Speedway can be “a little bit addictive,” says Tauranga driver Dean Waddell.
He's supposed to be retired, but with a stellar season coming up at Baypark Family Speedway this year, and the chance to race against his son, Dean is giving it one more spin around the track.
Dean and Sam Waddell will go head-to-head this year in the Pro Dirt Super Saloon series, the first round of which is at Baypark on November 4. They follow in the footsteps of Dean's father Dave, who was also a speedway driver at the old Baypark speedway.
“I grew up going to speedway on Saturday nights as a youngster,” says Dean. “It was a pretty cool place to be – noise, action, smells. It was way better than being stuck at home going to bed at eight o'clock.”
Sam, 20, tells a similar story.
“My dad has raced for 30 years, so ever since I was a little kid I've been at the speedway track every summer,” he says.
The Massey University student started racing mini stocks at the age of 14, winning a Bay of Plenty championship before leaving to concentrate on his studies.
Sam won the South Pacific Super Saloon Car Championship last year, a title previously won by Dave and Dean.
“It's definitely pretty special, and something I'll always remember.”
Sam raced against his dad for the first time last year at the South Pacific championship, but this year the two will race against each other on a regular basis in the Pro Dirt Super Saloon series.
Dean says his focus this year is really to support Sam, but he couldn't resist the chance to drive again.
“Speed is a bit of an adrenaline fix. When you're in an adrenaline-type sport it can be a little bit addictive.
“I've had my time, but when you've been a competitor for years it's hard to be an observer. I figured I was going to be at the race track a lot so I might as well get out there have some fun myself. With the New Zealand Super Saloon Championship at home this season I thought if I don't do it I'll be standing on the sidelines thinking ‘ what a great thing to be a part of' so I'll just get on and do it. It's the right year to have a bit of fun.”
Father and son, however, have laid down some ground rules.
“It's a very interesting dynamic. There is that paternal feeling where you want to see your kids do well and support them, which everyone does, but then when you're in that competitive mind-set you're actually out there to win,” says Dean.
“We've had the family conversations around respect and not putting each other in difficult situations on the race track and we'll both respect those rules.”
Sam took a break from speedway a few years ago to take up go-karting, something he is still involved in, and which he attributes to getting him up to speed in the super saloons so quickly when he returned last season.
“I enjoy the karting because it is very difficult. It's the most pure form of motor sport there is. If you're fast in a go-kart you'll be fast in anything. Speedway is not as physically demanding as karting.
“There are some pretty young, fit guys at the karting track so I've had to start going to the gym to get on top and start running at the front.”
Sam says he'd love to get into other forms of motor racing, but at 20 is probably too old now.
“You've got kids of 15 or 16 who are already a lot further ahead than I am.” He also prefers speedway because there is always plenty of competition, with up to 30 competitors on the track at any one time.
Dean, a successful local businessman, is also a strong proponent of speedway, calling it “a real environment.”
“For me, it's been an opportunity to get away from business and the complexities of business. Speedway has a lot of down-to-earth New Zealand people involved, so you turn up there and no-one cares who you are, they just want to beat you on the race track.”