Woodley-Gill finally basks in glory
When Vanessa Woodley-Gill hopped off her Suzuki RG150 after racing at Ruapuna Raceway on January 5 she had achieved two landmark firsts.
The Blenheim 18-year-old had not only won her first race in the national points race series, she had also beaten her father, motorcycling veteran Jock Woodley, for the first time.
Since she began racing motorcycles in 2009, on the same bike, Woodley-Gill has set her sights on the top of the podium. Thus, her win at Ruapuna was the undoubted highlight of her career so far.
"I've been working to get it for so long and I've finally got there after five years. There are people that get into the sport and within a couple of months they are winning races. That's one sort - there's other people that take a few years to get into it and that's me."
But things didn't start too well that day at Ruapuna, Woodley-Gill recalls, being forced to qualify before she had a chance to "scrub in" a new front tyre. "I thought I wouldn't be able to set a very good qualifying time, but I ended up getting fourth on the grid. Dad got pole position, as usual."
After finishing third in her first race she made an average start to her second outing, on Sunday, sitting sixth into the first corner. "But then, in a five-lap race, I passed all five of them, including Dad," she recalls proudly.
She caught up with her a father with a lap to go and after she passed him, never looked back. "I was yelling to myself," she said. "I just made sure I got my lines right and when I got over the line I looked behind at Dad and we both had our fists in the air.
"He loved it. And, to be honest, I actually started crying . . . had a bit of a moment. When I got back into the pits Dad came over and gave me a big hug. My Mum came over too . . . she knew that the run of thirds and seconds was really getting to me after two or three years. I thought, I don't want to carry on like this so I'm either going to stop racing or just get over it and do it. Although I was never going to stop racing because I love it. [Mum's] seen how p....ed off I've been, so she was stoked."
"I knew that some people were going to think, ‘Oh, [Jock] just let her win', but at the prizegiving when I got my trophies the commentator actually got up and said, ‘for all of you that thought he just let her win, Vanessa actually set the fastest lap times in the whole race'. That was cool."
Celebrations were subdued, the victorious rider making do with a Steinlager and a visit to Burger King.
Woodley-Gill races in the highly-competitive development class, formerly known as the street stock class, and comes up against riders aged "between 15 and 55".
At the end of the Ruapuna leg Jock led the overall standings, with Vanessa second, although Vanessa headed the junior section, for under-19 riders, an advantage she maintained until the conclusion of the meeting.
After racing at Levels, near Timaru, a week later she now lies second on the junior standings.
Next up for the apprentice hairdresser is further national rounds at Taupo, "her favourite track", and Manfeild in March. "I can't wait to get up north, especially since the guys that I am up against haven't raced there before, that may give me an advantage."
Another advantage is the help and advice gleaned from her Dad and uncles John and Bruce, all accomplished motorcycle racers. John Woodley, a former Marlborough Sportsperson of the Year, competed on the world stage in 500cc grand prix from the mid-1970s as a leading privateer. Jock reckons the three brothers inherited their late mother's sporting skills. Agnes Fitzpatrick played hockey for New Zealand as well as the North and South Island and was a champion diver.
Vanessa's recent success suggests she has inherited a fair chunk of the Woodley family's prowess on two wheels.
She was also quick to point out how much help she had received from her team of sponsors: Elite Tyres and Alignment, Basis, Penrite, Home James, Mike's Mowers and Chainsaws, Callahan and Martella Electrical.
The Marlborough Express