They were the “First Place to Race” in 2020, way out west, on a purpose-built track that has come a long way since it’s opening meeting in January 2015.
The Taranaki Off-road Racing Club’s home track is the result of a discussion in the local pub after a couple of the members who had been racing out of town over the weekend decided they wanted to have a local track here in Taranaki.
A mate of a couple of the members, local landowner Robin Lilley, who was at the pub at the time, suggested they check out his farm, located 5km from Midhirst. Greg Lang, Kevin Vickers, Ricky May, and Mike & Gary Preston went out and took a look.
Lang is the owner of the local Lanco Earthmoving company, and the group figured with his skills, gear, and knowledge they could turn one particular hilly paddock with a bit of swamp in the middle into a pretty cool track.
However, soon more of the local Taranaki off-road competitors found out and all got involved and the club soon ended up with 4 Diggers, a Dump Truck, a Bulldozer, and Tractor and Trailers at the site, creating a completely new track.
The track itself is dirt surfaced, about 1.2km long, with formed and natural jumps, mostly sharp corners, and a long main straight. Following the latest club working bee, just before lockdown, it is now wide enough for at least 3 car wide racing over the entire circuit.
There is a strong club focus on safety, and almost the whole track has either a tyre or concrete wall to keep both drivers and spectators safe. The track is well equipped for competitors, marshals, and spectators, with start lights in place, and a raised 20ft container serves as an accessway from the pits to the spectator stands, right over the top of the dummy grid.
Permanent Marshall Huts, Lap scorer’s box, public toilets, and a spectator seating and parking area have all been added over the short space of 5 years.
The club even managed to source some steel bridge barriers to put around the spectators parking to enhance safety.
Club members officially opened the track with a club day in January 2015 with about 10 cars and since then has continued to grow. Each year since then, mostly over the Christmas period, more earthmoving has been carried to get the club, and venue, to where they are now.
The Track is very dry, but as soon as any water goes on it does turn very slick in some places. And depending on how much water there is can be very muddy and difficult to get through, which the drivers agree, makes it all that much more fun.
In 2019 the club hosted the first round of the National Off-road Racing Championship Series. With over 60 cars entered from all over NZ, most drivers had never competed there before.
The racing was held over 1 day, with prize giving that night. The race format was three sprints of five laps then two fifteen lap features, where the remaining cars were split into two points scoring groups.
The venue was an immediate hit, as was the organisation, with its family friendly atmosphere.
Every year the club hosts one round of the three-round Central Series, which usually brings 20 to 30 drivers, including out of towners, to compete. The other rounds are held by the Palmerston North and Hawkes Bay off-roading clubs
This year Taranaki have decided to run the event in conjunction with their ladies’ event. The day consists of three short course races and a time trial, and is open to any lady driver in an ORANZ Registered car, with a one day license.
Last year was the inaugural running of this event, and all had the drivers (and most of the car owners) had a blast! A huge Trophy, kindly donated by Dan’s Tractor Repairs Hawera is up for grabs, which makes it well and truly worth it.
This year’s round will be the series final, to be contested on November 14/15th.
The 2020 ‘First Place to Race’ winner took out the Gavin Frost Memorial Trophy. Gavin was a great member who raced with the Taranaki club in the early ’90s. Gavin passed away whilst racing in 1998.
The ‘First Place to Race’ meeting was a two-day event, with 3 short course rounds on the Saturday, and a 50 lap race on the Sunday. This Year Taranaki Club member Brendon Old took this out in his class 3 buggy, after a race-long battle.
The club has a number of drivers and teams that feature on the National scene. Brendon Old who started racing in 2012 in a 2 seater class 3 buggy, placed 2NZ in that class. Looking for more competitive overall performances, he has recently imported a single-seater pro buggy from the States.
Brendon rates his biggest highlights from racing as seeing the chequered flag at the end of endurance races, especially the NZ 1000, a two day 1000km marathon, run over two days through Central North Island forests.
Brendon’s daughter McKenzie has now taken over the two-seater Class 3, and also puts up a good race.
Rick Field races a brand new Can-Am side by side buggy, and enjoys the buggy’s ability “to go fast and provide lots of fun, whether it’s fine or raining”. Rick has traveled to many different tracks over the years of racing, but especially enjoys Taranaki’s more family approach to the sport.
Ricks Brother Jake and his father have also competed at Midhurst in Can-Ams.
Jesseka Fairclough is TORC’s only full-time female racer. Following in both her Dad and Mums’ footsteps, she started racing in 2017 after racing ministocks at speedway for four years.
Racing in Class 3 Jess enjoys the comradeship of the other racers. In 2018 she took out 2nd in Class 3 and 2nd overall out of all club members and then in 2019 she finished 2nd in the Ladies Championship and 2nd in Class 3 for the central series after winning her class in the first round in palmy on 3 wheels!
Dan Fromings built and raced off-roaders in the 80s competing at various tracks around New Zealand. Then in 2017 he purchased and set up a Class 10 buggy after a few years off raising a family.
He rejoined the Taranaki club, and raced for a couple of local meetings, before destroying the buggy. Hooked back into the sport, he bought another rocket ship Class 10 and raced that with good results.
From there he imported a Class 1 car from the USA, which he ran quite successfully for a couple of years, and is currently repowering with a Class 3 Toyota (of course)! Both Dan and his wife Susan are presently on Taranaki Off-road Racing Club Committee with Susan as Club Treasurer.
Dean Christmas, the Club President, first started racing in 1992 in Class 1, and from there built his new car, a Class 7, with the help of Gavin Frost before settling into a Challenger buggy. His wife Shirley raced a Class 7, and they toured the country with both cars in tow.
Dean won the Challenger NZ1 title and the Gavin Frost Memorial in 2000. In 2002 he gave up four wheels and went racing bikes, but in 2018 he bought a Class 3 and has returned to off-roading.
Since then he has rebuilt the whole car, now running a 20valve blacktop Toyota and is loving being back behind the wheel. Next goal will be to race Class 1. His signature quote is “2nd is the first of the losers”.
Ricky May is another club member with a pretty successful racing past, including co-driving to a Taupo 1000 win. He bought his first Class 3 buggy when he was 13 after he had raced with his father in a 2 seater Challenger.
From there he moved to a Class 7, but after blowing four engines in a year, he converted that into a Challenger, which he raced for a few years.
Staying with the Class, he then brought a top of the line buggy which saw him on the podium regularly, before it was destroyed when it ended up wrapped around a power pole after the trailer failed.
With the help of sponsorship, he built a brand new Challenger which he still currently races, winning the National Championship in the Class. In 2017 Ricky bought his dream offroader, a V8 unlimited Class 8 truck that he now races.
The club has a total of 29 racing members, 12 social members, and 2 honorary members, and can call on a host of volunteers that turn up every month to assist with Marshalling, Lap scoring, Parking, and the BBQ, to keep every event running as smoothly as possible.
As well as the Central Series/ ladies race weekend, the club is planning to repeat the ‘First Place to Race’, but holds regular club race days on the second Sunday of every month.
At the December meeting, which is also prize giving, fun races are the feature, where the behind the scenes members jump in a car and have a turn. The Wives, Children, Friends, Mechanics, and Marshalls all then get a chance to show their skills.
The club enthusiastically recognises the contributions of a huge number of supporters and sponsors who have helped get them where they are today. Every little bit has helped so much to build what has become one of the best tracks in the country.
-LANCO EX LTD- Vickers Quarries-PFT Transport -Field Transport-Field Spreaders – TSB – EasySteel Methanex- Contact Energy- Henare Earthmovers- Dign4u Ltd- Uhlenberg Haulage – United Steel
Titan Cranes Limited- Energy Hydraulics – BTW Company- West End Hire – Outdoor Power & Hire – Horizon Energy Services Ltd- Fieldtorque Taranaki- Quintin Oakes Builders Ltd
WORDS THANKS TO JESSEKA FAIRCLOUGH.