The life and (fast) times of Tony Quinn Pt 2

As I said in my first column on Tony Quinn last week, the Scottish-born, Byron Bay (Queensland)-residing New Zealand circuit-owning businessman had arguably contributed more to motorsport in this country than any other individual.

In that case I added an addendum – namechecking two other major contributors, Sir Colin Giltrap and Peter ‘PJ’ Johnston. And yes, I know that many other individuals have contributed greatly to our fantastic sport over the years, prompting me to add (yet another!!!) Word doc to the ‘Ideas for future stories’ file in the TM folder on my computer’s desktop.

In saying that many (most?) of our sport’s highest achievers have had their ultimate ambitions ultimately hamstrung by money – or rather the lack of it!

Not Tony Quinn!

As he told me when I interviewed Quinn for my very first column in Motor Equipment News back in Feb 2016 (and which you are welcome to read in its entirety here – Driven man – the Tony Quinn story – and I quote; ‘I’ve got 10 active businesses and nothing I have ever done has been for the money. (In fact) I don’t care about money. I’m sure I’ve got enough!”

Indeed, he has, to the point where the $NZ7.1 million he bid to buy Taupo Motorsport Park last week was essentially pocket change.

Be that as it may, everything has a fair market value and I hope for the sake of the existing shareholders’ investments in ‘the Park, that they were well advised.

Because I see the real value in Quinn’s ownership in the mix of innovative facilities management including both the willingness and ability to invest real money in infrastructure and upgrades, all with a Hawke-like eye on the bottom line to ensure that sentiment never gets the opportunity to impede profitability.

To be fair, on the give-or-take 60% of shareholders who rejected the $NZ7.1 million offer an initial return on investment of $1.01 per share was – well – short of the premium I would have been looking for if someone launched a bid for any of the shares, I personally own in listed companies on the NZ Stock Exchange.

And when the Taupo Car Club came up with its last minute ‘requirement’ to be paid $450,000 to ‘agree to the sale,’ effectively reducing the amount ‘in the pot’ and meaning that shareholders were apparently only going to get back 92 cents for every dollar invested rather than the $NZ1.01, frankly I’m surprised more (than the 60 % reported) didn’t reject the deal.

I am because – the way I understand it anyway – the shareholders in Taupo Motorsport Park are hardly your average mix of hard-nosed corporate types and nervous Ma’s and Pa’s.

Most, from what I can glean, were well-off local individuals and corporates who saw the extension of the ‘Park as a good thing – an asset if you like – for Taupo and the local district – and, when push came to shove, they were prepared to open their wallets to help turn a dream into reality

As such they probably pretty much wrote off what the shares cost them years ago, and – if the place continues to operate and pay its bills – there is little incentive to sell.

Unless, of course, Tony Quinn and his people up the ante to – say – $1.50/$1.80 a share plus bonuses, like some sort of combined Hamptons/Taupo/Highlands membership, or free tickets for 5-10 years to the NZ round/s of the Repco Supercars Championship Series.

Then – of course – there is all the ‘other stuff’ which it appears comes free-of-charge’ when Tony Quinn sets his mind to something.

I know for a fact that I say a silent ‘on ya Mate’ every time I book a session at his purpose-built outdoor Go Kart track at Hampton Downs, the existence of the cool little hillside track between the track proper and SH1 allowing me to get my kart jollies without having to own – and store and maintain etc etc – one of my own.

The Go Kart track operates as a little profit centre of its own and every time I have been there this year sessions have been pretty much booked out thanks to social club groups and the like from Hamilton in the south to Pukekohe, Waiuku and Manukau City in the north.

I’ve yet to tire of the track at Hampton Downs but don’t mind admitting that another – broadly similar – one at Taupo Motorsport Park would be just the incentive I need to make more than my semi-annual trips to grass roots drift events there.

It’s this sort of extracurricular ‘stuff’ that Quinn brings with him whenever and wherever he finds himself – or in the current travel restricted world we find ourselves in at the moment – trusted lieutenants like Josie Spillane and Daniel Gaunt find themselves.

Take the NZ Racing Academy at Hampton Downs launched late last year by Spillane and Gaunt.

Funded on a very much ‘whatever it is going to take’ basis by the Tony Quinn Foundation, the ‘Hampton Downs Academy’ has been set up, says Spillane to ‘upskill and support local and international drivers at a world class facility’ and is ‘primarily designed for up-and-coming drivers to learn basic and advanced driving skills.’

The Tony Quinn Foundation, by the way, is a new initiative driven by Quinn with the goal of supporting young Kiwi kids with the talent and determination to make it on the world stage.

Tony Quinn Foundation – (left to right) Steve Horne, Tony Quinn, Josie Spillane, Greg Murphy, and financier John Gordon

Trustees include Quinn himself, long-time former US-based team owner Steve Horne, Greg Murphy, financier John Gordon, and Josie Spillane.

Like most Academy programmes eh Hampton Downs one is a ‘pay-as-you go affair – with a twist. Not just at the elite level either.

One of the first things Chief Instructor, Daniel Gaunt, did before he even opened the doors was to co-opt fellow former international single-seater-turned Porsche Carrera Cup ace Chris van der Drift (a multi-time NZ kart champion before his own move to cars, who now runs a kart business, Veloce Karting, in his old hometown, Hamilton) to set up a Kart Academy for 7-15-year-olds.

Chris van der Drift gives advice to a young driver

 Gaunt is also aware that there are a lot of well-funded ‘weekend warriors’ out there who don’t fit into any convenient niche but who would benefit from some targeted tuition – hence the number of different training packages on offer.

As he says, ‘The higher the level, the more bespoke the package, with the emphasis on developing the talent of each driver at a pace they are comfortable with while (at the same time) challenging them to stretch themselves.”

Which sounds good enough to warrant whatever it is your course cost. But wait, there’s more. In this case the ‘(drum roll please) inaugural 2021 TQ Foundation Shootout.

All New Zealand drivers who take part in any of the Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy programmes in 2021 and have shown they’ve got what it takes to be competitive in a race car, will be eligible for selection.

From that number a total of six drivers will be invited to take part in the shootout based on their performances on the track during the academy programme.

Once in the ‘shootout’ the drivers will be put through their paces on the national circuit in a series of timed and head-to-head challenges under the watchful eyes of judges Greg Murphy, Steve Horne, Tony Quinn and Daniel Gaunt.

The Toyota 86 Scholarship Shootout will be held on Tuesday September 21 at Hampton Downs, the Toyota Racing Series Scholarship Shootout on Tuesday November 09. 

At day’s end two of the six finalists will walk away from the shootout with funding towards a full season in the Toyota 86 Championship or Castrol Toyota Racing Series (TRS), the Tony Quinn Foundation contributing $30,000 to the winner of the Toyota 86 shootout and $70,000 to the winner of the TRS scholarship to go towards funding a season in the respective championships

As well as funding, the winners will be able to draw on the knowledge and contacts of the foundation trustees who all have considerable experience of the motorsport industry in New Zealand, Australia, the US, Europe, and Asia.

That access, plus that to other drivers, team owners, and the Hampton Downs and Highlands members, should make a huge difference to any promising young Kiwi’s career progress.

But for Tony Quinn, it was really only the starting point this year.

This year alone the Tony Quinn Foundation is committing over $200,000 to scholarships and categories for emerging talent and will also consider further support for any Kiwi that finishes in the top three in the Castrol Toyota Racing Series and Toyota 86 Championship — with dollar-for-dollar funding towards their next campaign.

And that will come on top of Quinn’s personal $NZ50K commitment to the Kiwi Driver Fund, set up by Toyota to help ease the financial burden on young Kiwis contesting the Castrol Toyota Racing Series each summer.

Since the announcement about the Hampton Downs NZ Racing Academy and the Tony Quinn Foundation, Quinn has also offered the winner of the2021 Toyota 86 Championship will get a test in a Triple Eight Motorsport Engineering Australian Supercar and the New Zealand Formula Ford Association $NZ60K worth of prize money and various other incentives for those contesting the 2021/22 series.

All-in-all its one serious commitment yet it is one the Aussie-based Scott says that he is happy – honoured, even – to be able to make.

“We’re not reinventing the wheel with this foundation and scholarship,” he told me. “The Kiwi Driver Fund and individuals like Sir Colin Giltrap and his sons Richard and Michael, Kenny Smith, Peter ‘PJ’ Johnson, and many others, have been supporting Kiwi drivers for a long time and I want to continue to build on the great work they’ve done.

“Young Kiwi drivers seem to have this incredible ability to get the most out of a race car and I want to help develop the next generation of talent.”

“I’ve invested a fair bit of time and money developing two world class racetracks in New Zealand. I’ve been focused on the business, the members, and the tracks but the time is right to focus on helping our young drivers on the start of their journey.

“Motorsport has been good to me, and I feel lucky to be able to give something back.”


See also: The life and (fast) times of Tony Quinn Pt 1?

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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