Taking on the mountain

Here’s a question for your next Quiz Night; who is the only Whanganui driver to have stood on the top step of the podium at Bathurst?

No; it’s not Earl Bamber, although he does have a walk-on role in this story. The answer is Brad McDonald.

“So what’s that got to do with speedway?” I hear you ask. For the last three summers, McDonald has peddled one of Bob Smith’s fleet of Minisprints around Fast Lane Spares Oceanview Family Speedway, even picking up a few flags.

Growing up in Whanganui, all Brad wanted to do was race motorcycles, but his parents weren’t keen. When his class was tasked with writing to someone they admired, most of the class chose the likes of Michael Jackson and Britney Spears, but Brad chose Kiwi motorcycle racer, Andrew Stroud. He was the only one who got a reply.

McDonald was steered in the direction of Karting and later to circuit racing in an RX7. That brought him into contact with a man by the name of Bob Smith, and over a couple of Sunday afternoon beers at the Speedway Garage, McDonald’s story panned out.

McDonald in his office for the day

Through Karting, Brad had become a good mate of Earl Bamber. The drive came about through a mutual contact of the pair in Singapore, with the Kiwi invited to join a team for the 2020-21 Bathurst Six-Hour Production Car race. Sadly, COVID-19 intervened.

McDonald did, however, finally get his chance on Easter 2022 when the team finished fifth in their class in a Toyota 86.

With unfinished business on his mind, McDonald was disappointed when a rule change led to the team pulling out of the 2022-23 race.

However, he was put in touch with a team owner by the name of Trevor, and after a number of emails was contracted to drive a six-litre V8 VF Commodore in Class B, for normally aspirated high-performance vehicles. Apart from an enduro fuel tank, the car ran in standard trim on MRF tyres; the event tyre sponsor.

A couple of pre-event trips to Sydney then followed, firstly to be fitted out for the car, then for testing at Sydney Motorsport Park where the car ran flawlessly on Toyo tyres. He was part of a three-driver team with Australians Brent Edwards and Cody McKay.

Easter 2023 rolled around, and McDonald, his parents, and Vaughan from Pulse Performance in Whanganui headed for Bathurst. Vaughan became one of the heroes of the weekend, finding a rear-end issue with the car after practice which was affecting the car’s handling.

McDonald weaves his way through the dipper.

McDonald describes Bathurst as a “magical place” that commands respect and says that watching racing there doesn’t do the place justice. In particular, the drop-off from the top of the mountain has to be driven to be believed. He says there is a very fine line between going well and wrecking, and describes the speed down Conrod Straight as “amazing”.

Edwards qualified the Commodore, placing fourth in its class and 40th overall, before taking the opening three-hour stint as lead driver come race time. McDonald then did an hour and three-quarters, before McKay did the final run, bringing the car home at an impressive qualifying pace.

The Kiwi’s stint was largely uneventful, apart from the team’s sister car throwing a rod and dumping a load of oil on the track, nowhere near McDonald, thankfully. That led to fifteen minutes on pit road under red flag conditions, with the only work on the car permitted being a tyre change. When his drive ended, the Commodore was leading the B2 division and third overall in the B class.

As a Type 2 diabetic, keeping his blood sugar levels stable is essential, meaning McDonald was quick to rehydrate and have some food following his drive. He left his race suit on “just in case”, but McKay had no issues on the run home.

Well, almost no issues!

The safety car came out with three minutes remaining, and it looked as though the race would end behind the safety car. Race Control got the track cleared with great speed and called a one-lap dash to the chequered flag. That lap produced plenty of carnage, but most of it was further back in the pack.

A Kiwi and two Kangaroos took on the mountain and won.

Going out to the pit wall to cheer McKay to a class win was a highlight, but McDonald had a private dread of the podium ceremony in case he was asked to speak. Instead, the victory ceremony was a real thrill, with the team’s trophies being presented by Supercars legend Mark Skaife.

McDonald says he is unsure whether he will go back next year for a third crack at the Six-Hour. Part of him yearns to, but as a family man, he’s also concerned about the cost of at least three trips to Australia. There’s no prize money, and in Brad’s words, “We’re amateurs trying to be as professional as possible”.

There’s also the small matter of the speedway season. McDonald now owns Matt Buckley’s former Midget chassis (there’s a rumour that Peter Rees is building something a bit bigger than a Midget for Matt!) along with the motor out of Dylan Smith’s 1NZ car. Bob Smith and Laurie Mildenhall will be looking after the car and Brad is keen to step up and be competitive during the Minisprint championship season.

And the other guys and girls on the grid had better watch out; they have a Bathurst winner in their midst!

Wanganui drivers to the fore in Oceanview finale

As the speedway season came to an end at Fast Lane Spares Oceanview Family Speedway on Sunday 2nd April, it was the turn of local competitors to shine. Wanganui contracted drivers and riders took out seven of the nine championships on offer, with local drivers also featuring on the podium in the other two events.

Superstock driver Dylan Marshall has been knocking on the door of a big result all season, his time finally coming with victory in the West Coast Superstocks title, along with the Craig Heibner Memorial.

A win and a second place in the first two heats had Zane Dykstra well-positioned to win the title heading into Heat 3, however, Palmerston North Panthers veteran Scott Joblin had other ideas, zoning in on Dykstra early, leaving him briefly parked in the wall. Dropping to the back of the field, Dykstra’s five-point buffer was gone, and despite his best efforts, he finished a lap down.

Marshall drove a brilliant final heat, finishing comfortably ahead of Kaelin Mooney and Trent James, who finished tied for second on points with Dykstra. The latter was awarded second place overall on a lap-time countback.

Dykstra also won the Noel Kensington Memorial, and Mooney, whose championship chances were blown by a DNF in the first heat, won the George Podjursky Memorial.

Aaron and Bryce Rose took honours in the Karl Barritt Memorial Sidecars.

With plenty of young talent on hand, the future of the Superstock class at Whanganui, and that of the Wanganui Warriors team, is in very good hands.

Cody Lockett has had an outstanding last month, in which he won the Wellington Stockcar Championship and finished tenth in the New Zealand Stockcar Grand Prix at Kihikihi. Adding the Charlie Berntsen Trophy to his resume emulated the feat of his father Blair, who won The Charlie ten years ago.

Dion Mooney set the early pace, winning the first heat ahead of a field of 29 cars, with Callum Sturzaker coming home second, and Palmerston North brothers Taylor and Kyle Lampp finishing third and fourth respectively.

Lockett drove beautifully to win Heat 2 from last season’s 2NZ, Sheldon Arapere, with Dion Mooney and Kaelin Mooney next across the line.

Heading into the final heat, Mooney topped the standings with Lockett three points back, and Taylor Lampp and Sturzaker a further two points behind. However, Dion Mooney had a series of incidents in the final heat which eventually led to him retiring from the race.

Kaelin Mooney won Heat 3 over Lockett and Blair Reeves-Smith, with Sturzaker finishing fourth. Only 10 of the original 29 cars completed the race. Arapere was into everything and everyone, but his resistance ended when he tried to roll Jason Pointon in Turn 2. Pointon’s car came to rest on its wheels whilst Arapere rolled onto his side, ending an entertaining performance of which Big Bad Charlie himself would have been proud of.

Lockett won The Charlie with an impressive total of 81 points, four ahead of Sturzaker with Kaelin Mooney a further two points back in third.

The field for the Karl Barritt Memorial Sidecars was depleted following the withdrawal of John Hannon and Nigel Sturgeon with engine issues, and a threebike crash on the first lap of Heat 1.

Two wins and a third gave locals Aaron and Bryce Rose the title ahead of Craig Boaler and Anne Plummer, who had three second placings. The Rose Brothers were delighted to reclaim the trophy they lost just last season.

A competitive field of nine Modifieds turned on some fast and spectacular racing around a track that seemed tailor-made for them. Stratford’s Jason Kalin won the first heat, but when his car wouldn’t fire up for the second, his night over.

1 NZ Brad Lane showed his class in heat

2 with an emphatic win over Wellington father-and-son duo of Brian and Blair McPhee, and on the way delivered a blistering 14.265-second lap. Blair McPhee led the points standings after two heats, one point ahead of Lane, with Newton Gordge and local driver Ricky Dykstra tied for third.

Starting one place ahead of Lane in the final heat McPhee drove a faultless race, holding off Lane and Dykstra respectively, giving him the title by two points, with a delighted Dykstra taking the final step on the podium.

Brent Hackett had a near-perfect night in the Ray Purdy Memorial Production Saloons, winning the first two heats and closely following teammate Ray Jaggard home in the final heat. Jaggard finished second overall, with Mike Lovell finishing third.

The final Championship of the season, the Heiby Memorial Youth Ministocks, drew a massive field of around 50 cars. Rotorua driver George Crawford took out the final with an excellent drive to get home ahead of Rotorua clubmate Dan Holland, with Wanganui driver Fletcher Hoskins coming home third, ahead of fellow locals Ethan Linklater and Harry Jurgens.

After celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Oceanview track at the club’s opening meeting in October, the 51st season of racing in Whanganui has been a mix of highs and lows, with most of the lows weather-related.

Seeing so many local drivers on the podium at the season finale showed that the Wanganui Stockcar and Speedway Club is on an upward trajectory, and the 2023-24 season will be one to look forward to.

In the meantime, many drivers will retire to their sheds for the winter, not to hibernate but instead refresh and upgrade their cars, or in some cases, build new ones.

Speedway is a summer sport, and next ‘summer’ can’t arrive quickly enough!

Rest peacefully, Keith Turner

Oceanview Family Speedway’s closing meeting was not without much sadness.

In the second Classic Stockcars race, 1978-79 New Zealand Stockcar champion Keith Turner is believed to have suffered from a medical event. With Turner apparently unconscious, the car slowed to the infield, before accelerating and colliding with the wall just as the safety crew approached.

The meeting was delayed as fire, ambulance and police attended to the stricken driver, and the rescue helicopter was called, landing in the centre of the oval. The decision was made to transfer Keith by road to Whanganui Hospital, from where he was later airlifted to Wellington in a critical condition.

Keith’s condition was stabilised, and by Saturday 8th April he was reportedly out of ICU and into the Cardiology ward and was expected to make a full recovery. Sadly, the next news we heard was devastating for Keith’s family and many friends; he passed away on Wednesday 12th April at Wellington Hospital.

I first met Keith back in the 1970s when he was racing a Saloon at Palmerston North. I was there the night he beat perennial runner-up Barry Featherson in a run-off to win the New Zealand Stockcar Championship, the first Whanganui driver to win an official NZ Stockcar title.

In March 2022 I was contacted by Keith’s great friend, Shane Hobman, and asked to write a story for the local paper about the debut of the replica of Keith’s championship car. That led to a feature story in NZ Dirt Track Racing Magazine, and Sticky O’Hagan’s photo of Keith in his car on the Oceanview infield became a poster. Keith was absolutely delighted when Vince from NZDTR sent me some extra copies of the magazine and poster to give him.

Oceanview Speedway celebrated 50 years of racing in October 2022, and a big field of Classic Stockcars was on hand for the opening meeting of the season. Keith wasn’t able to drive that weekend; he had recently had a pacemaker inserted after a heart scare. But I got him up to the Oceanview commentary box to spin some yarns and interviewed him on camera for Speedway; The Inside Dirt during a pit walk the following day. The mischievous sense of humour that had always been Keith’s trademark was well and truly evident.

Since Keith’s death, I have reflected on how lucky I was to have those conversations. Sadly, we are losing too many of our Speedway heroes, and losing them before they have told their stories. Keith’s passing, and that of “Dr” John Mercer a week earlier, have prompted me to put an emphasis on interviewing and recording some of these heroes so their memories of Speedway are not lost forever. I will be making calls in the next month or so to recruit some partners for what I believe is an important project for the sport.

Keith was farewelled on Tuesday 18th April, and local drivers paid tribute to him with a guard of honour around the Oceanview track. Keith’s casket was carried in his beloved Valiant stationwagon, which was followed by two of the cars in which he competed. A memorial service for Dr John will be held at Stratford on Saturday, May 13th at 2pm.

Rest peacefully Keith and John, and thanks for the many wonderful memories you provided. We are poorer for your passing, but your respective lives enriched ours greatly. My sincere condolences go to the Turner and Mercer families and to Keith and John’s many Speedway friends. We will remember you both fondly.