11 Nov Part two of a two part story compiled by Mark Jenkinson
Excerpt from historical Club Newsletter
Here is some more Karting History with a few of the gaps from last month filled in.
Early Karting in New Zealand took a different path from other countries due in part to our isolation but mainly due to the strict government import restrictions we had to endure. The first kart built in the United States around 1956 used a two stroke lawn mower motor and small wheels. The first karts built in New Zealand used wheel barrow wheels and usually motor cycle motors. In other countries the karts were run on sealed parking lots until permanent tracks were built but in New Zealand we used paddocks until lime or dirt tracks were formed.
I had brought a “high wheeler” (wheel barrow wheels) kart off Denis Churcher for $36.00 with a 70cc Villiers lawn mower motor on it. Denis had upgraded to a ‘space frame’ high wheeler with a 197cc Villiers motor and slick tyres! The club members spent most weekends repairing and preparing the track for a race day that was held once a month. One day Denis and I towed our karts out from town using our push bikes and the willing assistance of a couple of friends who steered them on the end of ropes and helped lift them over the kart club fence. This little prank nearly saw our short memberships come to a premature end after we were “squealed on” by Bill Hawkins (the dump bulldozer driver). We received a severe dressing down from the Club President!
In those days a young chap named Dave Waugh used to come up from Wellington to race. He shared his kart with his brother Warren who lived in Napier. Also a horse truck would arrive from the Abbotsford Children’s home in Waipawa with several karts and willing drivers onboard. Nigel Heighway used to pinch the farm water pump motor on his way out the gate, fit it to his kart at the track and return it on his way back home!
With ongoing work on the track and the influx of “low wheeled” karts, many with McCulloch motors that didn’t like the lime dust, the club started to make plans for a sealed track.
The first Blossom Meeting was held in 1969. It was a Road Race in Mayfair. Some of you will have seen the movie which includes the old girl with the hand bag who walks across the track in front of the karts as they are racing and the kart which catches fire. Denis and I had our entries returned to us the night before the meeting The “Feds” arrived and made it clear that “Juniors weren’t permitted in Road Races!”
We raced for the Leopard Junior Cup at the opening meeting on the sealed track and I still have the Trophy. As Laurie has mentioned in the July Newsletter, apart from a rough long drop the only building in those days was a tin shed which was painted in black and white checkers. This was “Race Control” and if the weather permitted we gathered around it at the end of the day for the presentation of the certificates and usually a crate of flagons was picked up from the Fernhill Pub. You hired your glass and brought the beer! At bigger meetings Tony Wallace would get out the 12 string guitar and play the ditties that he’s still amusing us with to this day.
The pits were limestone and were over in the corner where the hairpin is now. The first extension to the track was to move the pits to their present position so the hairpin corner could be extended into the corner of the property.
We were loathed to spend money on updating the facilities as the lease was a short term one. The problem being that the council could at any time have moved us off to extend the landfill operation. The final closure of the dump (bought about mainly due to leachate concerns over the aquifer) was certainly in our favour. Up until then we had seriously considered buying one of the 10 acre blocks around the corner in Mere Road. These were for sale at the time for $1800.00 each.
Peter Fraser and his Company ‘Fraser Shingle’ provided the initiative for most of our major track extensions, curbing work and a complete track re-surfacing. The last extension that was undertaken in more recent times saw the formation of what is now the main straight and the alterations to the pit entry.
The concrete block toilets that we are still using today were built by Russell Grant and Brian Gutteridge and the ‘tractor shed’ evolved into the kitchen, bar and clubhouse. This was funded by a striptease night which included the local chief of police.
I was told not to insist on him paying the entry fee. There was even a raffle with the stripper as the prize!
The current clubhouse was the store and amenities building at the Pan Pac Mill in Whirinaki. It was shifted to it’s present site as separate walls, roof and floor. We relayed the floor and after a club day we all gathered together and stood the walls up. Russell then put the roof on it.
There was also a limestone track in Waipawa that was again beside their rubbish dump! When that track closed the land adjacent to the Railway Bridge at the south end of the Main Street was made available and a limestone track was built there. Before this was used Bob Turner of the Napier Rovers Kart Club joined forces with Brian Lawton who drove a kart around the North Island to promote karting and raised enough money to seal the track. The track was sealed and high wheelers were then banned. This caused a rift involving most of the members so they formed the Central Hawkes Bay Kart Club and built a limestone track on Skim Hutt’s property beside the Tikokino Bridge.
This rift unfortunately remained for many years. As a result of this, two brand new Ohau Darts sat idle under the workshop bench at Central Hawkes Bay Motors in Waipawa for nearly 10 years. Ron Gough eventually convinced Russell Harris to sell one of them that was a twin. Although out of date Ron ran the Kart at Waipawa, Hawkes Bay and Central Hawkes Bay tracks until the late 1970’s. He then brought my Mustang (a local Zip Californian copy) and put his McCulloch Mac 91’s on it. I found his Dart on an orchard in 1985 and restored it. This started my interest in Vintage Karting. I kept the Kart until 2009 when I was given the ex Snow Hyndman Margay Twin I am running now. I returned the Dart to the Gough Family who now run it along with a Mercury powered Hi Wheeler at vintage events.
The Waipawa Club was run by Rex Harrison (brother of the Hawkes Bay Kart Club’s first President Johnny Harrison) and a small team of helpers. With Waipawa racing on the second Sunday of the month and Hawkes Bay on the last Sunday of the month we were able to race twice a month! When the Waipawa Club folded its assets were gifted to the Hawkes Bay Club.
Brian Lawton built a few Karts called ‘Flexiframes’ and Bob Turner started the kart business called ‘Karts and Parts’ in Napier (In God we trust all others cash!) He built the Devils and Swiss Hutless chassis that revolutionised karting at the time. The business was later sold to LV Martin and Sons in Wellington and the karts became known as ‘Martin Karts’. Life Member Alan Pithie started a workshop in Orchard Rd, Hastings and manufactured wheels, hubs, brakes and sprocket carriers for the Bob Turner Karts.
As previously mentioned, strict import restrictions meant there were very few original karts in New Zealand. Most karts were copies of the odd kart that was smuggled into the country. The first of these was the 1961 Bug Willy Pearson now has as a vintage kart. This was smuggled into New Zealand in a child’s pram carton in January 1964 for Bruce Mills. It had won a National title in the United States and then won another one here in Easter 1964. Others were imported as farm machinery, which was the way my 1973 Margay was brought in from the USA. People would also take old karts to Australia and return to New Zealand with new ones! Several overseas drivers also exchanged their genuine karts after international race meetings for some pretty ordinary pieces of equipment that were found buried in local peoples sheds! Some were smuggled in using ‘Operation Deep Freeze’ flights to Christchurch and some were confiscated by New Zealand Customs! Ohau Engineering built dozens of Dart copies and also sold ‘bend kits’ that were assembled by the owners. This meant there were many similar but slightly different versions made over the years. Other companies manufacturing karts and components were JO Downs, Karlsson Engineering in Auckland, New Zealand Kart Distributors, prior to Hart Karts and Bishop Karts (both from Palmerston North) that eventually became Kiwi Karts. Richard Tapper made Puma Karts in Christchurch while Woolston Karts were the major South Island parts distributor.
Many Hawkes Bay members supported meetings in the Wellington Province in particular the Gold Star Series with events at Hawkes Bay, Waipawa, Horowhenua, Manawatu, Taranaki and Wellington. The largest effort went into the 1976 Nationals in Christchurch when Ray Wilson, then Club President and manager of Mt Cook Landlines hired a freighter bus. More than 16 karts and 30 people headed south well identified in their floppy black and white chequered hats! There was a fine if you were seen off the bus without your hat. Club members also participated in the Wellington vs. Auckland and North vs. South Teams events. These were great fun, the racing though was fierce and a great spectacle for everyone involved.
There were many ‘characters’ involved in Karting in the early days. I can remember someone tying a kart to the pit fence while the hung over driver slept in the seat. He was then woken up and told his race was going out the pit gate. His kart was started for him and he took off in a panic, unfortunately only as far as the rope went- the whole pits was in an uproar!!!
All in all Karting was a relatively cheap form of motorsport. Simple, well organized and run. Most people with a little mechanical knowledge could participate on equal terms. But most of all Karting was FUN and it WORKED!!!