Whanganui Midweek

Positive response to Cemetery Circuit series’ cancellati­on

‘Unbelievab­le support’ say organisers

- Paul Brooks

With the cancellati­on of the biggest motorcycli­ng event on the New Zealand calendar, organisers, riders, sponsors, volunteers and spectators are all looking forward to next year’s event.

Allan (Flea) and Julie Willacy, Suzuki Series organisers, are philosophi­cal, while, at the same time, pleased with the response to the recent cancellati­on announceme­nt.

“If you look at our Facebook page,” says Flea, “We’ve had unbelievab­le support. We’ve had no negatives at all. Pretty much — thanks for hanging on in there as long as you did to try and make it happen.”

Everybody has pledged their support for the Whanganui event in 2022.

Right up until the very recent cancellati­on, the organisers kept preparing as if it would happen.

Flea says Auckland’s closed borders did not help, with about 20 per cent of the riders coming from there as well as television crews. By the time their borders opened the first two rounds would have been run with reduced fields.

“The decision was taken out of our hands. We thought we’d be in orange [under the new Covid ‘traffic light’ system] and go ahead,” says Flea.

He says it came down to numbers allowed at the event. Under red, the volunteers alone would fill the quota, let alone riders, film crews and spectators. Under orange, they could have coped, although all people attending would have had to show a vaccine pass.

For Whanganui, the highlight of the Suzuki Series is the round held at the local street track, the Cemetery Circuit, raced on Boxing Day. It is known internatio­nally as the Isle of Man of the Southern Hemisphere.

“This has had a massive effect on the community, because it’s a community event.”

The Cemetery Circuit has run since 1951, with only one year not at the famous track, when it was moved to another “Round the Houses” circuit in the city.

With competitor­s and staff numbering about 600, plus spectator numbers of more than 7000, the Cemetery Circuit is a big Whanganui event.

“And our catering. We have Baxter’s Catering who have been doing it for years. They come from Tawa. They tell us that this is the biggest one-day event they come to every year. This is bigger than some of the one-day [cricket] test matches.”

Flea says local motel accommodat­ion has also been hit by the cancellati­on. Motorcycli­ng New Zealand officials are usually accommodat­ed at Kingsgate in Victoria Ave. In saying that, Flea has heard that people who have rung up and cancelled their motel bookings have immediatel­y made a booking for next year.

“That’s an example of what this event does for Whanganui.”

He says the Taupo and Manfeild tracks are already booked for next year’s Suzuki Series.

This year will be very different for Flea and Julie and the volunteers.

“This will be my first Christmas for probably 25 years,” says Flea.

“A week out we’re normally building the track and doing what we can without disturbing the public. By Christmas Day the airbags have already gone out, so after a Christmas lunch, by 1 o’clock we just gotta go. There’s a 2pm start for the riders for scrutineer­ing . . . so on Christmas Day there would be 40 volunteers and workers down at the track.”

He says they put up all the sponsors’ signs and he and the track builder, Craig Scott, are usually at the track until late.

“I normally get out of there at 11pm, and we’re back down there at four in the morning.”

After the racing, the track has to be completely cleared and the roads reopened by 10.30pm. This year, none of that is happening.

“I think this will be a huge loss for the city in revenue,” says Flea.

Limited edition Cemetery Circuit T-shirts with “Boxing Day 2021, The Year It Didn’t Run” have sold out.

The Suzuki Series is owned by Cemetery Circuit Ltd, which is a limited liability company, of which 100 per cent of the shares are owned by Wanganui Motorcycle Club Inc. Flea and Julie are contracted to Cemetery Circuit Ltd.

The directors of the company are Darryl Dowman, Wilson Woods and, latterly, Jeff Croot. Jeff also competes as a rider.

“I was pretty gutted,” says Jeff. “For me, and I know, for a lot of other riders, it’s the one event we hang out for all year.”

He says the cancellati­on of the series has affected vital track time for a lot of riders, who require a certain amount of racing to be able to continue competing. On top of that, he just loves the Cemetery Circuit track.

“Apart from the Isle of Man, there is nothing else like it.

“It’s physically and mentally demanding. There’s no rest because it’s such a short circuit, it’s bumpy and you’re always on the move.”

He says the feeling when you’ve finished a race is pure exhilarati­on. “Nothing compares to the Cemetery Circuit and that’s the biggest appeal, that’s why riders love it so much.”

Jeff calls himself a social racer. “I go out there because I enjoy it. I much prefer to be riding than watching. I’ve had my bike for five or six years now: I don’t win any championsh­ips or any races, but I just love being out there.”

He now rides two bikes in two classes — Formula 2 and Post Classics — trying to get more track time.

He says he’s “hanging out for next year”. “Everyone will be now.” He says everyone has been good about the cancellati­on. “We did everything. It was a balancing act between trying to do the right thing and leaving it as long as we could, but also giving people enough notice. I think we balanced it well, and that’s why the response has been mostly positive. We didn’t call too early and didn’t leave it too late.”

 ?? Photo / Paul Brooks ?? Rider and Cemetery Circuit company director Jeff Croot says everyone is “hanging out” for next year.
Photo / Paul Brooks Rider and Cemetery Circuit company director Jeff Croot says everyone is “hanging out” for next year.
 ?? Photo / Paul Brook ?? Whanganui’s Richie Dibben leads the pack in a Formula 1 race at last year’s Cemetery Circuit.
Photo / Paul Brook Whanganui’s Richie Dibben leads the pack in a Formula 1 race at last year’s Cemetery Circuit.

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