Memories of loss a drawcard

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 21/11/2012

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Burt Munro Challenge

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Being left in Burt Munro's dust is a fond memory for one motorbike rider who settled in at tent city at Oreti Park for the Burt Munro Challenge yesterday.

Don Leek, from Omokoroa in the North Island, lined up against the great Burt Munro half a century ago in a quarter-mile showdown, only to see the legendary figure disappear from view.

"I raced against Burt Munro in the early 60s at Timaru. I had a brand new Norton 500 and he was on his 1936 Velocette motorcycle. I hit 94 miles per hour and he flew past me at 124mph over a standing start quarter mile," he recalled.

"He was an old man back then but he was incredible on that bike."

Mr Leek said he called into the E Hayes & Sons store in Invercargill this week and saw the Velocette that beat his new Norton.

Though his racing days are over, Mr Leek is back to enjoy his fourth Burt Munro Challenge after making his first pilgrimage to the south when the event first started.

Despite being left behind by an "old man", the respect and admiration for one of Invercargill's greatest sons continued to lure him back, Mr Leek said.

Accompanying Mr Leek on his trip to the Burt Munro Challenge are his close friends and first time challenge visitors, Mary and John Brietler, also from Omokoroa.

Mrs Brietler said she had been riding a motorbike since before she was married 45 years ago.

"There were an odd few women riding motorbikes back then but not too many," she said.

Being on the road and on a motorbike alongside her husband was something she loved, but never as a pillion, she said.

Mr Brietler said his wife had never sat on the seat behind him.

The couple were previously in Invercargill 20 years ago, so it was time to come back, they said.

Setting up camp a few days before the events started gave the trio a chance to explore the city and see some of the sights, including the Bill Richardson Truck Museum.

Burt Munro Challenge organising committee chairman Wayne Affleck said preparations were ahead of schedule and Oreti Park would welcome 200 to 300 people today.

The camping ground officially opens at 3pm tomorrow.

Accommodation providers were also looking forward to a bumper weekend of trading, with several motel owners saying they were fully booked for the weekend.

Surrey Court Motel owner Greg King said he would be welcoming back several regulars and, despite some late cancellations, he was confident his remaining few rooms would fill up.

The Burt Munro Challenge was a big weekend for hospitality businesses in the city, he said.

The challenge starts at 5pm today with the New Zealand Longtrack Championship and Grand Prix at Ascot Park Raceway, and runs until Sunday.

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Tickets are sold at Invercargill i-SITE for $10 per event or $40 for a pass to all the racing events.

- The Southland Times

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