What our sport can learn from Bungy Jumping

Look. Like any parent I want the best for my kids. And like – I’m sure – most Dads with a passion for motorsport, I’d hoped to pass on my love for the sport to at least one of my (two) children.

In saying that – and having, over the years, watched often in a state close to horror, your typical ‘show business parent’ in action – there was no way I was going to force any sort of motorised two, three or four wheeler action onto them.

What I was looking for was an organic sort of desire, like my own, which – so my theory went – I could nurture via karts and cars in the time-honoured way Ron did with son Scott Dixon, Owen did with both Evans boys (Simon and Mitch) and so on, and so on.

As it turned out my son Andrew ‘discovered’ Basketball when he was 11 or 12 and is now totally immersed in that sport as he pursues a career as a coach. And despite the sort of ‘natural’ primary balance which would have seen here easily graduate to two wheels my daughter Kate lacked the burning desire to do anything but the occasional ‘Dad-organised’ Family Fun Day on a quad at Woodhill Forest when she was in here formative years.

Later, when she expressed interest, I did organise a weekday test run in a Rotax Max Jnr kart – which she said she enjoyed. However, watching on from the outside I could discern a natural flare for line choice but no ‘killer instinct,’ no – for want of a better word – ‘mongrel.’

Not only that, but when I offered to ‘put together a kart for her’ (‘buy’ being far too strong a word for a typically ‘broken-arsed’ journo like my good self) her answer was a simple but definitive ‘no’ (thanks Dad!)

To his credit #1 son Andrew had a sort of ‘late awakening’ after tagging along with his old man to a grassroots drift day at Taupo two years ago.

But he soon discovered how little money – let alone time – he has for ‘hobbies’ as a student, and the S14 we acquired for him to learn the ropes in now sits gathering dust behind my Skyline in the MacKay family garage (of broken dreams!)

Oddly enough, I was reminded of my abject failure to get at least one of my kids started (either via a kart or Mini or Jnr MX bike) on even the lowliest rung of the motorsport ladder, by a flying trip to Queenstown and environs this past weekend.

In theory wife Delia, daughter Kate and I were supposed to have made the trip earlier in the year but the whole COVID-19 Lockdown thing meant it was twice postponed until we decided that it was – literally – now or never.

There were several reasons for the trip, but the main one as far as Kate was concerned was to enjoy her 20th birthday present, a ride (If that is the right word) on The AJ Hackett Bungy Nevis Swing.

For a daughter who is – I guess – typical of her risk-averse generation, Kate definitely has an adventurous streak.

Having persuaded her Mum and I to give her a voucher to ‘jump off Auckland’s Sky Tower’ (courtesy the AJ Hackett SkyJump) for her 18th birthday, then convincing her Mum that swimming with the sharks at Kelly Tarlton’s aquarium was a great way to spend her 19th birthday last year, this year – upon perusing all the many and varied options on the AJ Hackett Bungy website – she decided that she wanted to do either the Auckland Harbour Bridge bungy….or the bungy swing in the Nevis Valley.

Since – as a family – we had made plans for a quick trip south at some stage this year, I’m sure you can guess which one she chose.

You really have to take your hat off to bungy AND bungy business pioneers AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch for creating what is now a truly iconic Kiwi business out of little more than the ubiquitous multi-strand rubber bungy cord, and a shedload of typical bullshit-laced late teen/early 20s bravado.

That’s not quite right. Arguably the real key to the success of their business was their absolute inclination/faith/blind hope/gut feeling that a hitherto untapped group of ordinary, everyday people (young and not so) were not only out there but would also be happy to pay good money to be hung, swung, zip-lined and now I even see, catapulted, so far out of their comfort zones it can literally – for some anyway – be life-changing.

Which, of course, leads me to the reason for writing this column; what lessons are there for motorsport and motorsport people in the success of AJ Hackett Bungy?

The first one, I think anyway, is don’t bother copying someone else’s idea. Or, if you do, make sure you give it your own unique spin.

For Hackett and van Asch (the latter who I met at the Nissan Mobil 500 in Wellington in 1987 when – true story – he was attempting to break the NZ speed record for a downhill skier by perching on top of someone’s Group A Race car) that unique spin was sharing their discovery with the great unwashed – using science, in effect, to make something which to the uninitiated looks life threatening into an activity which is actually quite life-affirming.

I’d happily argue that indoor karting can provide a similar sort of ‘in-at-the-deep-end/thought-I-was-going-to-die’ buzz as – say – a basic bungy jump.

These days though Indoor Karts are kind of ho-hum. Or at least they are unless you slip sections of polythene pipe over the rear tyres and dose the track with talcum powder – the recipe for Drift Karts.

Obviously, being based – as Highlands Motorsport Park and its allied outdoor go-kart track are – slap bang in the middle of a tourist hotspot like Central Otago must help getting punters through the gate.

Obviously, I was keen – to check out the Museum and Go-Kart track – but because it was Kate’s weekend, we didn’t even get close to either this time around.

That said I did get to experience the Skyline Luge back in Queenstown – albeit with literally hundreds of other Mums, Dads, and kids of varying ages, stages, and confidence levels.

Having enjoyed the Luge at the Skyline gondola facility in Rotorua, Kate was keen to pit herself against the steeper and what felt like marginally longer and definitely trickier Queenstown one and – this time – I was happy to go along for the ride.

Note I said that Kate was keen to pit ‘herself’ against the course. This – I think – is one of the key distinctions between her generation and mine.

In my case actually mastering the activity is only part of the appeal. The rest is in ‘how did I do?”

Which is why I am a bit of a regular at the Hampton Downs outdoor Go Kart track.

There the lap times of the great and good are always displayed on a whiteboard above the door and adjacent to where you sign in.

Sure you mightn’t get to share the track with Mad Mike Whiddett or Shane Van Gisbergen but you get to try and if not match at least get (down!) to within a second (or two!) of their best times!

Which is something Kate was simply not interested in last time she came with me to try her hand at outdoor karting for the first time a couple of years ago now.

Nevis swing bridge

And which brings me back to the Nevis swing. While her Mum preferred to keep her feet on solid ground, I was allowed (as a support person I guess) to venture all the way out to the swing platform suspended 160 metres above the Nevis River.

There I watched and listened and eventually cracked my cell phone out and photographed Kate as she was strapped in, and readied to be dropped – vertically at least 120 metres then swung through an arc of 300 metres before eventually being hauled back up to the platform, exhilaration writ large on her face.

She remained buoyed by the sheer adrenaline rush she had just experienced for at least an hour, and though not the type to gush, spent the next two hours feverishly thumbing away on her cell phone keyboard, sharing her experience with friends on-line (mainly on – let’s see – Snapchat and Insta(gram) but with the odd move across to Facebook for her mother and her friends’ sakes.

Which I’m sure I would have done too had all the many and varied tools of social media been available to me – what? – 17 years ago, next month when (at the time I was working as the Editor of a motorcycle magazine) I was invited to Milwaukee in the US of A to chronicle the company’s 100th anniversary celebrations.

While there I had the use of a 2002 model year Electra glide and pretty much free rein to ride whenever and wherever I wanted to on my ‘days off.’

With just a day to go before shipping back out to NZ I decided on a ‘ride-out’ to a huge accessories showcase in the infield of the famed Milwaukee Mile IndyCar oval.

Once there though it was the siren call not of a Harley-Davidson V-twin hat attracted me but the distinctive sound of a squadron of NASCAR V8s circulating the actual track at speed.

Thinking that I might have stumbled on a team or teams conducting some endurance testing I parked up ‘ma Hog’ and went for a wander, only to find not a test session but the Ricard Petty NASCAR Ride Experience in full swing.

Richard Petty Rookie Experience

These days you can book a ‘drive-the-car-yourself’ experience. Back then though it was just a ride ‘shotgun’ that was being offered. But when I asked and found out that you got six laps (three nominally warming the engine, tyres and brakes up and three ‘at pace) for just $US90 I was like ‘where do I sign.’

Thinking back and now – with the benefit of hindsight – I can absolutely understand why Kate got such a buzz out of the Nevis Swing.

True I didn’t get to physically drive the car. But there was enough going on for me to feel which end was about to step out and why and when the driver was going to run the low line more than once.

Sure. The NZ Market is probably too small for someone to make a living from touring a Drive or even a Ride Experience around the country.

Or it probably is if your thinking remains strictly ‘inside the box.’ Think outside it, though, and you never know…….

That, after-all is what AJ Hackett and Henry van Asch did. And look where it has got them?

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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  1. david abbott

    Great writing and story. Thanks Ross. Still not sure about drifting and the slow pace around corners…

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