Thrills and spills at Waikaraka Park

2 Jul 2024 | Articles

Holly Molander at Waikaraka Park Speedway

Waikaraka Park!
Roaring in the dark
Thrills and spills, smoke and sparks
Waikaraka Park!

I'll bet you just sang along to this famously catchy Waikaraka Park Speedway jingle – even if you’ve never been. It’s been on Auckland’s airwaves for so long now that it’s almost part of the city’s DNA.

I recently headed out for my first ever night at the speedway, to talk with some of the volunteers who make this particular slice of motorsport magic possible.

And oh boy – what an epic night of high-octane, high-volume, fast-paced, action-packed fun! The night lived up to all the jingle’s promises – the roaring engines, thrills, spills, smoke, sparks, and more.

Volunteer videographer Elaine Zhang captured the action in the fabulous video below.

It’s like being transported to a whole other world (I can only imagine what these guys could do if they got their hands on a De Lorean and a flux capacitor!).

And everywhere you look there are volunteers.

Waikaraka Park committee member Dion Burgess – who’s a volunteer himself – says there are around 50-60 volunteers on race nights. ‘Waikaraka Park simply couldn’t operate without them,’ he says.

As the fans arrive there are volunteers helping with parking, at the gate selling tickets and merchandise, and in the clubrooms and bar.

Under the grandstand, volunteer scrutineers check helmets and safety gear, and brief the various groups of volunteers and racing teams.

In the pits – which are jammed with racing teams and support crews – vehicle checkers ensure each vehicle complies with the rules. And there are quite a few rules to know, as Waikaraka Park Speedway boasts 10 different classes: Mini-stocks (kids), stock cars, super stocks, modifieds, 6-shooters, street stocks, vintage stocks, and production saloons.

Pit co-ordinators liaise with each team as they’re called for their races; and a pit marshall who calls teams forward (and announces whether anyone needs to go to the referees box).

Out on the track the track prep crew are busy. Water trucks spray the track to prevent dust, and a wheel packing driver packs down the track where needed.

As the start time nears, an uproariously cheerful parade of all the competitors makes its way around the track – a cacophony of blaring horns and music, banners and flags aloft, and teams with their families and support crew all doing a lap past the excited crowd. It’s a family affair – from tiny tots (all wearing suitable ear protection!) to people whose ages we couldn’t politely ask!

Then it’s time for the first race – and still more volunteers step up to make it happen. Gate staff manhandle the big steel gates separating the pits from the track. In the flag box the starter is ready with the green starter flag and checkered winning flag.

And they’re off!

The racing is a blur of the roaring engines, thrills, spills, smoke and sparks promised by the famous jingle. A regular fan explains that each team fields four vehicles per race – one main racer, and three others attempting to block their competitors.

After some inevitable crash, bang, wallop (cue huge roars of appreciation from the capacity crowd filling the stands) the tow trucks stationed on the infield get to work – most often separating vehicles which have got tangled, or sometimes hauling a disabled car off the track altogether.

The fire crews – also stationed on the infield in fire safety vehicles and behind very sturdy concrete bunkers – race into action when one car slides into the wall right in front of me, and keeps sliding for another 50 metres or so before finally coming to rest half on the wall and half on the track (but safely on the other side of the very high safety fence).

Luckily, their fire extinguishers are not needed. The driver is helped from his near-vertical vehicle and – unharmed – gives us all a wave as the towies get to work wresting his unfortunate vehicle off the barrier, where it’s become pretty well stuck.

Unseen by the excited crowd are the lap scorers (I really can’t imagine how they keep track of the action – but somehow they do!) and the referees, up on the third storey of the trackside tower.

The referees have a mind-boggling task: Keeping an eagle eye out for any infraction of the racing rules, which form a chunk of a 300-page rule book which also covers the technical and safety rules for vehicles and equipment. There are around 100 different penalties for various infringements, in a ‘fixed penalty system’ which ensure the rules are applied fairly and consistently across the country.

Among them is referee Holly Molander.

‘My dad was involved with speedway as a referee for a few years,' says Holly. 'One day they were short on help so I’ve been roped in. It’s been seven years since that day, and I absolutely love it!’

It’s quickly obvious that most of the volunteers are long-timers.

‘We have a great culture,’ explains Dion. ‘We try to make everyone feel like they’re part of a team – a part of the family. Volunteers can do up to 20 nights during the summer season – there from 5pm to about 10.30 or 11 at night. It’s a chunk of time.’

But by the number who’ve been doing this for many years, it’s clear they love it.

Dion says: ‘We’ve built up a lot of experience in the team, because they stay for such a long time.’

That dedication and commitment of those dozens of volunteers – both seen and unseen – keeps the wheels turning at Waikaraka Park, and means the fans enjoy a full racing calendar each year.

As the night’s racing ends the crowds empty out of the stands chattering about the highlights of the night, the shutters come down on the burger bar, the spotlights are turned off, and the racing crews pack up.

Thanks to the volunteers, they’ll be back again for the next race, and the next, and the next.

Go on … sing along … you know you want to!

Waikaraka Park!
Roaring in the dark
Thrills and spills, smoke and sparks
Waikaraka Park!

Story: Ruth Jackson
Videography & production: Elaine Zhang

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