Brian Illingworth: 52 seasons on the mic

How many people can say that at age 80, they have had a go in solos and raced an ex-Peter Woods Saloon car, all while continuing to run their own business in addition to working as a tutor at the local polytechnic?

That can only be one man: Brian Illingworth.

For Brian, the speedway bug bit deep and hard and he’s been hooked since his first involvement.

Like many, his first taste of the sport was a run on a solo. The young, fearless man straddled the bike as his hand opened the throttle, and away he went, going into a corner with a wooden fence fast approaching. As his eyes grew bigger than saucers, down the big fella went, the idea of competing as a solo rider going down with him.

After the unsuccessful venture on solo bikes, an opportunity for a go in a Vauxhall 16 at Halfway Bush was presented, which Illingworth tells me ended in the ditch. It wasn’t a great start to the speedway world.

The ex-Peter Woods Morris Minor was a lot of fun.

The next opportunity would come in the way of a borrowed 36 Ford V8 Coupe that belonged to Ron Griffiths. That venture brought some long-awaited success and joy.

While continuing with his racing, Illingworth was given exposure to the microphone at Brownville in Mosgiel for the first time. That developed into something more frequent, where he would take turns commentating with Keith Simon, all while continuing to race whenever he could.

A move to Beachlands followed, where Illingworth first campaigned a 54 Customline. When that was destroyed, a decision was made to purchase the ex-Peter Woods’ Morris Minor, fitted with a 1500cc Cortina motor.

From the grin on his face, I could tell it was a lot of fun.

Brian would move on to commentating and, for 52 seasons, has been the voice behind the mic’ at Beachlands. He’s had many different roles at that Speedway, having raced and served on the committee, becoming a life member long ago.

Illingworth has not only applied his expertise at Beachlands, taking his silky skills to the likes of Cromwell, Riverside and Woodford Glen as well as doing the Road Race around Dunedin and National Grass Karts.

He remains a fan when not behind the mic at Beachlands, attending New Zealand Super Saloon Championships whenever possible and visiting most of New Zealand’s tracks along the way.

Illingworth says Peter Woods would be the best he has seen, recognising that he was a complete natural behind the wheel and made it look so easy. Another he would put in this mould would be Blondie Chamberlain, recognising his tenacity and lethal skills on track.

He says his favourite meeting would be the 1984/85 New Zealand Saloon Car Champs, the first time Dunedin hosted the event. This gave the locals a chance to see the best of the best, including the likes of Woods and Chamberlain. Outside of Beachlands, he says his next favourite meeting was Cromwell’s first big dance with Super Saloons.

There have been plenty of thrills an spills along the way.

The information he could give made Brian so good over 52 years, from things like chassis and engine size. He could quickly calculate the unofficial points if it were a Champs meet, importantly keeping the crowd informed.

Some of his sayings over the years were hilarious, with some favourites being “It’s got more pull than a schoolboy,” “It’s got more snot than a kid with a cold,” and “It’s melted its chocolates” These types of quotes stick in your head for years to come.

Although Brian is now primarily a spectator, he still does the odd meeting on the mic, and his love for the sport remains.

He has made many lifelong friends along the way and has been lucky enough to see some of the greatest drivers take to the clay quarter miles around New Zealand.

Thank you for your brilliant service to this great sport.