The 70s was known as the beginning of the hey-day with epic battles between Barry B and Mel Kenyon from the USA, Super- Modifieds also started at The Springs, Barry raced a Chrysler Hemi motored number 3 nicknamed the Dracula. This was also the era that nicknamed Barry
“butter crunch “. Rich Vogler also appeared at the Springs and continued to be an unstoppable force even down under and a man by the nickname of “sleepy” debuted, today Ron Tripp still holds records and legend status second to none. Sleepy a multiple USAC champion, both pavement and dirt, tormented the kiwi stars and other visitors to the Springs, eventually winning 9 “50 lap classics” in his time and also numerous other races including that epic finish in 85 in the World 30 Lap derby, when he use the banked concrete wall to pass “rookie” Brett Horrobin, then being disqualified, the rookie became the eventual winner.
Barry was definitely the pioneer of Sprintcars to NZ, who could forget the Perfection Meats ex Willy Kay owned Marmont and Underwood run beast, something no one had ever seen, considered the first Sprintcar which he ran in 1977 and wingless too, it was amazing to watch, however a flat tire cost him the NZ title that year running a close Second.
Other legends made an impact like the first Springs King of the Dirt, multiple World Solo Bike Champion Ivan Mauger. Ivan represented and competed to the highest level in both long and short track around the world, and along with John Goodall from the 80s, not many have ever represented New Zealand and the Springs at that level since until our current NZ champion Bradley Wilson Dean.
The 70s also gave birth to other legends and NZ Champions like , Tony Allen in Sprintcars and Brain Tracey in Midgets, Brains son would be the next kiwi to make a statement known as the “Cyclone” Ted jumped on the scene quickly picking up his first of seven national titles in the 70s, he represented NZ numerous times in Midgets as a captain and rep, and even became the first kiwi to win the 50 lap classic the year he retired in 1993, as the current New Zealand Champion, The Butterworth battles of Max and Barry along with Ted and international hall of famers, Larry Rice, Stan Fox and Sleepy Tripp are Still known today as the ultimate era of speedway for the Springs and New Zealand. Sidecars and TQs still raced alongside Solos and Midgets and Sprintcar, these classes shaped the way to the future of the Springs from that point on.
The Jam Packed 80’s saw VW powered Midgets as the premiere class, by now, thousands flock the summer heat to Western Springs to witness the best International Motorsport Racing of its time, drivers and stunt people often arrived weekly in the Stadium by plane and parachute, one driver is remembered for making a splash in the lakeside adjoined, thankfully not the lion’s den of the zoo only yards away.
Air horns were popular and 22-24 meetings running from November through to March was a common sound for the intercity arena. Legends became stars without even driving a race car or competing in a race, track flagman Wild Bill mesmerised audiences with his passion and unbeatable flare with acts on the rim of the track and infield, jumping and rolling around between the cars as they finished. Squarebush the clown entertained the masses with his mini stock car, Sprintcar and even a sidecar, his attack on the flag pole flying the American flag, weekly with his chainsaw that had no chain, sent laughter’s through- out the mass crowd, silence beckoned the day the pole actually came down, then the huge crowd screamed with cheer and square bush disappeared like a criminal hiding from then promoter Reece Faccory. Other mascots dawned the age as well, American Stan Fox brought a Fox to push his car on the track and tease the crowd with American win celebrations, and the Sheriff also appeared keeping a watch full eye on the antics the infield provided.
Sleepy Tripp was still the one to beat, claiming multiple wins year after year, even Rice and Fox found it hard to compete against their own team mate, but when he wasn’t around the kiwis produced some world class racers, with Maurice Cowling, Owen Shaw, Pat Johnson, to name a few for the Midgets, the Sprintcars had Noel Goodwin, Alan Wakelin, Tony and Mike Allen, and towards the end Kerry Jones and Roger Bertram appeared here, all of them becoming NZ champions, Wakelin and Jones between them a rich 16 national titles.
Protest’s and battles saw many changes in the 80s, the first challenge from surrounding neighbours and councils began only a mere 60 plus years after opening, drivers also challenged rules, and so the CTRA Championships were created and more open wheel events appeared on calendars and around venues in Auckland, led in charge by the Outlaw himself, Barry Butterworth with both Kumeu and Meremere High banks emerging from the differences.
1985 also saw the next major upgrade in the track and stadium when the concrete banked wall was removed, and replaced with the flat wall and surface we know so well, the Springs also shut that season for repairs to the grandstands after a major slip caused damage, and a new layout with full concrete paving was created in the pits and also the main gate with an entire new ticketing entrance.
Upon return protest’s had held a dark cloud when Butterworth, Tracey, and Horribin were refused a license to run under SNZ sanctions at the Springs, and so the high banks took Midget Cars to the next level with aerodynamic wings to help ground them as the swung of the elevated corners and screamed at speeds down the extended long straights. The absence was noticed with poor attendance and complaints when the Springs re opened, and Tripp that year almost pushed his midget to victory on foot, unchallenged by the locals, the demand for the return of the outlaws was met in 87.
when they returned to the new layout and surface, the surface that cost us the solo bikes and sidecars when clay slowly started to get introduced into the track.
The slickness meant less water, a slicker race pack but also the end to the Bikes and Sidecars at The Springs after 56 years, Yet the stands still packed out to see the big winged warriors take shape and the TQs and Midgets, but promotions knew the needed to introduce further classes to replace the 2 wheelers as crowds wanted more and so came a completely new direction and introductions of other classes as we entered the 90s.
The 90s, provided the biggest change to the sport we love, starting with an all red Australian clay surface, the tracks didn’t produce any dust, the tackiness also meant that it didn’t take much rain to cancel events, or shut down events mid run, but when the weather was warm and the track was prepared right, a masterclass of machine, driver and track provided the 90 s Golden years. Sprintcars now took the full shape we know and love, slightly bigger wings, with full V8 horsepower as drivers battled to contain the awesome power and speed, fans couldn’t get enough, Gold Rush was born, Kerry Jones and Wakelin started there dominant run, Tony Allen was still winning titles, the Marshall battery 1nz still vivid today, Owen Shaw joined the class moving up from the Midgets where he held a New Zealand Championship and a rep in the test team against the best, he also produced some of the best presented cars still to date, the Autotrader yellow and blue #43 and the Maroon and white just to name a couple, Keith “Simbo” Simpson with his Ford challenge amongst all the chevs, and Rocket Ray Jones with the Agip yellow and white colours quickly earned the nickname as the OG “Rocketman”, Tommy Rusher edge the path with battles and memories in both the Sprintcar and later in a midget before he retired, and the 90s was the first time we saw Former national champions in the midget class, Shayne Alach and Kerry Brocas, both still competing and dominating here at the Springs today. International stars also came down with their top class machinery displaying performances that the audiences couldn’t believe, NASCAR legend Jeff Gordon piloted the John Rae #7 undefeated at the SprIngs, Jac “the wild child” Hausenchild, found love with NZ and in NZ, Ronnie Day and Jimmy Sills, set the bar, but it was a kiwi who took the chequered when in 1992 the first 60 lap Sprintcar feature race was held, an epic finish between Rae and Shaw set the crowd wild, a race that has never been repeated.
A few different classes tried to make it at the Springs, the 90s was definitely the years to open the sport to new things, with the crowds getting smaller, new ideas would try an attract the masses back, ATV bikes gave it a go in 93/94, even the Australian legend car was due to join the line-up, however a crowd display test performance with Graham Standring behind the wheel ended in the wall after only two laps, and the class was never seen here.
Now that Sprintcars had formed to be a crowd favourite, two men named Leith Maskovich and Richard Battersby helped introduce Mini Sprints to the Springs, a mix of motorbike engines like the TQs with a Midget Chassis, and a wing to top it all off, was the birth of the perfect mix for every class, and that class grew with popularity over the next 6-8 years. A change in horsepower and production saw the modified sprint class born, and featured across the city at another Speedway, then the fight for naming rights proved all too much hassle and in the early 2000s, the class disappeared from the Springs, not to return again until 2016.
The Americans introduced more star line ups to compete down under, with the off season in full force, The world 50 lap classic was considered one of the biggest Midget races in the world, eventually claiming its right to also be a great warm up to the now infamous Chilli Bowl Nationals, Drivers like Jimmy Sills joined Tripp downunder, also Fox was still around, husband and wife duo, Wayne and Denise Bennet made a major impact, Mark “Porkchop” Passerelli was unbeatable, even a 16 year old JJ Yealy came and impressed in his beautifully prepared black with a gold #2 USA in the 90s.
Final – part 3 to come!