'It will never go from my memory': Edwards family prepare for emotion of memorial speedway event for son killed on track

Andrew Edwards was just 19 with a promising speedway future ahead of him when the accident occurred at Baypark Speedway ...
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Andrew Edwards was just 19 with a promising speedway future ahead of him when the accident occurred at Baypark Speedway in Mt Maunganui.

A tear in his eye but a big smile on his face.

That's how Mark Edwards sees himself as he gazes up and around from the centre of his beloved Kihikihi Speedway Club, just south of Te Awamutu, on Saturday night.

For his family, the inaugural Andrew Edwards Memorial is not just about remembering a son and brother. It is a celebration of racing, and all they love about it.

Brian Edwards will race in memory of his younger brother at Kihikihi Speedway on Saturday night.
GRAHAM HUGHES/SPORTSWEB PHOTOGRAPHY

Brian Edwards will race in memory of his younger brother at Kihikihi Speedway on Saturday night.

It is more than nine years since Andrew died after a crash at Baypark Speedway in Mt Maunganui on New Year's Day, 2008.

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A promising 19-year-old driver at the time, Andrew's sprintcar appeared to hit a rut in the track and was sent flying through the air before landing and rolling multiple times, barely slowing before colliding with the wall.

"I can see the whole thing as if I was standing there now," Mark says.

"That will never go from my memory ... it was gut-wrenching, I was just in shock and disbelief.

"With my father's intuition I knew [how bad it was]. Andrew lived for seven days under life support before we had to turn that off. I knew the instant it happened he wasn't going to come out of it.

"It was just a numbness, like you'd expect, shaking my head and asking why."

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As far as Mark was concerned, Andrew's death meant the end of the family's on-track involvement.

But, such is their passion for speedway, just three weeks later youngest son Brian was back in action, only denied a great chance to win the national minisprint title by a blown engine.

When his wife Vanessa entered him in the New Zealand championships without telling him, Mark also got back behind the wheel, with some success.

On January 11, 2009, exactly a year to the day of Andrew's funeral, Mark claimed the national title.

When Brian did the same the following year, Mark figured it was finally time to hang up his helmet.

"Mentally it was really hard," he said about returning to racing. "We weren't feeling too good about life at the time and actually felt sick going to the track.

"With Brian out there and the fear of what could happen, it was pretty tough. You don't ever get past it ... but you accept that's happened and we've have had long enough to do that.

"No matter what, risk is always there, at least speedway is something we know ... we don't take any shortcuts and never have but things still happen.

"[Racing is] what we do, it's in our blood. We tried to walk away and it didn't last long. We're addicted to it, and I don't know why."

After making it back-to-back national titles for the family, Brian competed for two more seasons before also stepping back from the sport.

But the Edwards' were never going to be gone for long, and this season he has returned to the action in the sprintcar class.

After a full rebuild of his mangled car, one initially ruled-out given the amount of damage suffered in a major crash a little more than a month ago, Brian will race on Saturday night.

The event was too special to the family, they had put too much effort into it and received far too much support from the speedway and business communities not to make the effort to participate themselves.

Brian's will be one of three cars which, before the sprintcar races start, will run three wide around the track in tribute to Andrew as his favourite song, the Guns N' Roses classic Sweet Child of Mine, is belted out.

Pole position will also be left empty for the feature race in Andrew's memory.

It should be a special night for the Edwards family, one Mark is optimistic will live up to his expectations.

"It will be more joy [than sadness]," he said, adding they hope to make the meet the biggest sprintcar event in the country in years to come.

"It's coming up nine and a half years since the accident so the raw emotion probably won't be there. We might have a tear in the eye but it's more about the excitement of seeing a good crowd on the hill, a good line-up of cars and everybody out there doing what they love.

"It's a celebration of racing as well as a memorial."

 - Stuff

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