A Brief History of New Zealand
Stockcar Racing from 1954.
By the late Gavin Evitt. Editor of "Side Rail" the newsletter of the Vintage Stockcar Club of Auckland. New Zealand.
November 27th 1954, Aranui
Speedway Christchurch witnessed the first stockcar races in New Zealand, Bill
Harris in a 1935 Ford Sedan was the first winner of a stockcar race in New
The stockcar racing as we know it came from USA Jalopy racing and Demolition Derby’s, probably from Soldiers Field, Chicago where some racing was witnessed by two French event promoters touring the USA looking for ideas. They imported their version of the racing to France and ran a number of meetings in front of huge crowds at the Stad Buffalo, Paris in 1953. In 1954 the sport was launched as ‘Stockcar Racing’ in England with the first meeting taking place at New Cross Stadium on Good Friday (April 16th) 1954 in front of 30,000 spectators. Within weeks many English speedways and Greyhound racing tracks sprouted safety fences and put on stockcar meetings. (Thanks to Trevor Chater in UK for correcting the location of that first meeting)
All this activity was not lost on the many Commonwealth speedway solo riders racing in England at this time, three New Zealanders in particular who observed the huge crowds and crash and bash racing in old cars were Mick Holland, Merv Neil, and Ray New. While Ray New’s impact on NZ stockcar racing would not happen until 1963, Mick Holland and Merv Neil were responsible for the introduction of stockcars to NZ in late 1954.
Mick Holland’s wife Alison was a Co-Promoter with Des Wild at Christchurch’s Aranui Speedway and upon the Holland’s return from England set about formulating rules and approaching potential racers for stockcar racing to be part of the speedway program for the 1954/55 season. And so it was that on opening night November 27th the first stockcar races were held in NZ.
Photo at left shows first
Stockcars ready for practice at Western Springs.
Stockcar racing in Auckland moved to the Epsom Show-grounds for the 1955/56 season after a dispute with the Spring’s promotion over the number of races and prize money, and carried on there until March 1959. Four glorious seasons that saw two visits by Australian Teams and a visit to Australia by a New Zealand team. Sadly, tragedy struck in January 1959 with the death of Des McCollum in a Test Match against the Australian team and this along with the introduction of Night Trotting at next door Alexandra Park were largely responsible for the Showground Board not agreeing to a lease extension for the 1959-60 season.
There was still stockcar racing at Western Springs during this time, mainly with drivers tied to other speedway classes, two races a night amongst the speedway events, and the first Teams Race ever was held between Canterbury and Auckland in March 1956 at Western Springs. Stockcar only meetings mid week were tried for a short time at Western Springs in 1956 taking stocks off the Saturday night bill, but even the Springs faithful didn’t attend in big enough numbers, never mind the stockcar fans from Epsom. In 1961 the final stockcar races were run at Western Springs and activity moved to a new track at Gloucester Park for three short seasons before closing and leaving Auckland drivers with nowhere to race.
In Christchurch the stockcars were ditched after two seasons at Aranui, continual fence damage was the main reason and a temporary home was found on the paddocks of Templeton Domain where stockcar scrambles were held. Ironically some of the monies raised at these events went towards the establishment of a new speedway track at Templeton.
The opening of Templeton Speedway in April 1962 saw stockcars back as a regular feature on the speedway program until finally being ditched in 1964, again mainly through the large amount of fence damage created. South Island stockcars were to return to the paddocks for scramble racing until the establishment of permanent tracks at Nelson and Woodford Glen with cars running to the same rules as the North Island. During the period that the South Island cars ran on the scramble tracks the sport spread to many places and cars evolved away from the original stockcar and became very different to the cars racing on the closed speedway tracks of the North.
While 1964 had seen the death of stockcars in Auckland and Christchurch, in Palmerston North it was seeing boom times thanks to Ray New who introduced stockcars to bolster vanishing crowds at his speedway meetings. The advent of Television was starting to impact people’s entertainment habits and Ray New saw stockcars as a salvation just as the English Promoters had in 1954. Ray New saw the start of the sport in England and in fact soon started to take part, racing under his Steve Storm label for two lucrative seasons. Racing stockcars at four meetings a week in England paid considerably more than he could earn riding a solo speedway bike, or holding down an ordinary job. Interestingly Ray New went to his contacts at the Coventry Speedway in England for his fence design and car rules rather than use the knowledge already gained in Auckland. He later claimed that he knew nothing of any stockcar racing taking place in New Zealand before he introduced it to Palmerston North although he had an Auckland team racing at his third meeting!
The success of Palmerston North was the catalyst that saw stockcar racing spread through the provincial towns of North Island NZ and by 1967 Stratford, Napier, Hamilton, Rotorua, and Auckland were also running tracks under ACU Speedway Control Board Rules. Later tracks were to open at Upper Hutt, Mt. Maunganui, Wanganui, and Tokoroa. In 1974 it was the opening of Woodford Glen in Christchurch as an ACU accredited track, that finally saw the South Island run the same type of car, and to the same rules, as the North Island that accounts today for the sport being truly National and continuing to grow.
Through the years the cars have changed and evolved from 1930’s V8’s with crash bars added, to full steel chassis purpose built race cars running Hi-Tech engines and suspensions. This evolution into the Super-stocks of today also increased the cost of a car from the $50 of 1954 to nearly $100,000 for some cars now. In the mid eighties the concern of rising costs saw the introduction of Standard Stockcars at Auckland and Rotorua, this class has now become a National Class known as “Stockcars”, while the “Superstocks” cater for the costlier Hi-Tech end of the sport.
Written early 2007.