Dakar Rally: Matt Campbell survives high-speed crash in desert race

A Calgary driver is recovering in a South American hospital after a dramatic crash during an off-road rally through the South American desert.

Matt Campbell and 2 team members crashed in Bolivia during the off-road race

Three team members from the El Martillo car walked away from this dramatic crash. (El Martillo Racing To Dakar/Facebook)

A Calgary driver has been released from a South American hospital after he was injured in a spectacular crash Saturday during an off-road rally through the Bolivian desert.

Calgarian Matt Campbell is recovering in a South American hospital after a 174 km/h crash in the Dakar Rally in Bolivia. (

Matt Campbell, 63, and two teammates were taking part in the legendary Dakar Rally when their vehicle became airborne and flipped several times before coming to a stop.

"The race car was moving at a speed of 174 km/h when suddenly they found the water cut five feet deep.… There was not much to do but hang on and resist the crash. The affectations are quite notable, the car was completely destroyed," El Martillo Racing said in a statement on their Facebook page.

CBC News spoke to Campbell who says he's a little stiff and black and blue from head to toe.

Campbell says the rally relies on old fashioned technology instead of GPS systems. The driver relies on their navigator with a paper road book to manually count down the route metre by metre.

Campbell was behind the wheel at the time of the accident. Reports say the team tried to skim across a stream at high speed when the vehicle's front end became immersed in the water — sending the car into the catapult.

Some say you see all your birthdays coming at once but no, I just thought to myself, this is going to be bad- Matt Campbell

"You don’t go blank, some say you see all your birthdays coming at once but no, I just thought to myself, this is going to be bad and that’s all you can do," said Campbell.

Campbell is the principal driver for the El Martillo Racing team. The team was sitting in 36th place at the time of the accident.

The team was taken to hospital in Uyuni, Bolivia, for the night and then taken by helicopter to a hospital in Iquique, Chile, where they underwent further testing. The car caught on fire after the crash, burning volatile aviation gas (Campbell referred to as race gas). A South African racer behind them stopped and extinguished the flames with the help of Campbell's navigator because he was unconscious.

"They say I still got my noggin, so I'm happy," Campbell said.

Racers undeterred

Campbell said the accident split his carbon-fibre helmet and the car is completely destroyed but the crew is all doing fine.

"The equipment is so darn good, quite frankly, the fact that you can survive something like that — with the proper harnesses, the proper safety equipment — is a testament to the safety that is in racing these days," he said.

Matt Campbell is a successful businessman in Calgary. He is the co-founder, CEO and executive chairman of Rocky Mountain Dealerships, which sells farm equipment. The company is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

Campbell raced in last year's Dakar Rally — finishing in 56th place. This year was his second try at the event. He says the accident has not deterred him from racing, the team is already planning for their next race, which is called the Mexican 1,000.

James Maxim, a friend and neighbour of Campbell's, called the Dakar Rally the "Olympics of off-road racing." The annual endurance race sees teams travel 9,000 kilometres of tough terrain. The rally is said to be one of the toughest in motorsports.


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