Scout Fletcher respects her elders, in this case motorcycles more than four times her age.
The Canterbury 18-year-old is a guest rider for Nelson's New Zealand Classics collection at the annual Port Races, to be held on the streets of Port Nelson on Thursday.
While she's at home on the handlebars of modern 125cc machinery, the petite teenager is just as comfortable hand-changing the gears on a 1929 Rudge. "I couldn't honestly say I prefer one over the other," Fletcher said. "I love them both.
"Obviously on a newer bike, you can concentrate on your racecraft and getting the lines right, but with a classic, it is more a case of ‘Holy crap, how am I going to get this around the next corner'."
New Zealand Classics is the Tom Sturgess-conceived amalgam of rare and collectable vintage motorcycles that was formerly housed in Collingwood St but is now rehoused in a refurbished building in Haven Rd.
Fletcher had diced on the race track with Wayne Daniel, who is connected with the collection, resulting in an earlier invitation for her to race their bikes. Fletcher was tied up as she chased a championship on her 125cc race bike and had to turn the offer down.
However, it has come together this year and Fletcher will ride a 1962 350cc Manx Norton, a bike previously owned and raced by four-time world champion Hugh Anderson.
"It's amazing that people would trust me to take a bike as special as that one out," Fletcher said.
"You have to respect the machinery because, on the one hand, you are out there to push the limits in a race and, on the other, some of these classics are almost priceless - they have such history that they can't be replaced."
Daniel was impressed by Fletcher's ability to switch from a modern, ultra lightweight 125cc bike to a cumbersome and archaic Indian or the Rudge.
"She is an exceedingly capable lass," Daniel said. "Scout has a fine feeling for racing old, exotic race machinery."
That is a rare quality in one so young. Fletcher, whose dad Nick will saddle up his own 1966 Suzuki and a 1929 Ariel at the port, rode her first motorcycle at 11 and has been competing for the past four years.
She has already exceeded her goals of cracking the top five in the 125cc championship in her rookie season, becoming the youngest person to ride street races competitively and taking on the big 600cc Formula 3 bikes on an underpowered RG150 ("basically a commuter bike").
She has won Canterbury series races and events at the King of Ruapuna and has received an invitation to attend the Barry Sheene Memorial Festival of Speed in Sydney in March where she will compete on a Yamaha TZ250.
All the racing interest has forced a step away from her biochemistry studies at the University of Canterbury but she continues to do field work at Plant and Food Research.
Fletcher is flattered by the offers that are coming through.
"I realise that being young and a female riding rather than a middle-aged man gives me some novelty value but I have always felt we are the same when the visor goes down. I certainly don't expect favours and I don't think I have been given many."
Daniel, who will ride a BSA 500 on Thursday while Kevin Guthrie will compete on a Norton 750 as parts of the NZ Classics team's efforts to aid local charities, said Fletcher brought an added dimension to the Port Races.
"It looks like father and daughter will be riding against each other in the classics and anyone is welcome to come and say hi to Scout and the NZ Classics team in the pits."
Scout Fletcher races with the support of NZ Classics, Maka Le Lei Brick, Block and Stone, Walsh Construction and the Lincoln University Recreation Centre.
Port Races, Thursday January 2, 10am-4pm. Classes include: Formula 1, Formula 2 and Formula 3, BEARS (British, European & American Race Series), Pro-Twins, Classics, Post-Classics and Supermotos. Plus "King of the Port" finale race. Circuit: Vickerman St/ Wildman Ave/Low St/Carkeek St/Graham St/Rogers St.
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