Hawkes­bury, New Zealand

Hawkes­bury Road Races, Ren­wick NZ

Old Bike Australasia - - CONTENTS - Story Bill Eales Pho­tos Ron Heb­berd, Mike Sin­clair, John Wood­ley, Brian Hop­ping, Ian Daw­son.

I de­cided that as a for­mer com­peti­tor and long-time mo­tor­cy­clist I would like to re­turn some­thing to the sport that has been (and con­tin­ues to be) a large part of my life. A re­cent ar­ti­cle in OBA on the road rac­ing cir­cuit at Cust in NZ prompted me to write a piece on an­other Kiwi cir­cuit which al­though pop­u­lar, has long-since be­come de­funct.

The pop­u­lar­ity of mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing ac­cel­er­ated dur­ing the post-war years due to young peo­ple seek­ing to en­joy a so­ci­ety with fewer re­stric­tions. There were no cir­cuits built, so lo­cal clubs took the ini­tia­tive and ar­ranged for rac­ing meet­ings to be held on closed-off pub­lic roads. Th­ese “roads” were lit­tle more than un­sealed, dusty gravel tracks but this did lit­tle to de­ter the rid­ers who took to th­ese cir­cuits with great en­thu­si­asm – some on rac­ing ma­chin­ery, oth­ers on their road bikes with home-grown mod­i­fi­ca­tions, all in the search for speed. As road rac­ing be­came more pop­u­lar, there were many ded­i­cated mo­tor rac­ing cir­cuits built in NZ and Aus­tralia. As a re­sult of the tran­si­tion to th­ese pur­pose­built venues only a few true “road” rac­ing cir­cuits re­main which were used reg­u­larly – the Isle of Man (IOM) is ob­vi­ously the most well-known of th­ese. The Mount Panorama cir­cuit at Bathurst is one closer to home, al­though mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing was dis­con­tin­ued there in the ‘80s as a re­sult of a heavy-handed ap­proach to crowd man­age­ment. How­ever, there were sev­eral just “across the ditch” in New Zealand; one of which was in the Marl­bor­ough district at the top of the South Is­land of New Zealand. The story of the Hawkes­bury cir­cuit needs to be told so that its con­tri­bu­tion to mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing is not lost.

Dur­ing re­search, I came across very lit­tle doc­u­mented his­tory of this rac­ing cir­cuit so I be­gan to com­pile a small piece from some per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences. How­ever, sub­se­quently I have man­aged to make con­tact with of­fice-bear­ers of the Marl­bor­ough Mo­tor Cy­cle Club (MMCC) who have been good enough to put me in touch with Mr Ron Heb­berd, a past Pres­i­dent of the club and mo­tor­cy­cle shop owner who still re­sides in the Marl­bor­ough district. Ron has very kindly per­mit­ted the use of ma­te­rial from his ex­cel­lent book en­ti­tled “Mo­tor­cy­cle Clubs of Marl­bor­ough” and I’d like to ac­knowl­edge Ron for his sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to this ar­ti­cle, as well as to the MMCC who or­gan­ised a wide va­ri­ety of rac­ing events, in­clud­ing the Hawkes­bury road races, through­out the district for many years. The Hawkes­bury cir­cuit was first raced on in 1950; this was an un­of­fi­cial event where rid­ers from the Nelson and Marl­bor­ough Mo­tor­cy­cle Clubs were in­vited to com­pete on an un­pre­pared, grav­elled track formed by 4 coun­try roads. Th­ese were Hawkes­bury Road, Kennedy’s Road, Brookby Road and Dog Point Road which roughly formed a 4.6 mile rec­tan­gle, not far from the small town of Ren­wick – it­self set in the heart of the Marl­bor­ough district which is now world-renowned as a lead­ing wine pro­duc­ing re­gion. Rid­ers who were com­pet­ing in the 1950 Easter NZ Grand Prix at Cust later that year used this in­au­gu­ral, in­for­mal meet­ing as a pre­lim­i­nary test of their ma­chin­ery and skills. This first race was won by a Nelson rider, Ted Baum­field on a 350cc BSA, with Ray An­der­son (also from Nelson) se­cond on a 500cc Nor­ton, and lo­cal rider Les Gib­bons on a 500cc Tri­umph in third place.

Of­fi­cial NZACU-sanc­tioned road race meet­ings were held at Hawkes­bury ev­ery two years from the first Na­tional Class Event in 1953 un­til 1962 when it was de­cided to run the event on an an­nual ‚

ba­sis. How­ever, as only a few rid­ers com­peted in the 1962 event and be­cause of the ef­fort in­volved in or­gan­is­ing the event, rac­ing was not held there again un­til the 50th Ju­bilee of the MMCC in 1971. The event con­tin­ued an­nu­ally from then un­til the use of the cir­cuit was dis­con­tin­ued in 1983. Un­for­tu­nately, the Hawkes­bury rac­ing cir­cuit suf­fered a fate sim­i­lar to that of the Mt Panorama cir­cuit at Bathurst; it was sim­i­larly con­demned be­cause of the un­ruly and un­con­trol­lable crowds of spectators that de­scended upon the lo­cal town­ship af­ter the race meet­ing. The Blen­heim Po­lice could not han­dle the sit­u­a­tion and the MMCC Pres­i­dent at the time, Fred Schroder, said that the club would not hold the races as a good­will ges­ture to stop the trou­ble in town af­ter­wards. Some of NZ’s most tal­ented rid­ers (as well as some less so, but no less en­thu­si­as­tic) com­peted at Hawkes­bury in a full cal­en­dar of events. Rid­ers who fea­tured in the top places in the early days were Syd Jensen and Tommy and Kevin McCleary. Bri­tish ma­chines such as AJS, Ve­lo­cette, Match­less, Nor­ton and BSA were raced there and were dom­i­nant un­til the ‘70s. More re­cently Dale Wylie, Rodger Freeth, Robert Holden and lo­cals such as John Wood­ley, Paul (Stan) Cor­bett/Stu Forbes (side­car) and Ross Cun­ning­ham were prom­i­nent on the “podium” rid­ing ma­chin­ery from the “Big Four” from Ja­pan: Honda, Yamaha, Kawasaki and Suzuki. Oth­ers who com­peted at Hawkes­bury in­cluded Gary Boote, Paul McLach­lan, Stu Avant, Bob Hal­dane, Ken Fletcher, John Wood, Owen Gal­braith, and Lou Mur­ray/Russ An­der­son (side­car). A num­ber of top lo­cal rid­ers who were very com­pet­i­tive were Bruce and John Wood­ley, Bob Uddstrom, Neil Smith and Colin Verry as well as lo­cal top side­car teams of Hugh Lasenby/”Nod” Hart­nell and Chris Moller/”Lofty” John­ston.

The rac­ing was done on very nar­row, coun­try roads with spectators scat­tered around the cir­cuit, watch­ing from var­i­ous van­tage points in pad­docks and on hill­sides. A task which was nec­es­sary back in the early days of dirt/gravel road rac­ing was the oil­ing of the road to re­duce the dust (a haz­ard to spectators as well as rid­ers). This re­quired grad­ing and sweep­ing of the road prior to spray­ing of the sur­face with waste oil col­lected from garages. This was a huge task and was done en­tirely by MMCC vol­un­teers in­clud­ing stal­warts such as Ron Heb­berd and Graeme Varcoe with as­sis­tance from lo­cals in­clud­ing Tom Brown, Eric Fair­field, Dick Adams and Jim Flow­ers. This was car­ried out in the middle of the night for the first three meet­ings un­til it was de­cided that it could be done in the day­light over the week­end be­fore the rac­ing. Be­sides, trac­tors didn’t have lights back in those days and some­one had to sit on the bon­net with a torch!

The cir­cuit was even­tu­ally fully sealed and with the mod­ern rac­ing ma­chin­ery avail­able, race speeds in­creased and lap times im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly as a re­sult. The cir­cuit had some quite long straights and there were some pretty high speeds achieved; at­ten­tion to brak­ing points was paramount as there was lit­tle runoff and all sorts of things to avoid should any­one be un­for­tu­nate to “lose it” (trees, barbed wire fences, power poles and bridges to men­tion a few). There were some ac­ci­dents at Hawkes­bury but none more se­ri­ous than at the 12th an­nual road races in 1976 when five rid­ers were badly in­jured due to “ex­cur­sions” off the track. Three of th­ese rid­ers suf­fered very se­ri­ous in­juries re­quir­ing ex­tended hos­pi­tal­i­sa­tion. Lo­cal rider Ross Cun­ning­ham, on his TZ700 Yamaha, clipped the hay bales at the Hawkes­bury Bridge and re­ceived se­ri­ous back in­juries; side­car rider Lew Mur­ray and his pas­sen­ger Russ An­der­son were also badly in­jured when they de­parted the track along the back straight and fin­ished up in some wil­low stumps.

The lo­cals were hard to beat – pos­si­bly due to some lo­cal knowl­edge of the cir­cuit? They of­ten took the op­por­tu­nity of putting in a few un­of­fi­cial “prac­tice laps” prior to the race meet­ing; it was not un­usual to see some of them take a de­tour around the track per­haps af­ter work at the lo­cal RNZAF Base Wood­bourne or at the week­ends to pol­ish up their lines (at le­gal speeds of course). As an air­man based at RNZAF Base Wood­bourne in 1974 with (fi­nally) a com­pet­i­tive ma­chine (1973 H2A 750 Kawasaki) and a lit­tle rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, I com­peted at Hawkes­bury in sev­eral races in­clud­ing the Hawkes­bury Open Tro­phy Race, Open Pro­duc­tion and B grade Open Rac­ing events. One ex­cit­ing point on the course (for rid­ers and spectators alike) was through the “dipper” com­ing out of Blue Gum Cor­ner where it was al­most im­pos­si­ble to keep the front wheel down un­der ac­cel­er­a­tion – not that the H2 was all that re­luc­tant to lift its head, of course. An­other “in­ter­est­ing” sec­tion was along the Brookby Road where a high­speed (100MPH +) bridge cross­ing was fol­lowed by a sharp right-hand bend then a left-hand sweeper. It was quite im­por­tant for the front wheel to be back down on the black stuff be­fore the peeloff into the right-han­der!

I col­lected my first rac­ing prize­money cheque at the 1974 meet­ing (4th in the Open Pro­duc­tion race – and I still have the cheque for $2- 00). I couldn’t be­lieve it when I pulled up af­ter the race; there were only 3 bikes in front of me – ev­ery­one else must have fallen off!

This cir­cuit helped to hone the skills of a num­ber of NZ rid­ers who went on to greater things. Some of th­ese were John Wood­ley and Vince Sharpe (fel­low air­men) and Robert Holden – all of whom gained in­ter­na­tional suc­cess in var­i­ous classes at many venues. Robert demon­strated his con­sid­er­able tal­ent at Hawkes­bury and other cir­cuits in NZ and be­came a top con­tender at the IOM be­fore his un­timely death as the re­sult of an ac­ci­dent in prac­tice there in 1996. John con­tin­ues to par­tic­i­pate at the top level in rac­ing with a fo­cus on clas­sic ma­chin­ery; he com­peted at many race events across Aus­trala­sia and in the Euro­pean Cir­cus over the 70s and 80s where he dis­tin­guished him­self de­spite in­juries and some me­chan­i­cal is­sues which plagued him. Vince was a force to be reck­oned with in the now-de­funct Open Pro­duc­tion Class races in NZ and

Aus­tralia and he fea­tured in the in­au­gu­ral Co­caCola 800 at Oran Park. He con­tin­ues to be very com­pet­i­tive and was run­ner-up in the Pe­riod 5 Un­lim­ited at the 2015 Barry Sheene Fes­ti­val of Speed at East­ern Creek. An­other up and com­ing rider back in the ‘70s was Ken Weal – an­other fel­low air­man. In 1975 Ken was un­beat­able in the Open Pro­duc­tion races at Hawkes­bury when he thrashed the lat­est batch of 4 cylin­der, 4 stroke Ja­panese su­per-bikes on a ’73 H2A 750cc two-stroke triple. He even gave the guys some­thing to think about in the Open Rac­ing Class events! Ken’s bike was “in dock” at the time so he bor­rowed a mate’s ma­chine. With a well-pre­pared bike and a slightly raised fi­nal drive gear ra­tio, Ken was elec­tri­cally timed at 131 mph at the fastest part of the cir­cuit. As it hap­pened Ken used to live in a farm­house with some other “troops” and his route to/from work at the base en­com­passed the cir­cuit. His lo­cal knowl­edge of the cir­cuit would have been quite handy – I’m sure!

Sadly, this cir­cuit (which in its day was quite unique in its lay­out and length, in New Zealand at least) and oth­ers like it are no longer in use and their glory has since faded. This is a re­sult of the much more pow­er­ful ma­chin­ery and the higher risk to rid­ers and spectators, re­quir­ing strin­gent safety mea­sures which have made it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to ob­tain road clo­sures. The Hawkes­bury Road Race cir­cuit played an im­por­tant part in mo­tor­cy­cle rac­ing in New Zealand; it is re­gret­table that its time has passed, along with other great rac­ing venues such as Levin, New Ply­mouth, Napier, Lady Wi­gram, Ohakea, Grace­field, Porirua and Bay Park in New Zealand as well as Ama­roo, Oran Park and many more in Aus­tralia. How­ever, it is pleas­ing to see that oth­ers have also seen fit to share their sto­ries and thus re­vive mem­o­ries of th­ese cir­cuits.

TOP RIGHT Syd Jensen, AJS 7R – 1953 In­au­gu­ral Na­tional Se­nior and Ju­nior Race Win­ner. MAIN Bruce Wood­ley skims the hay bales in 1981.

BELOW LEFT Dick Adams us­ing an Al­lis Cham­bers trac­tor to tow the old coun­try broom to sweep the road be­fore it could be oiled. BELOW Tom Brown and Jim Flow­ers spray­ing the road with waste sump oil.

ABOVE Rid­ers lined up on Brookby Road prior to the start of the first race in 1950: (L-R) Wally Greenem (Nelson), Ke­van Freeth (Blen­heim), Ted Baum­field (Nelson), Les Gib­bons (Blen­heim), Ray An­der­son (Nelson).

At the 1972 meet­ing; Mike Sin­clair, fol­lowed by Dave El­lis and Reg. In­gram, all on TR500 Suzukis over one of the hump back bridges. John Wood­ley on his Yamaha TZ350A com­ing out of Walsh’s Cor­ner in 1973. 250cc Pro­duc­tion rid­ers com­ing into Cole­man’s Cor­ner: 13 Dave Moore (Christchur­ch), 114 Martin Wood, fol­lowed by Alan Ra­m­age and Richard Kock, all on wa­ter-cooled RD250LC Yama­has.

ABOVE The au­thor pow­er­ing out of Blue Gum Cor­ner dur­ing the1974 race meet­ing. LEFT The au­thor land­ing af­ter “take-off” from the Seven Oaks Bridge.Pho­tos – Brian Hop­ping

ABOVE Ac­tion from 1979: Paul McLaugh­lan (309), Trevor Dis­combe (24) andJohn Wood­ley (6). BELOW Glenn Wil­liams with his Z1R Kawasaki in 1981.LEFT Paul McLaugh­lan lead­ing John Wood­ley in 1979.

ABOVE LEFT John Wood­ley ac­cepts the lau­rel wreath af­ter an­other Hawkes­bury suc­cess. ABOVE RIGHT First cor­ner jostling in the Pro­duc­tion Race 1981 with Bob Toomey (57), Glenn Wil­liams (9), win­ner Vince Sharp (7), and Rob­bie Dean (56). RIGHT Suzuki poster ex­tolls suc­cess in 1982.

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