When you can’t see the wood for the trees

As community recreation facilities go TECT All Terrain Park in the Bay of Plenty has got to be one of New Zealand’s finest.

Situated pretty much equidistant between Tauranga and Rotorua (26km from Pyes Pa, 27km from Roto-Vegas), it covers a land area of 1650 hectares and caters for everything from walking, horse riding, mountain bike riding, paintball, clay bird and small-bore rifle shooting, 4WDing, MX and…….what I can only describe as a weird sort of mash-up of rally driving, off-road racing and speedway which in my humble opinion isn’t helping anyone. Which I will get to in a minute!

I’ve been to the park twice now, the first time to test the then new Jeep Cherokee four years ago, and the second (two years ago) to put a bunch of 4WD Utes through their paces.

Each time I’ve been there I’ve marvelled at the vision displayed by the Western Bay of Plenty District Council, Tauranga City Council, Bay Trust and Tauranga Energy Consumer Trust (where the TECT in the name comes from) in setting the place up in the first place………….but at the same time worried that with the way it is run at the moment the Te Matai Motorsport zone, on the eastern side of SH36, is never going to get out of second gear!

Because?

Hmmm. Where do I start?

At the beginning is probably the best place. So…. Te Matai Motorsport Inc was set up back in 2011 and currently represents four affiliated clubs, Motorsport BoP, BoP Radio Control Car Club, the BoP 4WD Club and Waikato Off-road Racing Club.

Fair enough you say? A decent enough spread of interests and user groups……

The problem as I see it, however, is two-fold, and it starts with who is NOT being catered for……namely, anyone under the age of 30!

For the past 10-15 years, the only real – organic – growth in motorsport here, and from what I can see, across the Tasman, in the US and as far afield as Ireland, Scotland, Latvia and yes even places like Poland has been in drifting at the grass roots level.

Grumble, moan, and rant if you like about ‘bloody boy racers’ but you can’t ignore the facts.

Sure, each year, a new crop of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young-guns – the likes of our own Marcus Armstrong and Liam Lawson – emerge from the crucible that is top-level karting here and overseas to take on their peers in a fight-to-the death for the one-or-two F1 seats that become available every year.

But they are the exception that proves the rule.

As most of us know but try hard not to think too much about, even at its most basic level, conventional motorsport – be it circuit racing, rallying, 4×4 Trials or Off-Road Racing – is hideously expensive. And if you are a young bloke or blokess trying to eke out a living on or near the minimum wage, any sort of coordinated campaign can only really be contemplated if your Dad is a fan and owns a sizeable business through which he can ‘absorb’ the Lion’s share of the costs.

Again, there’s nothing wrong with this per se; for a start it sorts out those who have serious commitment as well as desire, driving talent and dollars and – as the old saying goes – if it was easy, everyone would be doing it….

What, however, if like most people, you work for a living and must pay for any extra-curricular motorsport activity from your own hard-earned – not to mention, hard-to-keep-a-hold-of – tax-paid dollars?

Are you limited to a life of spectating, or working on rather than driving a car yourself?

That – seriously – is probably the simplest and most practical option. However, human nature being what it is there is another way; and in the case here and around the world for the past 10-15 years that way has been to flick your middle-finger at ‘the man’ and either build up a cheap rear-wheel-drive ‘daily driver’ or no reg/no-WoF ‘skid hack.’

For some this, obviously, has meant a one-way ticket to trouble with the law. For others though, it has meant getting together with like-minded mates at grassroots drift meetings like the ones Drew and Jodie Donovan used to run under their Drift Motorsport tag at Bruce McLaren Motorsport Park in Taupo or those organised now by Mad Mike Whiddett (Drift Force) at Hampton Downs, and/or Haydn Storey’s Drift Direct days at Evergreen Drift Park.

I’m – obviously – a good 25-35 years older than the majority of attendees, but at the end of the day we are all united by the fact that we all enjoy a good skid in a car which we can actually afford, not just to buy (my Skyline for instance, cost me the grand sum of $475 on Trade Me with Reg & WoF but a rooted auto trans) but also to maintain, repair and run….

OK, if I tallied up all the receipts, I have gathered over the past 12 years of ownership, I’d no doubt give myself a bit of a fright as to how much more I have spent keeping the thing running.  But it would still be chump change compared with running – say – a rally car or even dedicated off-roader at club-national level over the same period,

Which leads me back to the issues I have with TECT All Terrain Park and the Te Matai Motorsport Inc group apparently ‘managing’ the motorsport facilities on behave of the 2.5 million people living within a two-and-a-half-hour drive of its front gate.

For a start, I’m one of those 2.5 million people AND have a ‘race-ready’ ‘club-car’ yet if I wasn’t my usual snoopy self, I wouldn’t know either;That there was a place called TECT All Terrain Park, and

– That it supposedly has an area dedicated to ‘motorsport.’

-That’s not the only thing either.

When I was looking after the media side of things for the D1NZ  national drifting championship series, we found out, in talks with the various local bodies in the greater ‘Bay area, that they were struggling to find ways to entertain a new generation of ‘young people…..’

For years the popular consensus from those of us outside the area was that the ‘Bay was a veritable ‘retirees’ paradise;’ or ‘God’s Waiting Room’ as I had heard it called on more than one occasion!!!

“Not so,” said the council types, explaining that for the past 15 to 20 years young couples had been taking advantage of the benign climate, beautiful white sand beaches, cheap housing and bountiful work prospects by moving there and starting families, meaning the average age of your typical ‘Bay resident, was significantly lower than that – say – of other broadly similar areas in the North Island like Hawke’s Bay and Whanganui.

This was one of the reasons the local councils welcomed the D1NZ National Drifting Championship to the big Bay Park stadium in 2014 first to a car park course in behind the stadium, then to a purpose-built concrete track in the stadium proper.

It was also one of the reasons why D1NZ main man Brendon White put on both a skate (and in-line scooter) comp and FMX display as an adjunct to the first ‘Bay round of his series.

Add in the fact that there was already a large and talented fraternity of drifters in the area (check out the 2019 event above) led by flamboyant ‘crowd favourite’ Cole Armstrong, and ably assisted by now husband-and-wife ‘partners-in-drift’ Drew and Jodie Donovan, not to mention the likes of Ben Belcher and his hard-core FD3 Mazda RX7 (whose Defwish Drift/Bragging Rights video you can check out below) and you had a pretty much perfect ‘entertainment’ drawcard.

So how come every time I turn up at one of Mad Mike’s Drift Force days at Hampton Downs, or Haydn Storey’s regular events at Evergreen Drift Park I usually end up parked up beside someone from Tauranga, Te Puke or even Whakatane?

The simple answer is that despite the obvious demand for some sort of tarmac-based drift track or even skid pad in the greater ‘Bay area (and this now also includes another hot-bed of regional drift talent, Rotorua) TECT All Terrain Park is only catering for dirt-based rally, off-road and speedway ‘action.’

I’m sure the current ‘management group’ will be able to come up with any number of reasons why they are not catering for the largest potential user-group in the area, the main one – no doubt – money!

To which all I can say is;

-How much would it cost – particularly if you put the word around the greater drift community – to lay down a simple base and cover it with asphalt? $150-$300K? Probably less, or – in other words – chicken sh.t compared with the cost of building a proper sealed ‘circuit,’ speedway oval or drag strip.

-On which point, while another dedicated drift ‘track’ like Evergreen would be fantastic, what NZ needs at the moment is a large flat space which can be coned off to teach newbies the basics one minute and experienced drivers the art of proximity and how to battle, the next. Like the one  you can see here in US YouTube ‘sensation’ Adam LZ’s video

-There’s plenty of room in the Te Matai Motorsport precinct to do this without interfering with the existing speedway/rallycross oval and more than enough trees to absorb the noise.

– Finally, the buggers need to ‘sell’ themselves and their facility. Because if they don’t soon, some other, better organised, more vocal sport will start agitating for a ‘place at the table’ and all of  a sudden a ‘world class equestrian centre’ or ‘Olympic-level artificial yachting lake’ or some other such monstrosity will be built in its place

Or not. As the case may be. Because, as always this is just my opinion. And I might well be so wrong, so biased, so full of sh.t that it’s scary.

Either way I think the current state – and future direction – of the Te Matai Motorsport Inc-managed part of TECT All Terrain Park is worthy of both a long hard look and some spirited debate.

If you’d like to have your say log in to the Talk Motorsport website and leave a comment. Or look us up on Facebook, chuck us a ‘lazy like’ and tell us what you think in the Comments section.

If nothing else some of you will decide its worth a trip to check out the place yourself. And if enough of us make enough noise, you never know, the trustees might take note and….shock, horror…do something for the greater good of the youth of the ‘Bay…..rather than the greater good of…………..themselves!!!!

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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