New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents - Words and pho­tos: Quin­ton Taylor

Chang­ing to a mid­sum­mer time­frame for the an­nual Burt Munro Chal­lenge has had a huge im­pact on the suc­cess of the event and a very pos­i­tive out­come for South­land.

Or­ga­niz­ers are buoyed by the suc­cess of the 2018 Burt Munro Chal­lenge four-day event, held for the first time in early Fe­bru­ary in­stead of Novem­ber. The move to take ad­van­tage of the South’s great sum­mer weather, with tem­per­a­tures rang­ing from 25°C to 34°C was a huge gam­ble for or­ga­niz­ers, but it paid off.

“It ex­ceeded our wildest ex­pec­ta­tions for rider and spec­ta­tor at­ten­dance. Num­bers were well up at ev­ery event, and we now have a lot of in­for­ma­tion to take on board and build for next year,” South­land Mo­tor­cy­cle Club pres­i­dent Andy Un­der­hay said.

The club was pleased with the suc­cess of new events such as the Twi­light Drag Rac­ing at Tere­tonga Park, which was well at­tended. In­ver­cargill busi­nesses re­ported great trad­ing, and, with hordes of mo­tor­cy­cles gath­er­ing around the streets of In­ver­cargill and trav­el­ling daily through­out the prov­ince and Cen­tral Otago, the Chal­lenge is now prov­ing to be a ma­jor event for the re­gion.

With the rel­a­tively small or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee pulling off such a large event and hav­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on lo­cal groups, the amount of plan­ning that had gone into this year’s event was very ap­par­ent. Those in­volved are now look­ing to 2019’s event fol­low­ing a de­brief shortly af­ter.

“This was the first time we had ex­pe­ri­enced a se­ri­ous change for the event, and we ex­pected there would be a lot to learn fol­low­ing it,” Un­der­hay said.

The Chal­lenge ob­vi­ously has a de­cent over­seas fol­low­ing, ap­par­ent from the huge num­ber of over­seas en­quiries. “It was quite sur­pris­ing how pop­u­lar the event had be­come, with an es­ti­mated 80 per cent at­tend­ing from out­side New Zealand,” Un­der­hay told us.

Mem­bers of the Aus­tralian His­toric Rac­ing Mo­tor­cy­cles As­so­ci­a­tion (AHRM) also made the trip across the wa­ter to ‘The Burt’, in­clud­ing eight mem­bers with hand-change mo­tor­cy­cles, mak­ing for some in­ter­est­ing race starts.

Walk­ing through the pits on the Street Race day, you could pick ac­cents and names from a va­ri­ety of coun­tries. The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor was an en­thu­si­asm for mo­tor­cy­cles and a big tool­box.

One com­peti­tor we spoke to was Mark Brooks from Christchurch. Riding a 1972 CB350 Honda, he dis­played a typ­i­cal en­thu­si­asm as he de­tailed the com­pre­hen­sive mod­i­fi­ca­tions to the ma­chine he had built. He was typ­i­cal of com­peti­tors we spoke

with, all there for the fun and ca­ma­raderie in the range of mo­tor­cy­cle events.

“I used to work for Air New Zealand but I now work for my­self. Be­fore, if I got hurt it was OK to take sick leave. Now, work­ing for my­self, I don’t take those cor­ners quite so quickly,” he laughed.

Safety of both spec­ta­tors and com­peti­tors was para­mount. When light rain be­gan to fall around lunchtime dur­ing the Street Race warm-up and qual­i­fy­ing, an oil leak from an en­trant’s ma­chine spread over large por­tions of the track.

Stand­ing next to the track exit to the pits, we wit­nessed one rider come to grief right in front of us in a fairly hard fall, in­jur­ing his leg. For many spec­ta­tors, the dan­ger was not ob­vi­ous, but of­fi­cials rec­og­nized that the sur­face had be­come quite dangerous. Af­ter of­fi­cials sur­veyed the track, it was de­cided that the street rac­ing would be can­celled as it was un­safe to pro­ceed.

The de­ci­sion, al­though not pop­u­lar in all quar­ters, was the right one, as it would have been a huge task, tak­ing con­sid­er­able time and re­sources, to clean up.

Un­der­hay was philo­soph­i­cal about the de­ci­sion. “I think the Street Race was a suc­cess. It’s a very good cir­cuit and it suits rid­ers as well as spec­ta­tors. It shows what we can put on for next year. It’s those de­ci­sions that you don’t make that get you into trou­ble.”

Af­ter 12 years of street rac­ing (in­clud­ing pre­vi­ously at Wyn­d­ham town­ship north­east of In­ver­cargill), the In­ver­cargill street cir­cuit was as safe as you could make it, ac­cord­ing to Un­der­hay.

“It’s just an awe­some cir­cuit. It sur­passed our hopes and has helped rein­vig­o­rate the Burt Munro Chal­lenge. At the end of the day, safety was para­mount. We had 640 en­trants rac­ing over the seven days [from when the camp­sites were open], with just three ca­su­al­ties go­ing to hos­pi­tal, all of whom were re­leased in a very short time. That’s a pretty good record!”

The sur­prises were not over yet. The event’s top award, the Munro Fam­ily Tro­phy was pre­sented by John and June Munro, chil­dren of the late Burt Munro, to the voice of mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing in New Zealand, Neil ‘ Turbo Ton­sils’ Ritchie. The 61-year- old from the Manawatu is a Mo­tor­cy­cling New Zealand life mem­ber and was un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally short of words at the pre­sen­ta­tion.

“To me, this is a very spe­cial event. I have never re­ceived any­thing like this be­fore. It is an ab­so­lute hon­our,” he said.

Ritchie at­tended the year af­ter the in­au­gu­ral Burt Munro Chal­lenge in 2005, and has not missed one since, help­ing out be­hind the scenes at them all. He has never been a com­peti­tor, but his in­volve­ment in all facets of mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing in New Zealand goes back some 36 years.

The South­land Mo­tor­cy­cle Club capped off the Burt Munro Chal­lenge by mak­ing a pub­lic ges­ture in late Fe­bru­ary, with a do­na­tion to the South­land branch of St John. The or­ga­ni­za­tion con­trib­utes sub­stan­tially each year to the event, with staff and ve­hi­cles look­ing af­ter com­peti­tor and pub­lic safety.

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