Sidecar swinger is back on track
Ann Plummer loves being back in the swing of things.
The 45-year-old is racing sidecars again after a 16year break to raise her two children.
That means most Saturday nights this summer will find her clinging to the side of a roaring motorbike as it hurtles round a speedway track.
“It’s good to get the adrenaline going again,” she says.
“I haven’t smiled this much in ages.”
In the speedway world, Ann’s known as a swinger: The passenger who gives essential balance and weight to the three-wheeled racing bike.
She rides with Birkdale resident Dean Longman, also 45, who entered the sport three years ago.
Ann’s husband Tim also races sidecars but was already in a pair when she decided to make her comeback.
The Massey resident first got into the sport in 1986, spurred by an offhand comment from a flatmate.
“I was flatting with a guy who did it and he said there was no place for women on the track,” she says.
“So I got a bit motivated and got my own bike and hit the track.”
She’s one of only a couple of women racing in New Zealand, but Ann says being female makes no difference on the track – and that’s how she likes it.
“Once you’re through that gate there’s no him and her, you’re just competitors,” she says. “I don’t get treated any different. I’d hate it if I did.”
Swingers crouch on a narrow running board on the side of the bike, using two handles to hold on.
On the straight, Ann shifts her weight back over the rear wheel to give the bike speed.
Through the corners, she stretches along the side, her head hovering just behind the front wheel.
“It’s all about where my weight is,” she says.
“You’ve got to work together because if I’m out of sync with what he’s doing we go all over the place.”
The bike has no speedometer, so the pair are never sure how fast they’re going.
But on big tracks with long straights, sidecars can reach up to 140kmh, Dean says.
Swingers wear back braces to protect their spine from injury, and special padding along their hips, where they scrape the track.
But Ann says so far she’s always walked away from a spill.
“When these bikes fly you just hope you’re not underneath when they come back down again,” she says.
Ann says racing feels the same now as when she started more than 20 years ago.
“I still feel the same mentally as I did when I raced before,” she says.
“I don’t bounce back quite as readily, but it’s the buzz on the day that counts.”
Dean has been racing for three seasons.
He says he was encouraged into the sport by a friend, and has been hooked on the adrenaline rush ever since.
“You get nervous before you go out, then you go on to the track and that’s it – you just go for it.”
After upgrading to a GSXR 1100 bike this year, the pair have started placing and even winning races.
They compete at Auckland’s Rosebank speedway, a dedicated bike track, and Waikaraka Park speedway.
Dean got started in the sport for about $1800, but says some can spend close to $5000 on top-of-the-range bikes.
He says there’s a great camaraderie between competing riders, who help each other with equipment.
Speedway New Zealand chief executive Tim Savell says the sport, which began in New Zealand in the 1960s, has declined in recent years because of a lack of suitable venues.
Only about 100 bikes are now competing, compared to 250 pairs 20 years ago.
“They do need smoother tracks and a different surface,” he says.
But he’s hoping for a resurgence with more dedicated tracks being built, often inside existing speedway tracks.
Sidecar racers need a licence from Speedway NZ and membership at a speedway club.
But Mr Savell says anyone keen to start can get a oneday licence from their local speedway and have a go.
Racing is held at Rosebank Speedway in Avondale and Waikaraka Park in Onehunga throughout the summer.
For details, visit the website www.waikarakafamily speedway.co.nz or speedway. co.nz.
Need for speed: Sidecar team Dean Longman and Ann Plummer at Waikaraka Park speedway.
Head first: Ann gets into racing position during a practice run.