Work with us, not against us - Speedway New Zealand President

There’s no doubt that Speedway in New Zealand continues to thrive in today’s environment, having survived recessions, pandemics, logistical issues, and weather-related disasters since it’s inception.

All of these are elements that are out of our control, but as time progresses through the digital age, we’re facing an even bigger threat: Ourselves.

Comments, abuse and general negativity towards the sport, its competitors, its board, and its volunteers continue to cause irreparable harm to something we all dearly love. But, quite simply, the negativity needs to stop before we drown in it, says Speedway New Zealand President Ricky Boulton.

“I am the first to admit, the sport is not perfect. As humans, we are constantly learning, changing, and finding new ways to do things better or more efficiently, whether that’s at home, at work, or in your workshop looking at your racecar – the strategic direction of the sport is the same. It’s constantly evolving to make sure we stay relevant to the present day”, says Boulton.

Speedway New Zealand President and veteran racer Ricky Boulton is calling for harmony.

“But let’s talk about some facts: the sport is in great health. The season that we have just finished, 2022/23, has seen the sport as a whole grow by competitor numbers by just a bit under 10% to an overall record number of competitors ever. Just about every grade in the country grew by a double-digit percentage by competitor numbers. The sport is growing, we’re attracting new people to it. Let’s celebrate this.

“I raced at and attended a lot of meetings this season and saw, with my own eyes, people coming through the gates (when the weather allowed!) to see their heroes race at tracks around the country. I have heard stories from tracks up and down the country about the record crowds and the huge amounts of people coming through the gate for events from New Zealand titles to club nights.

“Let’s see the forest for the trees here – the sport is in great health competitor numbers-wise and people are flooding through the gates to watch, even during a cost of living crisis. These are not signs of a sport that is in bad health.”

Passion across any sporting arena is valued, showing that there is intense interest and people have a genuine excitement in the goings on. It’s when that passion turns into negativity that is becoming the problem, says Boulton.

“We all love this sport. We don’t spend hours in the shed during the week to go racing or hundreds of dollars to attend meetings because we just like the sport. It’s an easy sport to be passionate about too. It’s fast, it’s furious, it’s high adrenaline, it’s gladiatorial, and we all have a lot financially invested – I totally get it.

“It’s that passion that drove me to volunteer my time to the Board of Speedway New Zealand, I saw things I wanted to change or do better, so I became part of the solution, rather than complaining to my friends or on the internet, I did something about it.

“Now, not everyone is able to do that, I get that too. But the message that I want to get across to people is that there are ways to direct the passion you may have for an issue or for a change you may want to see in a more constructive way than being passive-aggressive online. In fact, Speedway New Zealand is one of the most accessible and transparent sporting management organisations in the country, we have so many channels and so many ways we welcome and are open to feedback and suggestions.

Boulton is often seen in action on his home track down south. Image: Ricky Boulton

“I actually don’t accept that we don’t listen or care what people think or say about the sport. That is just flat-out wrong. It’s true that we are currently forming a plan to add even more channels to our communications bow, to make even more sure we can talk to everyone; whether it be podcasts, video updates, and more; the fact is that we engage with our members on most of the changes that effect them. There are still many, many ways to get in touch with us so people can tell us their views.

“We go out to members when we change technical rules, racing rules, or constitutional changes. And when we do put out communications, they go on our website, our newsletters, social media of our own, or our app that allows us to communicate with competitors. If all else fails, we have a full-time staff in the office who are reachable and able to answer any questions or concerns that people may have.

People needed to realise, Boulton says, that there is very real damage that can be done to people when they are attacked verbally or in writing, in person and online. Boulton wanted to get the message across to everyone involved in Speedway to remember this before taking their frustrations online or in person at the track.

“I just want people to treat people how they want to be treated. If you’re online, think about whether you’d say this to someone’s face. If the answer is no, then don’t say it. If you’re at the track, think twice about the reason something might be the way it is before swearing at or abusing someone. I think 90 per cent of the sport’s negativity would stop if people thought about it and found out why the rules are the way they are.

“All of our people are volunteers. They are people. They have families and friends. They are also passionate about the sport, that’s why they’ve chosen to become volunteer officials, administrators, board members, committee members, or promoters. They’re ultimately there to facilitate the show and make sure that everything is fair and safe for everyone.

“We’ve lost a lot of good people in my time as a competitor, board member, and now president. That ranges from senior stewards, referees, track staff, to paid people in our office. People make the sport tick. If we lose everyone, then we can’t do it. It’s as simple as that.”

Boulton says that significant investment has gone into the Speedway New Zealand website to make it as user-friendly as possible, with a complete rule book easily found on the home page.

Boulton is an established Super Saloon’s driver in addition to his Presidents role at Speedway NZ. Image: Ricky Boulton

“People need to use our website. Speedway New Zealand’s website is an absolute wealth of information. Our full rulebook is on there, with information about officials, how to become an official, information on championships, what the championships are, and what the dates of the championships are. Everything is on our website, and not enough people use it.”

It’s a relatively tricky topic to approach, but it needs to be brought to light. We have a sport to be proud of, and we should all be lauded for what we’ve accomplished over the past few years.

“We’ve got record numbers. We’ve got record champions. We’ve got some of the best drivers in the world involved with Speedway. It’s a sport to be absolutely celebrated. It’s something sponsors want to be involved with because it has such good coverage.”

Words from NZ Dirt Track Racing Magazine

NZ Dirt Track Racing Magazine is committed to the betterment of our sport and will continue to work to protect its integrity through our publications and Social Media pages.

We challenge others to do the same.