‘For he’s a jolly good fellow (and/or fellow-esse)….and so say all of us!’

| Photographer Credit: Maria Panova

Look, I don’t mind admitting, a whole truck (and trailer-load) of ambivalence when it comes to MotorSport NZ’s annual awards programme, most of it based on my own bitter personal experience.

This year, however, it was nice to see the work of D1NZ boss Brendon White and D1NZ volunteer Jo Maulder acknowledged – Brendon earning the Ron Frost Award for what I can only describe as his ‘utterly untiring entrepreneurship’ in running NZ’s National Drifting Championship, and his ‘right hand (wo)man’ Jo, named as one of the sport’s Volunteers of the Year.

Brendan White (left) and D1NZ Chief Judge Brendan Duncker

In the citation, that went with the Ron Frost Award, MotorSport NZ states that’ “D1NZ, under the direction of Brendon White, has been a leading part of drifting globally, working with drifting and motorsport promoters across the world. Over the last 15 years, D1NZ has built more custom and bespoke motorsport events across New Zealand than any other organisation including street events in Whangarei, custom circuits within Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium and Dunedin’s Forsyth Barr Stadium.

“In addition to their own events, D1NZ has supported motorsport themed events throughout New Zealand with demonstrations and exhibitions, providing fans with thrilling entertainment.

“Over the years Brendon has gained significant event development knowledge through the constant improvement of the D1NZ show, keeping it fresh and enhancing the professionalism of drifting. In recent years he has embarked on sharing this knowledge to help grow other New Zealand motorsport codes across a wide spectrum of projects. In the last four years, Brendon has managed the marketing and TV broadcast of the Waimate 50, New Zealand’s longest-running street race.

“Brendon’s ethos is simple. Always do what’s in the best interest of the sport and its drivers while putting on the best show possible for the fans.”

To which all I can say is….and it took you how long to realise the fact?

D1NZ champ Darren Kelly at the Bay Park final

The situation is much the same with Jo Maulder.

Again, from the citation, Motorsport NZ says that; “From D1NZ race control to marshalling, to grid operations, to grid manager, Jo keeps very busy in motorsport.

“Despite having her own business with her partner (that would be Keg), DKM Fabrication, and a 5-year-old daughter, Jo has always found time to volunteer wherever need be; be it the countless pack-ins and pack-outs, strategic meetings, custom venue development and track logistics. Jo is there to help, all on a volunteer basis.

“With the dedication, knowledge and commitment from Jo, our sport has been able to have the confidence to deliver something new for drifting in New Zealand – live TV, something that many countries are yet to do with Drifting. This is all something we can be proud to have dedicated people like Jo at the helm, to have the confidence with her team under her knowing that the show will go on and be delivered to the highest standard.”

What neither citation mentions, however, is that Brendon is actually surrounded by a veritable army of people just like Jo; people who willingly give up their time and their social life to follow him (Pied Piper fashion) from one event to another precisely because of his ability, 1) to come up with his crazy schemes; 2) ‘somehow’ turn them into reality, then 3) hand them over to said volunteers to add their own unique stamp to.

As much as they are both so richly well-deserved, however, there are several issues about MotorSport NZ’s annual awards programme and ceremony I personally would like to see addressed.

Key, as far as I am concerned, is who the hell is ‘in charge’ both of ‘putting on the show’ and of which person gets what award? And how come some people must actively apply to be considered for an award (us journos and photographers for instance) while others appear to simply get a ‘shoulder tap’ and a suggestion that they keep the weekend of the annual AGM & Prizegiving free…..

Also, who the hell is/are the judge/judges of the competitive categories and what level/s of – proven – knowledge, skill, and above all, integrity do they bring with them to the job at hand.

Sure, I won my own Journo of the Year ‘gong’ (way) back now in 2005. But – by way of example, however – my entries last year for the Motorsport Journalist of The Year, and Motorsport PR communicator of The Year awards were both far superior (IMHO) in terms of content and presentation than those I submitted back in 2005 yet I’m still waiting to hear back from Motorsport NZ as to how I fared.

I did see some sort of ‘press release’ towards the end of the year about the awards being presented but no note, or even email with judging notes and a cheery, ‘thanks for your efforts mate…and better luck next time.’

Particularly when there was no annual conference as such last year some sort of ‘acknowledgment’ would have been nice.

True, I did receive an invitation to put together a portfolio for this year’s awards, earlier in the year. But after the way I – or more specifically,  the way my ‘work’ work was – treated last year, I was as likely to do that, as my dear old Mum would say,  as fly to the moon!

Back in 2005, for instance, I can remember an acquaintance shaking my hand  and saying how richly deserved my winning that year’s Motorsport Journalist of The Year award was – then being honestly surprised when I explained the way it was judged.

Prior to me filling him in on that ‘rather important’ little detail he had thought that ‘someone’ at Motorsport NZ looked around for a ‘worthy recipient’ each year and – if not plucking a name from a hat, at least – picked someone who was consistently doing good work.

In much the same way, I’d imagine, Brendon and Jo were chosen to receive their awards this year.

But no, Journos, PR flunkies and Photographers are still required to put in a hell of a lot of your own time into picking out what they think are their best stories, campaigns, and pics, backing same up with a bunch of .pdfs and outlet readership/viewership etc. stats; all without really knowing what ‘the judge or judges’ are after.

Several years ago – apparently, because (again!!) I was never actually told at the time (or since for that matter) – one of my sporadic entries in the Motorsport Journalist of The Year competition supposedly received ‘Highly Commended’ (aka First Loser) status and was included in one of those ‘mall tour’ displays you often see in smaller centres, but which get absolutely lost in a place like Auckland.

The reason that I know, is that a colleague just happened to be whiling away some time in downtown Masterton/New Plymouth/Nelson etc and literally tripped over the travelling display.

The reason I raise the issue of the display, however, is that my colleague was ‘gobsmacked’ my entry didn’t win. Not me, note.

With no feedback from either ‘the office’ or ‘the judge/judging panel’ all I knew up to that point was that I ‘hadn’t won. And if you don’t win, you don’t dwell on the fact. You put the failure behind you and focus on the next opportunity to enter a comp.

My colleague, bless him, however, was genuinely ‘pissed’ on my behalf, his ire aimed at the Judge and what he (my colleague) considered a short-sighted call based on the staple of a daily journo’s work, the ‘quote.’

In an ideal world a ‘quote’ is a piece of directly reported speech, and they can make or break a story.

Aussie Ford legend Dick Johnson gave good quote. The one I remember best is how Dick once described completing a long-distance race in a V8 Falcon round the tight confines of the original ‘short’ Winton circuit in central Victoria as ‘like running a marathon around a clothesline.’

Bike-turned car racer Graeme Crosby was the local with the best rejoinders back when I was starting out, and today Scott McLaughlin is so good at witty one-liners that at least one of them – giving it ‘some jandal’ has entered the lexicon (meaning that so many people are using it that it has gained widespread use) of Aussie & Kiwi speech.

Speaking strictly personally here, however, I’m wary of quotes because.

1/ Unless you record a conversation and are bloody quick on a keyboard it is virtually impossible to capture each and every word, not to mention the fact that;

2/ Few people today actually speak in full sentences. And even those who do and who can provide short, succinct answers to any question you might pose, rarely do so in one seamless take…meaning that you as the writer, have to,  what’s called ‘massage’ in the trade,  the quote to fit or to work in the context, so…. why use it in the first place?

If you want to really hear the voice of the interviewee, rather than the ‘opinion’ of the interviewer’ you can always turn to the Q&A (short for Question and Answer) which is what I had done in this instance with Shane Van Gisbergen.

Because I have worked with Shane since he was a painfully shy but particularly self-contained 14-year-old I knew it pissed him off when I or any of the other journos who worked with him tried to analyse him. 

What you see is very much what you get with Shane and – like I remember with an equally young and precocious Scott Dixon – all he really was interested in was his next race…everything else in-between, no matter how important it might be to me as a guy chronicling his career, a fan following it, or sponsor paying the bills, was to quote famous actor/racer Steve McQueen, ‘just waiting…’

So…. I chose to compose a series of questions which I emailed to Shane, explaining what it was for (a couple of pages in SpeedSport magazine with the working title of ‘a quick catch-up with SVG’) and asking him to answer them – preferably with more than single word replies! – then fire the email back to me for a final spelling/grammar/legals check at which point I would forward it to Grant the Editor and ‘Bob is your father’s  brother’ as they (used to) say.

To me more than half the skill in getting a ‘result’ (in this case, anyway) was to know enough about the bloke (or blokesse) I wanted to write about, the medium (In this case a monthly motorsport magazine), and the information I wanted to get across, to come up with a list of questions that elicited the sort of in-depth ‘worth-reading’ answers in an article that Grant eventually published and I – thinking that, for all these reasons and more, it made a nice counterpoint to the more conventional stories that anchored my portfolio that year – included it.

Had I known that the judge, apparently, cared little for all these carefully considered obvious nuances, and appeared more interested in the simple ‘tally of quotes’ I would have entered the story I wrote for the Australasian edition of high-brow Porsche owners’ magazine Christophorus about local Porsche ace Matthew Halliday’s emotional visit to pay tribute to the late, great Ayrton Senna’s shrine at the Mugello circuit when he had been there earlier that year.

Matt has always been as great a student of the sport as he was a driver and I distinctly remember being moved to tears myself as I assembled the story from transcripts of conversations, I had had with him over the phone.

Transcripts are perfect for pulling paragraph length ‘quotes’ from, so that particular yarn had ‘quotes for Africa’ in it – though I decided against entering it because.

1/ To this day I think the Shane Q&A was a better example of the work I was doing covering motorsport at the time, and;

2/ I can remember something in the fine-print about entries having to be about Kiwis ‘competing’ either here or overseas – and since Matt’s story was not about a particular race – I decided to err on the side of caution, because I didn’t want my entry rejected on a technicality….

Which is where my colleague (who I will call Bob, though that, obviously, is not his real name) re-enters the picture.

Apparently, in the notes the esteemed judge had provided, critiquing each entry, and though (I swear to this day) I was never provided with and have never seen, he helpfully pointed out that ‘quotes’ were an important tool to use to add interest to and ‘break up’ a story and perhaps if I had used more (or even some) in the main feature I had used to anchor my portfolio….I might have ‘done better.’

This was obviously real ‘red rag to a bull’ stuff to Bob, who – rightly or wrongly – reckoned that the judge was ‘taking the piss.’

Me? 

As I said to him at the time; ‘mate, it’s all water under the bridge now,’ though it still obviously niggles – even after all these years.

It also means, obviously, that you won’t be seeing me winning any more MotorSport NZ Journalist or PR Flunky of the Year awards – because I’m buggered if I’m going to waste any more of my valuable writing time trying to second guess the whims of some faceless judge, by putting in an entry.

If other awards can be made by nomination or by popular choice, then I don’t see why the ‘media’ ones can’t be as well. So, if someone nominates me – or rather something I have written – I’ll happily hire a ‘Monkey Suit’ and prepare for a weekend of celebrating our fantastic sport with friends & whanau.

However, if the organisation continues down the same ‘judged’ path….honestly, I’d much rather stay at home.

And yes, you can ‘quote’ me on that!

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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