investigation into the accident.
Jones said the national sporting body would hold its own investigation into the safety record of the driver, what he was wearing at the time of the accident and how the crash happened. The result of the SNZ inquiry would be provided to police, he said.
It was not the first tragedy to hit the Channing family. His brother Milton Channing disappeared on New Year's Eve 1987 and his body was found in forest two years later.
Ray Channing played in his band Nitelife at pubs around Taupo and Rotorua.
Rotorua Stockcar Club president Steve Layne led tributes from the stockcar community.
"It's all very sad. He is just a real nice guy, one of the good guys."
Speedway racing has come in for safety criticism after deaths in recent years. Samantha Mouat, 15, died in front of family and friends at Kaikohe Speedway in 2010. There were a string of accidents in 2008, leading to a coronial request for drivers to use a special head restraint developed for Formula 1.By David Fisher @@DFisherJourno Email David, Bevan Hurley @BevanHurleyHoS Email Bevan