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

Good bugger! That in a nutshell is the way Scottish-born Queensland-residing, New Zealand circuit-owing businessman Tony Quinn would, no doubt, prefer to be thought of by those who have benefited from his largesse here.

But seriously, Quinn (or ‘TQ,’ as those close to him in motor racing circles seem to have settled on as a sobriquet) has surely done – and continues to do – more for ‘motor racing’ in its broadest definition here than any other single person – this side of Sir Colin GIltrap and fellow ‘motor trade’ entrepreneur Peter ‘PJ” Johnson, anyway.

This week in the first of two columns dedicated to Quinn I’m going to background his own journey. Then in next week’s (column) I’ll put together a sort of treasure map of what he is proposing to spend in order to find, nurture and assist our next SVG or Liam Lawson….

So, when he first returned here (of which more in a minute) to contest the Targa NZ (first in a Porsche before the Nissan GT-R35 he is arguably best-known for, then more recently a Lamborghini Huracan, and another Porshe, TQ has been quietly but effectively investing in the sport here as well as in his ‘other’ home, Australia.

Initially, while he still owned and ran his flagship business, V.I.P Petfoods, then branched out with son Klark to buy and rebuild the ailing Darrell-Lea confectionary business, the bulk of his investment in the motor racing side of things was – and fair enough – on the other side of the Tasman.

Few people here, probably know, that ‘TQ’s’ first foray into category ownership and management came when he purchased the rights to own and run Australia’s Carrera Cup Series, initially with some fellow racers, then in partnership with long-time category manager, the late Jamey Blaikie.

More (people here will know) about Quinn’s next ‘category’ purchases across the Tasman, the exotic GT3-based Australian GT Championship and rather more prosaic motorcycle-engined three-quarter-scale Aussie Racing Car Series.

At time of purchase, I remember ‘TQ’ being bullish about the opportunities for both series to grow and prosper on both sides of the Tasman.

As it turned out that didn’t happen – despite his best efforts, which included drafting in the likes of our best and brightest – including Supercars’ series pace-setter Shane Van Gisbergen and top Kiwi drift international Mad Mike Whiddett as co-drivers.

If there is one thing TQ is not, however, is sentimental. Despite – for instance – growing V.I.P. Petfoods from scratch, and effectively saving Australia’s Darrell-Lea confectionary (think chocolate and in particular, Liquorice) from oblivion TQ had absolutely no compunction in selling both to the same private equity company – Sydney-based Quadrant Private Equity.

Back in 2015, for instance Quadrant paid TQ $410 million for V.I.P. Petfoods and three year later it stumped up a further $200 million for a majority stake (Quinn family interests retaining a 10-20% minority stake) in the Darrell-Lee business.

Which is all a – very – long way from the humble beginnings in Scotland’s northeast TQ himself describes in his ‘auto’ biography, ‘Zero to 60’ published here in 2016.

Again, however, what a lot of people don’t know about Quinn is that though he didn’t really start competing seriously until he gave Australia’s annual Targa Tasmania event ‘a go’ back in the early 2000s, TQ had got his start at a club level in Scotland back in the day, first in his road car, a Ford Escort, then in an old Merlin Formula Ford.

He even shipped a newer Hawke FF out with him, wife Christina, and the first two of their four children, Kelda and Klark, when they originally emigrated to Perth, in Western Australia – though it was eventually sold as TQ focused on his future.

Which, as it turned out, included another move – this time to New Zealand where the family spent a year in Dargaville and eight more in Whangarei. 

There Quinn went right back to basics, setting you a rendering business as his father had in Scotland when he was in his teens.

Rendering led – as it had his father before him – to his own line of wet pet food, which in turn led, at the invitation of one of the supermarket chains he was supplying, to head back across the Tasman and ‘scale things up.’

The success of that little venture has left TQ a fabulously wealthy – yet still an incredibly ‘driven’ man.

He still owns – with members of his family – Game Over ‘family leisure centres’ across Australia and in Auckland and Queenstown, and as I write this, we will know within the next 10 days or so if his bid to add Taupo’s Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park to his circuit roster has been successful.

Tony Quinn and Naomi Tillett competing in the 2017 Targa Rotorua

He has already bought a stake in the Red Bull and Ampol-backed team (Triple Eight Race Engineering) which runs Shane Van GIsbergen & Jamie Whincup in the Repco Australian Supercars Championship, and keeps race fit at rounds of that series competing in the Aussie Racing Cars series (which he still owns).

And though he COVID-19 situation has kept him ‘at home’ in Australia for coming up to 18 months now his plans to help promising young Kiwi racing drivers get ahead have come on in leaps and bounds.

As he told me back in 2016, after he had just added a second circuit – Hampton Downs – to what he was already planning was to be a long term portfolio anchored by ‘his jewel-in-the-crown,’ Highlands Motorsport Park in Cromwell; “nothing I have ever done has been for ‘the money, it’s more about living life and doing something worthwhile, something that makes a difference with that money.” 

A good bugger, then?

Oath!

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

See also: Tony Quinn buys into Triple Eight Race Engineering

See also: $60k Tony Quinn Foundation prize package a boost for Formula Ford racing in NZ

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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