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20 Years of Smokin’ Success: Masterton Motorplex

29 January 2018



When drag racing began at Hood Aerodrome in the late 1990s, no one could have expected the success that was to follow! 

Ask almost any bloke when his wedding anniversary is, and there’s a damn good chance he couldn’t tell you. Ask him how long he’s been married, and you’ll likely get the same answer. However, if you were to ask most racers who frequent the lower North Island’s only dedicated drag strip, Masterton Motorplex, how long it’s been operating, you’ll likely get a very different answer.

The 2017–2018 season sees the venue celebrate an astounding 20 years of tyre-frying, quarter-mile madness — well, kinda. The actual dedicated strip — still based within the Hood Aerodrome (Masterton airport) surrounds — has only recently blown out its first candles. However, the same crew of dedicated volunteers — and many of the same amenities — have been carried over from the previously used airstrip, so calling this the 20th anniversary is well and truly justified. 

Racing on the airstrip was the brainchild of local racers, spearheaded by Bob Wilton — a man who can rightly claim responsibility for making possible that which most people thought to be impossible. Bob’s just as passionate today about improving the racer’s experience as he was all those years ago when access to the runway was first granted.

We caught up with Bob a few years back to get his own take on things [NZV8 Issue No. 108]. Since then, all the things he promised have happened. Much credit for that must go not only to the hard-working team of volunteers but also to the generous sponsors and supporters, many of whom have been involved since the inception of Masterton Motorplex. Likewise, many members of the Masterton Motorplex Incorporated Society, which was set up to enable drag racing on the airstrip, are still involved today, be it as committee members, drivers, or simply loyal supporters. 

Those airstrip years didn’t see only locals taking advantage of the facility, but international guest stars, too, with the well-known names such as Victor Bray and Brett Stevens attending events at the venue.

Despite countless successful events, the airstrip was always a compromise, in terms of both racer safety and the amount of setting up required, let alone the interruption for aeroclub users. The push for a permanent venue succeeded in 2014, and the drivers, supporters, and spectators have never looked back.

The 20th anniversary event, incorporating the now proven and successful ‘Dragstalgia’ concept, took place on January 6–7 2018. Unfortunately, that old truism of ‘If you want it to rain, hold a drag racing event’ was demonstrated yet again: after a record dry spell, the weather gods conspired to prevent the event becoming the huge success it should have been. Don’t get us wrong — as always, the MMP crew put on a great show, and there was plenty of good racing, but it wasn’t as grand as all had anticipated.

With the forecast not looking good, many racers from afar decided to stay home rather than risk a wasted trip, so entry numbers were lower than expected. The same uncertainty affected spectators, many of whom also stayed away, despite Sunday turning out to be a great day of racing.

It was great to see drivers on track who’ve raced at MMP since its inception — drivers such as Ross McDonald. Ross and his extended family are now regular fixtures at the venue, and Ross kindly created custom trophies to be donated to all the hard-working volunteers who make the venue a success. Most of the cars on the track these days, including Ross’ current ride, are far quicker than those of the early days, and that’s in part thanks to the facility stepping up to allow for quicker vehicles to partake.

The unique Dragstalgia format gave spectators the chance to see cars face off that wouldn’t normally line up against each other, and throughout the event there were various surprise wins and upsets. The pressure of competing clearly got to some entrants, as a high number of wins were due to opponents red lighting.

Despite 20 years of on-track action, the event team still managed to offer something new: a Backup Girl competition. A small but brave team of entrants — not just females, either — strutted their stuff for the crowds. 

The anniversary was good reason to celebrate. Long-time MC, Gavin Doughty, kept the crowd informed and entertained throughout the racing, and there was also plenty of celebrating done at the Saturday night dinner — held, fittingly, at the aerodrome.

With Bob and the team’s dedication to continual improvement, we’re now looking forward to the next anniversary; just like the 20th one, we’re sure it’ll be an event to remember.

Dragstalgia Muscle Car: 1st – Mark McGlue, ’51 Ford Custom
Dragstalgia Muscle Car: 2nd – Peter Fink, ’69 Dodge Dart
Dragstalgia Hot Rod: 1st – Jeff Jones, ’37 Chev coupe
Dragstalgia Hot Rod: 2nd – Warren van den Ende, ’47 Chev pickup
Super Street: 1st – Danny Ashkettle, ’67 Chev Camaro
Super Street: 2nd – Warren van den Ende, ’47 Chev pickup
Super Gas: 1st – Rhys Harrison, ’68 Chev Camaro
Super Gas: 2nd – Ross Whelan, ’34 Ford Y
Modified Bike: 1st – Dean Piper, ’08 Suzuki Hayabusa
Modified Bike: 2nd – Peter Wald, ’91 Kawasaki ZZR1100
Junior Dragster: 1st – Cory Silk, Junior Dragster
Junior Dragster: 2nd – Sophie Davison, Junior Dragster
Junior Dragbike: 1st – Jackson Wilton, Junior Dragbike
FED Challenge: 1st – Andrew Neiman, FE Dragster
FED Challenge: 2nd – Ana Paterson, FE Dragster
Dragstalgia Super Comp: 1st – Shane Williams, ’70 Chev Chevelle
Dragstalgia Super Comp: 2nd – Jen Gibbons, ’68 Dodge Dart
Dragstalgia Pro Comp: 1st – Dwane Osborne, ’48 Ford Pop
Dragstalgia Pro Comp: 2nd – Shane Craig, ’72 Holden HQ
Dragstalgia Top Comp: 1st – Grease Martin & Andrew Rea, FE Dragster
Dragstalgia Top Comp: 2nd -Peter Schimanski, ’48 Fiat Topolino
Super Sedan: 1st – Nathan Hartley, ’82 Ford Mustang
Super Sedan: 2nd – Willy Dobson, ’69 Holden HT Ute
Competition Bike: 1st – Scott Mills, Nitro Harley
Top Alcohol: 1st – Bryan Norman, FE Dragster
Fastest speed of the meeting: Bryan Norman, FE Dragster
Lowest ET of the meeting: Bryan Norman, FE Dragster
Best-Appearing Team: Cameron and Ana Paterson, Team Paterson