MASTERTON MOTORPLEX HISTORY

Please note; this page is under construction, and we’ll be updating it as new info is provided. We’re also interested to get any additional information you may have to add – if you can help, please drop us a line!

Masterton Motorplex began as a club-run annual closed-road street drag meeting and street sprint, but has evolved into one of just two permanent drag strips in New Zealand. This section has been compiled to record the history behind the track.

PART 1: RAMRODDERS – 1/8 MILE STREET DRAGS

In the early days of drag racing in new Zealand, many hot rod clubs around the country ran various driving competitions for club members to try out their hotted-up cars. Ramrodders hot rod club was one such club; based in the Wairarapa town of Masterton, they developed a taste for straight-line racing. At the time, the popular eighth-mile street drags had a large following across New Zealand, due to the large number of people who wanted to race, and the lack of proper drag strips to race on. The New Zealand Hot Rod Association usually sanctioned these events, where a section of public road was closed off to traffic (with the permission of the local council), and set up as a temporary drag strip. These early events were well organised by enthusiastic club members, but were basic, usually with very little in the way of crowd protection barriers or safe spectator areas. The street drags were great fun, were well patronised by racers and spectators alike, and shone a positive light on the sport of drag racing, with many councils keen to help these events grow, with many a young spectator bitten by the drag racing ‘bug’. As time marched on however, the obligations being put on clubs to improve safety and the introduction of new ‘OSH’ (occupational safety & health) laws meant that the additional cost of crowd safety measures and the constant threat of legal liability if anything went wrong, became too high for many clubs. Adding to that was the many roads that had once been ideal for street drags became part of ever-expanding retail, residential, and industrial sprawl, making road closures much more difficult. As time progressed the more serious racers also stepped up to faster vehicles which meant they had no choice but to race on fully prepared quarter-mile drag strips. With two permanent drag strips in the North Island, (Meremere [Champion] Dragway near Auckland, and Thunder Park near Hastings) to cater for the serious racers and keen spectators, most street drags were left to slowly die. There are still some street drags being successfully run in the lower North Island – Cam County’s ‘Port Road Street Drags’ (celebrating 50 years in 2016) and the Wanganui Street Drags. Both events still pull big crowds, and undoubtedly help to feed a new generation of racers and spectators into the sport. Masterton street drags ran at two different locations over a XX year period, and as with other similar events around the country were hugely popular. Despite the event eventually becoming too difficult and expensive to remain viable, this core group of enthusiastic racers were never going to let sleeping dogs lie….

The images below show various newspaper articles from some of these early events. Thanks to Rhys Harrison, Georgie and Abby Wilton, and Karl Haustein. If you have any photographs you’d like added, please contact us.

 

 

PART 2: MASTERTON MOTORPLEX – THE HOOD AERODROME YEARS

In 199X some of the Ramrodders club members who had been heavily involved in the organisation of the street drags teamed up with a number of keen drag racers from across the Wairarapa and Wellington regions, and after some careful negotiations, they eventually obtained agreement from the Airport Authority to use the air strip for drag racing purposes. This more permanent location with a full quarter-mile track and another half-mile of run-off (otherwise known as braking area), was a huge improvement; the runway surface although not perfect due to the painted air-craft landing markings (which airport authorities wouldn’t allow to be removed), was a high quality asphalt surface that could be rubberised (a process of applying a thin layer of rubber to the track surface to improve traction) and then prepared with a special traction- compound, which provides drag tires with much better grip. This allowed more radical vehicles with much larger and more powerful engines to get all of that power down to the track. As fortune would have it, at around that time, the Wellington waterfront ‘Nissan Mobil 500’ street race had come to an end [RIP], and the large number of concrete ‘armco’ barriers, along with a container (which was the original ‘Whitakers’ spectator bridge which spanned across the Wellington street race track), became available to the track organisers at a price that couldn’t be refused. The concrete barriers were perfect as they were designed to be loaded by forklift – at the start and end of every meeting, the crew of workers became experts at steering up and dismantling the track in record time. From it’s inception, Masterton Motorplex and it’s team of dedicated people behind the scenes progressed and improved the running of it’s meetings, fine-tuned and upgraded their equipment as funds allowed, until they had it’s operations down-packed, with full-on two-day meetings pulling large crowds, and catering for New Zealand’s top cars and bikes. The Hood Aerodrome venue served it’s purpose well, but with the ongoing traction difficulties due to the the painted markings, and an increase in use of the air strip by planes, coupled with the massive task of setting up and dismantling the track for each meeting, there was always a desire for a permanent, turn-key drag strip.

Masterton Motorplex Incorporated became registered as an Incorporated Society on 14th November 1997.

Founding members of Masterton Motorplex Incorporated: Rhys Harrison, Paul Cathro, Raymond Whitham, Ian Lane, Michelle Davison, Christine McLaughlan, Michael Reeves, Jeanne Lamb, Glenn Larsen, Mike Watson, Kevin Chapman, Rosanna Cathro, Paul Davison, Bob Wilton.

The images below show various scenes from the opening meeting, the Masters of Horsepower Tour, and the 40th NZ Drag Racing Nationals. Thanks to Mike Ashton (Dragpixs) and Justin Hansen (Barracuda Photography). If you have any photographs you’d like added, please contact us.

 

Part 3: MASTERTON MOTORPLEX NEW TRACK – THE GRAND PLAN REALISED

From 20XX Bob Wilton, backed by his board, slowly but surely pushed towards securing a piece of council-owned land adjacent to the Aerodrome, which was for many years the home to a large motocross track. This location had many advantages, however one of the biggest draw-cards for the prospect of a new home for a drag strip was that the site was already zoned as XXX, which meant that no additional resource consents were required. For those of you reading this from outside New Zealand, the red-tape and number of ‘hoops’ to be jumped through to get planning permission for such a venue would quickly put an end to almost all attempts at getting something like this off the ground, unless there were significant financial backers and probably a legal team to go into battle with any would-be objectors, who somehow seem able to derail so many worthy projects just because the ‘squeaky wheel’ inevitably gets the oil. Even without the hurdles of a resource consent to deal with, the it wasn’t all plane-sailing, and despite the many road-blocks that did crop up along the way, Bob and his team kept their focus on achieving the final outcome – creating a world-class turn-key drag strip. Eventually after plenty of battles, on the XXth of XXber 20XX the dream became a reality, and the drag strip was officially opened by the Mayor of Masterton XXXXX (RIP). As has been the case from the start, Masterton Motorplex is an ever-improving and ever-evolving organisation, living within their means. That means that whilst the infrastructure may be viewed by some as being far from complete, it’s functional, fit-for-purpose, and in time, the venue will continue to get better and better.

The images below show various scenes from the opening meeting. Thanks to Justin Hansen (Barracuda Photography). If you have any photographs you’d like added, please contact us.

 

BOB WILTON – THE DRIVING FORCE

More to come!

POSTER ART-WORK

Over the years a large number of posters have been created to help promote various events. These posters have featured a huge range of vehicles that have competed at Masterton Motorplex, and so they also help form a pictorial history of the track. A selection of these are compiled here for viewing and downloading.

 

Have we missed an important bit of history? Please let us know!