In it for the long haul

Rob Flood
Rob Flood

To say Rob Flood is passionate about motorsport is an understatement.

Born and bred in Blenheim, the self-employed painter and decorator has been riding or driving some form of two- or four-wheeled machine since a very young age. Motocross, karting, rally cars, stockcars and saloon cars - the 35-year-old has done them all.

That considerable experience came to the fore on the speedway oval this month when he finished second at the South Island Saloon Championships in Cromwell, one of the most satisfying results of his career. And he could very well have won the event, with eventual champion and home track supremo Daryl Ainsly only narrowly pipping Rob in a thrilling third and final race.

While he was delighted to finish second, Rob remained a little disappointed to get so close to the South Island title and said he ventured to the event with high hopes.

"I was expecting to do well, but there [were] about three or four cars it could have gone either way with and it was bloody good racing. We'd had a few reliability issues with the car leading into the event, so to come through with absolutely no problems was awesome."

Rob grew up around motorsport, with his dad Tony a former speedway driver. However, it was on motorbikes where Rob got his start and he competed in motocross from the age of 13 until about 25, recording top-three finishes in South Island endurance events on several occasions. From there he went to karting, where winning the Top of the South and Sunbelt series were among his major achievements. He also had a crack at rallying during that time, but after three years he finally made the move to speedway for the 2005-06 season.

"I always wanted to race speedway because Dad use to race and I had a passion for it. I had mates pressuring me into it as well and once I had a go I was hooked.

"I started in stockcars, but to be fair I was too soft for a stockcar, I didn't like the hits too much. A friend of mine in Picton teed me up a deal on a saloon car with John Lovelady in Darfield and from there I haven't looked back."

The first indication of Rob's speed in a saloon car came in April 2009, when he won the Eastern States saloon championship. That November, he continued his rise by placing 11th overall and second South Islander in the DHL Southern Saloon Series. The following season a blown engine saw him fall back to 21st overall in the same series, but a round win on his home track during that series remains a highlight of his speedway career.

A highly creditable second at the Pike River Memorial event at the end of 2011 was one of his best finishes last season, while last month he warmed up for the recent South Island championships with a seventh in the DHL South Island Speedweek Saloon series.

Along with the influence of his father, who sponsors him and various events at Eastern States, and his mum Irene, Rob has always had the support of younger brothers Marc and Daniel. Marc competed in motocross in his younger days and still rides, while Daniel has followed his older brother's path from karting into saloon cars.

While the support of family has been essential, Rob said watching as a youngster, racing as much as possible, the support of a seven-strong crew, who each put in between 20-25 hours of work a week, and several loyal sponsors had been just as vital to his success.

"I watched a lot of racing when I was a kid and you learn a lot from watching, the lines to take and things like that. I guess it was in the blood as well and doing lap after lap, the more times you can sit in the car the better.

"I have a very dedicated crew that put hours and hours into the car free of charge, and my sponsors.

"Without them I just couldn't do it."

Shooting, rugby and hockey are just a few of the other sports Rob has competed in. However, in the last three years, he admits his increased commitment to speedway has meant those other sports have fallen by the wayside. With a business to run and a saloon car to race and maintain, these days he has only enough spare time for the odd bit of diving and mountainbiking and relaxing with wife Nikki, who is pregnant with the couple's first child.

Rob has a few more big events this season, with the NZ Saloon Championships in Cromwell next weekend, the East v West Challenge in Westport in March and the invitation-only Speedfest in Huntly in April. But, with a baby on the way, if he races at all next season it will only be at Eastern States.

Beyond that, Rob said he would race for as long as his body allowed and one day would love to bag the coveted 1NZ plate. Whether or not he achieves that, it looks as if this dedicated Marlborough racer will be involved in the sport he loves for a long time to come yet.

"It's all about the adrenaline rush, the side-by-side racing when you're going sideways; there is nothing better . . . I'll never get right out of speedway, I love it too much."

The Marlborough Express