When rain doesn’t stop play at Hampton Downs or Tokoroa

| Photographer Credit: Emilee Jane Photography

As a kid growing up in Gore through the late 1960s and early-to-mi-1970s I got used to turning the radio on the minute I awoke most winter Saturday mornings to see if my club hockey game was sill ‘on.’

This, of course, was in the days where hockey was still played on grass – not Astroturf as more and more games, apparently, are today – and every winter heavy rain during the week would saturate the fields at Newman Park and force the cancellation of Saturday sport, some years, for weekend after weekend in a row.

Today you’d probably get a text (or a PM via Facebook Messenger) but the late 60s /early 70s were simpler times, and when, at one of our pre-season training seasons, someone asked a question about cancellations, our coach just said, ‘listen to the radio!’

Which would mean Invercargill’s 4ZA, again (these being simpler times) the only station before the advent of Gore’s Hokonui Radio, to broadcast across the broad swathe of the vast albeit sparsely populated Murihiku (aka province of Southland).

And so, there I’d sit at the table, bowl of my Mum’s piping hot and super-sweet porridge (the secret, apparently, was to add both brown sugar AND Golden Syrup and mix vigorously just before serving) in front of me and listen for the Cancellations announcements (if I remember rightly) at ‘a quarter past the hour, ever hour.’

If it was either raining or had been within the past 24 hours you could pretty much guarantee that ‘the hockey’ would be called off due, usually, to soggy ground conditions.

Which, to be perfectly honest, I always considered something of a blessing in disguise because particularly in my later teens (when I had a trail bike to ride) I much preferred spending winter Saturday afternoons exploring or play racing than I did guarding the goal for Eastern Southland F or G (or whatever the team I nominally played for was called).

Which, as segways go, could hardly be better because it brings me right up to date. Not just to this year either, but to the weekend just passed.

Though, obviously, it was the West Coast and Marlborough regions which bore the brunt of the wild weather that swept in from the north-west, the rest of the country didn’t exactly get off Scot-free either.

I know this because I was ‘doing the publicity’ for two high profile ‘national level’ events being held in the upper North Island on Saturday. Both were hit hard and long by the high winds and torrential rain that battered much of the North Island on Saturday, yet both went ahead pretty much as planned.

NaZCAR (nee 24 Hours of LeMons) organisation’s new 3 & 6 Hr Pro Series endurance race – behind the safety car

One was the 18th KartSport New Zealand National Schools’ Championship meeting being held in Tokoroa, the other the first of ‘alternative promoter’ Dr Jacob Simonsen’ s newly renamed NaZCAR (nee 24 Hours of LeMons) organisation’s new 3 & 6 Hr Pro Series endurance race rounds at Hampton Downs.

To be absolutely fair to those who actually competed or officiated at either meeting I had the easy job.

I spent much of my time while I was at Hampton Downs, for instance, in the Race Control suite on the second floor of the pit lane complex, before electing to leave early and watch how the rest of the day unfolded via the Live Facebook stream Dr Jacob had ‘invested’ in.

If anyone drew the short straw at either event however, it would have been the marshals and flaggies who had jobs to do – out in the rain – at both meetings.

18th KartSport New Zealand National Schools’ Championship meeting being held in Tokoroa

Working in conditions one long term observer of the sport described as ‘probably the worst I have ever seen at a kart race meeting, with very high winds and horizontal rain for most of the day,’ they simply knuckled down and got on with the job.

At one stage racing was suspended until conditions improved, but bar the resulting time constraints forcing the organisers to cancel the fifth heats and call the results based on the results from the first four predetermined grid heats, the event went ahead as planned.

Which, when you think about it is a massive achievement for everyone who made it happen, from the drivers to all the club volunteers and KartSport New Zealand officials.

As I quoted KartSport New Zealand President Graeme Moore, in the official press release…. “Everyone deserves a big pat on the back for running such an important meeting as our Schools’ one in such extreme conditions,”

In theory, too, the weather and track conditions could hardly have been worse for the first of ‘Dr Jacob’ Simonsen’s’3 and 6 Hr NaZCAR Pro Series endurance races either.

Indeed, he told me yesterday that they were ‘by far the worst I’ve ever run a race meeting in’ with pools of standing water forming all over the track as the countdown to the start of the race began,

Still with at least 24 teams ready – and more importantly willing – to get going, the inimitable ‘Dr Jacob’ was literally left with no choice but to send colleague Gordon Legge out in the Safety Car and officially start the race behind it.

Then, despite the rain still heavy, once everyone was settled in the Safety Car was called back into the pits and the race – proper – began.

And do you know what? Rather than feeling sorry for the drivers circulating in the murk I found myself envying them.

I know – from my days racing the Fuelstar Mazda RX7 at wet meeting after wet meeting in the South Island back in the day – what a wonderful feeling it can be, as long as you can get some clear air in front and behind, racing a car in the rain.

I’ve always liked driving – not to mention riding long distance on a motorcycle – in the rain, and when I finally started racing karts, I used to make a beeline to my local track (Mt Wellie of course) if it was raining on a Saturday afternoon and try to complete at least one lap of the wet track on slicks…. without going off. (Which believe me, is way harder than it sounds).

So yes, it was with something more than professional interest, that I followed the opening round of ‘Dr Jacob’s’ new Pro Series.

So, while I don’t mind admitting that I was crap at hockey, half the reason was that because ‘rain stopped play’ so much when I was growing up, I hardly got to swing a stick in anger…or any other way for that matter.

The key difference with the motorsport classes I am interested in these days is that they not only look fun and affordable, they also run rain or shine!

Meaning…no more getting up super-early on a Saturday morning and trying find a radio to listen to….

See also: School-age karters prove their mettle as storm lashes titles venue

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 contract media work with weekend Mountain Bike missions and trips to grassroots drift days.

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