Birth of the Speedway
Present: Fraser, Tim, Marie, Dave & JA
In the Beginning....
After a Miniature Tourist Trophy held on the back carpark at Teretonga in the early 1960's, Harry Robinson (current president of the Southland Motorcycle Club) and Brian Mitchell went for a walk to look for some suitable ground for club activities. An area of unused land adjacent to the go-karters was found, a boundary was agreed and we finally had our own bit of dirt!! It was covered in lupins which were cleared, land was surveyed and it was almost completely level (only 150mm difference in whole area) perfect for a speedway track.
A lease was negotiated with the Council, and the days of freebies began!
Charlie Emerson (a contractor and conveniently also Harry's employer and whose son raced) allowed the use of his machinery at no charge to cut out the track, Dick Collis (who also had a son racing) used his scrapers to take the surface right back to the sand and the clay base was donated (after some negotiation!!) from McSkimmings. Funds were short, Harry tendered to demolish a house and used the bricks to build his own new house, all the rest of the materials were either used for the new Clubrooms or sold and the funds used for the club. Club members did a lot of bonding over the demolition of this house, a lot of fun was had with the bonus of the profits at the end.
Harry resigned as President of SMC in 66, went farming at Fortification where for the next 25 years the grass hill climb and scramble were held. Neil Neilson was the next SMC President and continued the development of the track.
Progress briefly stalled, then a Committee with Ritchie Thompson as President started to revive the process. A crew of guys including the late Brian Reed, the late Colin Durrant, Allister Meikle, Graham Hewitson and Ashley Bell collected railway sleepers from Te Tua Railway Station (near Tuatapere) and this was the basis of the first safety fence.
In 1973 Bill Tinker arrived from Dunedin and came with a background of bike speedway and bought the spotlight back on Oretipark.
The track base was covered with a tar seal top coat and coke cinders from the Invercargill Gas Works were laid on the track to race on!! Those were the days!!
The Opening Meeting was held April 14th 1974, sponsored by Pall Mall, with a practice the previous day. Kevin Burt from Chch was the first casualty with a foot injury in the practice!! At the practice the track was covered in deep loose black cinders and extremely awkward to ride on, even the Chch riders complained (imagine that!!) so they carted some lime crusher dust and worked all night to bind it together for a better track surface.
There was a big crowd and the meeting was awesome. They run Solos, Sidecars, TQ's, Midgets and Super Modifieds.
Micheal Low was the winner of the first solo race. Craig Blackett raced in the first meeting and still races on Oretipark today. Bill Tinker campaigned a TQ for the first few meetings and had the dubious honour of putting the first hole in the fence, slamming nose first into the wall.
The Troupe Meetings started in 75 - International riders came to Oretipark. The first meeting had the likes of Ronnie Moore, Ivan Mauger, Barry Briggs, Ole Olsen, Tommy Jannson and Egon Muller in action.
Created interest and exposure of the sport. Fired up some youngsters who dreamed of a future in this exciting sport.
Ivan Mauger and Bill Tinker were friends and have remained so and it was this friendship that enabled Oretipark to have the opportunity to host the International Riders. Biggest crowd assembled for Speedway in Southland at that time.
Delayed a meeting by half hour as the cars were backed up to the bridge waiting to get in. TV advertising was done for this meeting and there was a crowd of approx 7000. Big time for such a small place.
Each series had 5-6 current world champs or ex world champions. Awesome to be able to see the spectacle outside of Europe.
At the first World Champions Meeting one of the classic statements of all time come from Ronnie Moore, when the then current world champ come running through the pits with an overnight bag containing his leathers, stopped and asked where the changing rooms were, Ronnie answered "You are standing in them!!"
Ashley Bell was the referee for the first three years, had many a "interesting discussion" (his words) with the riders. He said he tried to run it by the book and felt that way he had some "official" backup. He has a fond memory of Barry "Briggo" Briggs adjusting the tappets on a four valve factory experimental Jawa using an eight inch crescent. Hardly a precision tool!!
Americans Autry/Bruce Penhall (current world champ and star of American TV show Chips) were one of the last teams bought out. Polish riders were taken out from the Iron Curtain to race here Ivan/Briggs going to a lot of trouble to get them here. Troupes raced in various countries including NZ from Auckland to Invercargill, Aus, and USA. Oretipark was recognised worldwide as the "Worlds Southern Most Speedway" from this exposure.
Start finish line was over the other side. 3/4 the way down the straight. Often the International riders came across the line full noise and had to drop the bike. First time it had been actually done deliberately!!
Bill was president of SMC and Speedways first promoter but the job then required a delegated person.
Tim Mulligan took over from Bill as President of SMC when Bill became Promoter. Bill took Presidency back in 84-85
10th Anniversary of Oretipark Speedway was held in 1984
Ron Spriggs was the second promoter (best phone networker, could sell ice to eskimoes!) and he developed the professionalism through NZIG/Black and White (Cigarette Company) Sponsorship Packages. His involvement spanned many years.
Stockcar Club helped with manpower and funding (to help in the last stages of completion) and run combined meetings. Oretipark were forced to comply with Speedway Control Board requirements. Stockcar Club ran a black track (non compliant track) then several years later applied and were granted the ability to run a sanctioned event.
One meeting Steve Mowat and Fraser turned up with their Harley sidecar, and were sitting there in their jeans and they had a bottle of L&P, they were told off for drinking in the pits which they refuted! John Connelly (Steward) said they were required to wear two pairs of jeans to ride on our track, they replied I have one pair and he one pair, so we are racing!!
Ron Spriggs was done for DIC, second time he got pulled up he decided attack was best form of defence, got out and rushed to cops car and harassed them with questions until they gave up and let him off.
In Dave McKenzie's first season, he had been away at a wedding, drove home like a mad man, bike was at the track and already ready to race, got into his gear and John Connelly (Steward) asked if he had been drinking. Of course there was no other acceptable answer except NO!!
Russell Varcoe drove jet boat round the track in the big floods of 1984.
Two classes of sidecar A & B in the 80's
Run TQ's, Midgets, Super Modified (Changed to Sprint Car) From 74 right through till 85
Combined meetings were held with Chch at the start of the season, and had to be changed to end of the season (Easter) so the crowds didn't expect the number and quality of racing for the rest of the year that the joint meeting had!! The lads used these meetings to show the City boys from Chch what they had learned during the season. Those with long memories won't forget the hospitality or the Mary Street Hall after match parties!
Oretipark became a family tradition. Many families became Speedway families. Families including Hosie, Reed, McKenzie, Tree, Spriggs, Gillespie, Cunningham, O'Brien, with immediate and extended family members either racing or in a support capacity, as well as others.
Peter Hosie has been commentating for many, many years both in the old days and currently holds lap records in Oreti in a Holden Station Wagon!!
Oretipark held two NZ sidecar titles in that first period and our own members placed in both!
Brian Reed and Chris Mulligan were the first of our hometown riders to hit the National stage when they placed third at the NZ Sidecar Championship in 78/79 season
1st Bruce Turner & The Heg (Bruce Heglin)
2nd Ray Pratt & unnamed swinger
3rd Brian Reed & Chris Mulligan
1st Wayne Turner & Laurie McMahon
2nd L Bayliss & Kervin Demanser
3rd Russell Cunningham & Lee McVinne
In the early days the Speedway Supporters Club was formed and donated trophies for all classes. Run the bar after the meetings, provided savaloys, did fundraising. Had t-shirts and caps made. Memorabilia is still found in odd places.
Numbers, interest and enthusiasm declined and the last meeting was held March/April of 1985
Sometime after this our current SMC President Craig Hyde has admitted to snipping the wires of the fence to make a SuperCross Track!!
Thanks go to Harry Robinson, Ashley Bell and Allan (AJ) Batt and Dave McKenzie for sending written contributions to enable the story to be told of the early days.
Any errors in the retelling may be attributed to my ears not listening correctly, years gone past, crashes, the odd head injury, and many, many drinks!!