Two deserving Southlanders take silverware
Few riders were more deserving of silverware at Saturday night's Speedway Spectacular than proud Southlanders Paul Hayes and Aiden Thwaites.
The two men were integral figures in the restoration of Oreti Park Speedway 11 years ago and at the weekend they experienced the most magical moment of their speedway careers, with titles in their respective classes.
Hayes held his nerve in a drama-filled solos final to take the chequered flag first, and Thwaites teamed up with swinger Daniel Gillett to produce a near-perfect ride in the sidecars final to hold off Mike Zachan and Karl Hosie.
The solos final, which featured Hayes, Christchurch's Daniel McKinlay, Andy Aldridge and Dale Finch and experienced Oreti Park competitor John Tuffley, was the second to last race on the programme, but it was worth the wait, with the riders turning on a thriller for the 5000-strong crowd.
With pre-event favourite and New Zealand champion Grant Tregoning unable to shrug off the effects of a crash earlier this month and pulling out after the first heat of the night, the solo final was wide open with all five riders standing a chance.
Finch got off to a quick start and looked to be in control early on, before McKinlay began to get into his work and close down the distance between the two riders.
There were plenty of unexpected twists and turns late in the race with Finch careering off the track, making it effectively a two-horse race between McKinlay and Hayes.
McKinlay appeared to have the final in the bag heading up the home straight for the final time, but then tragedy unfolded with the Moore Park rider's bike running out of petrol just metres from the finish line.
Hayes could not believe what he saw in front of him and screamed past the stuttering bike of McKinlay, to take the victory, much to the delight of the home crowd.
Hayes was almost speechless when reflecting on his triumph after the race and said it had been one of the greatest nights of his speedway career.
"I'm over the moon. I've been riding for years on that track. Aiden (Thwaites) won the sidecars and we're a couple of the guys, who got the track up and running after it had been defunct. We both won it together on the same day.
"It's great. (The Burt Munro Challenge speedway spectacular) is a massive event."
Hayes said the wet weather had made racing extremely tough out on the track and admitted his tactics for the final were to just keep things steady and wait for the other riders to make a bad mistake.
"It's was a very difficult race track out there. There were a lot of crashes. It was really anybodys out there, but hey I'm happy my name is on the trophy ... It was about survival really."
McKinlay was distraught to have missed out on the title and as he crossed the finish line he slumped down on his bike and buried his head in his hands.
"Words can't describe it to be honest. Head down," he said shortly after the final.
"They f...ed around at the start with the (start line) tapes. I checked the fuel; there should have been enough. I ran out mate."
McKinlay saluted the support of the outstanding Oreti Park crowd, who braved the wet weather and were boisterous all night long.
"They were awesome. When I ran out of gas, I thought they were cheering for me, but they were cheering for the Southlander," he said, laughing.
- The Southland Times