Getting older

| Photographer Credit: Geoff Ridder

Confession time; I turned 60 last week.

There, I said it, put it out there. For everyone to see. 60. Yeah. A biggie. A big number. And not necessarily in a good way.

Whether they like it, let alone admit to it, people are age-ist. Hell, I know I was…. until last week anyway. When I turned 60.

Because, I am now officially old.

How did this happen?

To be perfectly honest I’m not quite sure. One minute I was a carefree 10-year-old with big dreams growing up in Gore. The next – hell – I’m 60 and wondering where the intervening 50 (years) have gone.

Sure, my brain is not so addled (yet!!!) that I can’t remember some fairly big and important milestones that occurred along the way – you know, first bike/race/car/wedding/house/births of son & daughter/race/drift meetings/first days of each and every job – but the rest, and I don’t really like admitting this, has passed pretty much in a blur.

Which is why I decided to write about turning 60 this week.

Ask any girlfriend, wife or ‘significant other’ about their husband or common law partner of long standing and they will tell you that ‘their man’ hardly ever talks about the specifics of anything to do with his ‘life’ or – for that matter – the way he ‘lives’ it.

Cars, motorbikes and the key drivers, riders and odd designer and/or engineer associated with them and we – apparently – can bore anyone within earshot for the Olympics, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of bore x stroke & compression ratios, turbo brands and sizes, and yes, even such esoteric minutiae like wheel rim widths and relative (+, 0 or -) offsets.

When it comes to ‘us’ however and in particularly the way we ‘feel’ about ourselves (health, well-being, age etc) we men, apparently, clam up quicker than a thing that clams up!

Me? Obviously, I’m different. The exception which proves the rule. Or I wouldn’t be sitting here in my home office pondering why ‘turning 60’ has proved so much harder on me than clicking over 20, 30, 40 & 50.

One of the main reasons, I’m guessing, is that (not to put too fine a point on it) I can no longer blithely ignore the fact that life is finite, and that even if it is still shrouded in mist, my own ‘end’ must surely be a hell of a lot closer than it was – for instance – when I turned 21.

That said, you don’t squiggle and wiggle yourself into a set of leathers, pull on a full-face helmet and lap the wild, bumpy Pukekohe Park Raceway in a 1.05.00 with a top speed just past the kink on the ‘old’ back straight (well) north of 285km/h, or hold the original Mazda Pro 7 class lap record at Teretonga for just under a year without thinking – indeed putting contingency plans in place – about what might happen should your ‘luck’ run out and ‘D-Day’ arrive a little sooner than you might have liked.

Motor racing is after-all, an inherently dangerous activity. It says so on the ticket spectators buy at the gate. So – again speaking strictly personally here – I’ve already thought that one through.

In fact, it’s the prospect of my advancing years somehow providing someone else with ammunition to stop me donning those leathers (which I still fit by the way) and doing a Track Day on a bike, or slipping on my Alpinestars boots, gloves and driving suit and clutch kicking my way round Taupo, Hampton Downs and the Evergreen Drift track which concerns me way more than the prospect of serious injury or yes even the ‘D’ word while on a motorcycle or in a car.

The pleasure I get from indulging what many ordinary, everyday people appear to think of as a ‘young person’s’ sport is so great that I don’t even want to contemplate a ‘life’ without it. Not right now, anyway.

Another ‘reason’ I think, is that as we men grow older, we run out of suitable role models.

When you are a kid, for instance, every adult with an axe to grind (or highly-paid job in ‘marketing’) seems hell-bent on placing suitable role models in front of you – from cards in cereal packets at home to speaking tours on behalf of charities at school.

Ken Smith

As a parent you get a second dose when your kids go to school, then……nothing! Unless of course you have an interest in golf (where there is a thriving ‘Seniors’ tour, or – funnily enough – our own local motor racing scene where octogenarians (those in their 70s) like Ken Smith and ‘Racing Ray’ Williams continue to race – and win what’s more – as it their lives depended on it.

Which, as Ken himself alludes to a little further on in this column, it probably does. And he has just turned 78!

As a good friend reminded me on my birthday last week – ‘you’re by no means the only person turning 60 this year, and there are plenty of others a lot older than you still racing, just look at Kenny!’

Which, I must admit, helped me put my own misgivings about ‘getting older’ and my own ‘minor’ milestone, into perspective. Because if there is a better role model for ‘getting older like a Boss’ than Kenneth James Smith I’d like to meet him!

Ken, you see, was already a ‘veteran’ when I first met him (in the late 1980s) and I well remember the Sports Editor of the Auckland Sun (The newspaper I first worked on when I moved to Auckland in 1986), Andrew Sanders, quizzing me when I returned to the newsroom, why I hadn’t ask the then 45-year-old ‘when he was going to retire…’

Having had more than his fair share of health issues – including his much-publicised triple bypass heart surgery (a story, er, broken by my good self) Smith, if anyone, should know what it feels like to worry about having someone else making life decisions for him.

However, the last time I talked to him he was adamant that – even at 77-going-on-78 (he turned 78 on August 11 this year) he still had absolutely no interest in ‘giving the driving away.’

Ken Smith, F5000 Pukekohe November 2018

A good thing too, because this season just past was – in my opinion – one of his best in years. Not just because he won the SAS Autoparts MSC F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series for a record 5th time either.

Smith was also the pacesetter in the various Formula Pacific/Atlantic/Libre class races be contested at his ‘home’ track (Hampton Downs) over the summer; against decent opposition in the form of circuit owner Tony Quinn and the talented James Watson too.

He was probably also more competitive in his return to the Castrol Toyota Racing Series for the NZ Grand Prix meeting (for his 48th appearance in our greatest race) than he has been in recent years as well, something I would put down to all the other racing he did over the 2018/19 season, his 61st consecutive one, by the way, at a national level.

Off the track too he continues to play a key mentoring role in the careers of some of our best ‘young’ drivers, Tom Alexander one, Liam Lawson (pictured above with Ken Smith) another.

And with whatever other hours he has in his already packed days he is slowly working his way through his extensive personal memorabilia collection housed on the mezzanine floor of his workshop unit at Hampton Downs.

With so many of his peers choosing to slow down the minute they turn 65 (only five years away for me now, come to think of it!) I suppose you have to forgive hapless reporters constantly (still) wheeling out the ‘R’ question.

Though as Smith told the Dominion-Post’s Rob Mitchell in April last year;

“I get a lot of people saying you’re getting on a bit now, when are you gonna give up, but it gives me the s…ts when I hear that because at the end of the day if you want to grow old, just mix with old people and sit round and talk crap and watch TV all day and don’t get off the chair, that’s how you die.”

If that is not a manifesto for living your life to the full despite the number assigned to you each year by your birth, I don’t know what is.

Actually, that’s not quite right, because Welsh wordsmith Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) ploughed a similar furrow when in his famous – and since much quoted – 1951 poem about growing older ‘Do not go gentle into the night’ he wrote;

‘Do not go gentle into that good night

Old age should burn and rave at close on day:

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

‘Old’ of course a relative term and of all the comments left on my Facebook page by friends and acquaintances on or after my birthday it was this one from Racing Ray Williams which left me with the biggest grin.

“Hang in there Ross,’ Ray said. “You’ve just reached ‘middle age!””

Racing Ray Williams

Ross MacKay

Ross MacKay is an award-winning journalist, author and publicist with first-hand experience of motorsport from a lifetime competing on two and four wheels. He currently combines a day job editing NZ4WD magazine with contract media work, weekend Mountain Bike missions and towing his 1989 Nissan Skyline drifter to grassroots meetings around the North Island.

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