Editorial: Burt's challenge a worthy event

Last updated 05:00 10/10/2012

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OPINION: Long after the movie was consigned to the bargain bin at your local DVD store, the legend of Burt Munro lives on in the annual rally held in Southland every November.

As entertaining as it was, the greatest aspect of director Roger Donaldson's passion project could be that it created the impetus for the Burt Munro Challenge, a programme of events which has grown to six days of racing, including those throaty favourites, the Oreti Beach racing and the Wyndham street race.

The only pity involved is that this great event had even the merest shadow cast over it.

An economic survey filed in 2008-09 estimated that the challenge had an economic impact of about $1 million.

Those sorts of figures invite some cynicism, but there's no doubt that since that report was completed, the event has grown, much like the legend surrounding the Invercargill racing legend it was named after.

The challenge receives $40,000 from the Invercargill Licensing Trust and is well supported by local businesses.

The Invercargill City Council had initially put $50,000 into the pot, but cut that funding by more than half last year, and the Southland Motorcycle Club and it's small band of highly motivated volunteers subsequently ran the event at a $3000 loss.

In terms of the greater good that the challenge provides for the community, that number pales, but it's much more than a small club can afford to carry, and neither should it.

A decision by the city council to contribute $30,000, along with a guarantee to underwrite the event by a further $20,000, is a victory.

There are many claims on ratepayers' money these days, but anything which attracts an estimated 25,000 people to the province deserves consistent and meaningful support.

And while the dollars make sense, there is a benefit which goes well beyond the bottom line.

The challenge represents many of the values we would like to sell to the world.

It's uniquely Southland, an event - much like the Tour of Southland - where the sometimes challenging weather adds a vital character to the proceedings, rather than a criticism.

Coming to the challenge has become a badge of honour for those riders who have pitched their tents in gale-force winds or ridden through the driving ran. It creates a folklore of its own, with stories which get carried back to every part of New Zealand and beyond. The challenge has a rightful place on any number of bucket lists.

West Coaster Kevin Ryan has attended every challenge to date, travelling from Runanga in his bus with road, beach and speedway bikes on board.

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Personally affected by the Pike River Coal mine disaster when the son of a riding buddy was killed in the tragedy, Ryan has since donated a trophy which links street races in Greymouth and Wyndham.

It's a small example of how the Burt Munro Challenge has got under our skin, the reason we are all the better for it.

If they haven't already, discussions must begin on how to ensure the rally and the racing can be better supported.

Southland Motorcycle Club president Craig Hyde and his fellow club members deserve better than to have to go cap in hand every 12 months to ensure that the Burt Munro Challenge survives.

- The Southland Times

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