Story: Motor sport

Page 7. Speedway and drag racing

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First speedway races

Speedway races are generally held on an oval dirt track. Midget cars joined motorbikes on Wellington speedway circuits in 1936. From the mid-1950s stockcars (originally standard production cars, rather than specially designed racing cars) dominated speedway racing. Super-modified and saloon speedway cars arrived in the 1960s, and sprint cars from 1974.

Stock-car racing

Stock-car racing is administered by Speedway New Zealand, which supervises 24 tracks throughout New Zealand. A mix of 24 different speedway classes are run from October to May. Stock cars are the largest class in speedway racing and probably the most entertaining, with their traditional ‘bump-and-crash’ driving techniques. Cars are built to an extremely rigid design to protect the driver during collisions. They are grouped into:

  • superstocks, which have purpose-built chassis and 4-litre engines
  • stock cars, which have some technical restraints to control costs
  • streetstocks, which are based on strengthened road cars and have limited-contact rules.

Other speedway classes

Other four-wheel speedway classes are saloon-based groups, and open-wheel categories such as sprint cars, midgets, minisprints and modifieds. Sprint cars, which are also popular in Australia and the United States, are high-powered V8s with massive wings (to create downforce) – the fastest four-wheelers around New Zealand speedway tracks. A race format unique to New Zealand stock car racing is team racing, where two teams of four cars each work together to win a race, often by eliminating opponents.

Stock-car racing has been a family-orientated form of motor sport for many years and many competitors move out of the youth ministock class into adult racing when they reach the age of 17. The most active region for speedway racing is the lower North Island, which includes the Palmerston North and Wellington tracks.

Drag racing

In drag racing specially modified vehicles compete in pairs to travel a set distance, typically 400 metres, from a standing start. Drag racing started in New Zealand in the mid-1960s, originally under the New Zealand Hot Rod Association. The first drag meeting is believed to have been held in 1966 in an opencast coal mine south of Auckland. The fastest time was 17 seconds by a 1937 V8 coupe. Garth Hagen was the first New Zealand drag racer to break the five-second barrier, in 1987.

The first purpose-built drag-racing strip opened at Meremere in 1973. In 2012 the main strips were at Meremere, Taupō and Christchurch. Races were also held on airfield strips at Alexandra, Nelson, Masterton and Tokoroa. Since 1993 drag races have been conducted under the New Zealand Drag Racing Association, which claims 2,000 licensed competitors.

How to cite this page:

Jim Webber, 'Motor sport - Speedway and drag racing', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/motor-sport/page-7 (accessed 18 September 2019)

Story by Jim Webber, published 5 Sep 2013, updated 1 Apr 2016