Invercargill speedway death investigated

FAMILY TEAM: Ronald Tree, on the back of the bike, with his son Erwin.
FAMILY TEAM: Ronald Tree, on the back of the bike, with his son Erwin.

Investigations into a fatal speedway crash in Invercargill on Saturday have begun but the sport's governing body maintains the dangers on the track are minimal.

Invercargill man Ronald Eric Tree was killed after he and his son, Erwin, were thrown from the sidecar and motorbike they were riding and hit a wall during a "Have A Go" day at the Oreti Park Speedway.

The 59-year-old was an avid motorsport enthusiast.

It was the second motorsport death in Invercargill in two months.

Formula 5000 driver Stan Redmond, 65, died after a two-car crash at Teretonga Park during the testing round for the Classic Speedfest in February.

Yesterday, Hawke's Bay-based Speedway New Zealand president David Jones said there were dangers involved in all forms of motorsport but the risk in speedway was "very minimal".

An independent investigator from Auckland had been sent to Oreti Park and Mr Jones understood the bike had been impounded and would be thoroughly checked for any fault by a senior check steward.

The incident looked as though it was a "freak accident" but until the investigator came back with all details it was too soon to tell, Mr Jones said.

With all serious injuries or a fatality, Speedway New Zealand investigated every aspect of the crash and the industry always had concerns every time there was an injury or death.

Oreti Park Speedway's record had been impeccable, Mr Jones said.

Speedway clubs Oreti Park and Western Springs, in Auckland, had jointly bought an inflatable air fence last year, which provided cushioning around the outside of the track.

However, it had been removed from the Invercargill track and was being used in Western Springs. The fact it was not there would be investigated but it looked as though it would not have made a difference, Mr Jones said.

"According to our chief executive he [Mr Tree] was very well known and very well liked ... I'm led to believe he was very experienced in sidecars."

Oreti Park Speedway president Warren Shuttleworth said the incident was a tragedy for the family, the club and everyone involved in motorsport.

There was always a risk with speedway, along with any form of motorsport.

However, all safety provisions were in place and trained paramedics and an ambulance were at the scene within seconds of the crash, Mr Shuttleworth said.

The Speedway New Zealand 2012 electronic rulebook says all tracks must be inspected by an appointed Speedway NZ track inspector before the start of the speedway season and tracks must pass inspection before practice or racing can start.

Other provisions included safety equipment for the rider and the requirement that all speedway tracks be enclosed by an approved wall and safety fence.

Cory Varcoe, a friend of Erwin Tree, said he arrived at the speedway shortly after the incident and had been told a wheel axle had snapped, dropping the frame as the bike went around a corner.

Mr Tree raced sidecars a few years ago and was experienced, Mr Varcoe said.

Sergeant Wing-Wah Ng, of Invercargill, said police were called about 2.30pm on Saturday.

An investigation into the cause of the crash was in its early stages.

No determination could be made until a full picture of the incident had been obtained, he said.

A serious crash investigator from Alexandra will arrive in Invercargill today to help with the inquiry.

Meanwhile, police want to hear from anyone at the speedway who may have video footage of the crash.

Mr Tree's family declined to comment when contacted yesterday.

The Southland Times