NZ Classic Driver
LEVIN TRIBUTE DAY
For 20 years from 1956, the short-butdemanding Levin track (modelled on Brands Hatch in the UK) was the local circuit for enthusiasts from the likes of Wellington and Palmerston North. Local entrepreneur and racing driver Ron Frost was a key personality behind the development of New Zealand’s first permanent circuit – and of much else besides in domestic motorsport, including attracting international drivers here for the Tasman Series. My first visit to Levin probably was in 1961.
My patient father, who had zero interest in motor racing, drove me there in his Mini and sat in the car all day with a book while I drank it all in! A little later I was able to get myself there on various motorcycles and would have gone to more than 20 meetings over the years: the twice-yearly national races as well as the January internationals. Walking around with a motorcycle battery and looking very focused was a good way to get quick access to the pits!
On January 8, a combination of organisations including the Horowhenua Heritage Trust, the local VCC branch and the Levin Car Club organised a Levin Tribute Day, one aim of which was to acknowledge Ron Frost’s contribution to NZ motor sport and the Levin community. The date also marked exactly 50 years since the death of another local favourite son, Bryan Faloon, in a crash during the 1972 NZ Grand Prix at Pukekohe. Some fascinating story boards about both men had been set up in the VCC club rooms; speakers during the day recalled the pride which local enthusiasts had felt in following Bryan’s racing career because he achieved a great deal despite never really having cars that matched his talent. The actual 105E Anglia that Bryan had raced was on hand. The Levin cemetery is next door to the clubrooms; during the day, many people visited Bryan’s grave which is situated in the nearest spot to the old circuit.
The Southward Museum Trust made the ex-Amon 250F available, and Terry Rush brought two cars from his collection in Feilding: a Cooper 500 similar to the one which Ron Frost had raced successfully and a Brabham BT4 with a terrific racing history. Terry also had some superb scale models built by Rick Miles, including a range of Begg single-seaters. Another car that had graced Levin and other circuits was Brian Ax’s A40 Farina, complete with a ‘For Sale’ sign. Local owners also had a nice line-up of cars, from a one-owner 1972 Valiant to a Honda S600 and Andy and Faye’s lovely Thunderbird/retro caravan duo.
Sadly, there’s little evidence left that the motor racing circuit ever existed but, from up in the derelict Members’ Stand, it’s possible to picture the general layout of the track where I spent many happy hours, standing behind a ‘safety rope’ or sitting on an oil drum and admiring the skills of Rindt, G and P Hill, McLaren, Fahey, McRae and hundreds of other drivers. In the middle of the horse
racing track, a ‘serious’ motorkhana was arranged during the morning (won by Adam Fisher). In the afternoon, a more lighthearted celebrity event featured some of the guests of honour in borrowed cars; the winner was motorsport historian and writer Michael Clark. Over a very good dinner in the evening, more tributes were paid to Messrs Frost and Faloon. Brian Lawrence had spent seven years closely involved with the Marlboro Series of international motorcycle races, but he reckoned that Ron Frost later taught him a great deal about race organisation, including formulae like 1.4 programmes per spectator’s car and 100 parked cars to the acre. Unfortunately, Ken Smith was unable to attend, having fallen off a ladder a few days prior. But other Levin stalwarts present included Gary Pederson, Malcolm Emerson and Ray Stone. Andy Buchanan and Graeme Lawrence were on hand too; from my reading of Murray Carkeek’s invaluable book ( Twenty Year History of the Levin Motor Racing Circuit), as well as achieving many podium finishes, Andy won eight races at Levin and Graeme 13. For many of us, they are best remembered for their Ferraris: the 250LM and the Tasman 246 Dino, respectively. In a delightful speech about his racing career, Andy mentioned his first race in an A40 Farina, in bare feet. He rolled the car four times, being thrown out after the second one. He claimed to have been 6 foot 2 when the race started but only 6 foot 1 afterwards! Andy later bought a new Brabham FJ and recalled standing on the grid alongside Messrs Clark and Stewart, both of whom were biting their nails. He referred to it as a privilege to have been racing at that time, and to the fact that he’d been able to talk farming with Jim Clark. Robin Collier’s family firm of roading contractors built the Levin circuit. The initial construction had been done in only five months, despite various issues with the weather, the need for excavation to reach a decent sub-base, the Horse Racing Club not wanting high spectator banks, and so on. As a result, the tarmac didn’t have enough time to cure before the first races, which resulted in the surface breaking up badly. It was fixed in time for the next meeting but Robin felt that the firm suffered some unfair criticism as a result. The circuit was lengthened twice, in 1961 and ’66; each time, it changed the nature of various corners but the circuit remained a challenging one. Robin thought the people of Levin generally didn’t appreciate the contribution the circuit had made to the town. I guess that one of the outcomes hoped for from this very enjoyable day would be a greater understanding of what motor racing in general, and Ron Frost and Bryan Faloon in particular, have brought to this Horowhenua town. Certainly everyone involved with the organisation of the event should be proud of what they achieved!