People at the heart of Teretonga Park

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Teretonga Park chief first response officer Lenard McLeod (centre) flanked by racing drivers Damon (left) and Brendon Leitch.

VOLUNTEERS are the heartbeat and life blood of many organisations.

Established in 1957, the Southland Sports Car Club base, Teretonga Park just outside Invercargill, hosts six race meetings annually, including local clubmans series the Evolution Motorsport Classic SpeedFest and the New Zealand Grand Prix. It is also used by other clubs for sprints, motorkhanas, motorcycle and drag racing.

During the golden decades of New Zealand motor racing in the 1960s and 1970s, some of the world’s greatest drivers raced at Teretonga, including Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and Jackie Stewart.

As the sport has grown, more volunteers are needed to help run the various events.

Teretonga Park chief first response officer and volunteer co-ordinator Lenard McLeod said for the SpeedFest alone, at least 120 volunteers were needed, and for other race meets it could be as many as 180 volunteers throughout the season from September to March.

That included first response personnel (fire, ambulance, rescue), time keepers, trained race controllers, scrutineers, 25-30 flag marshalls, people to work in the grid area, the pit lane area, gate keepers, administration staff and people to help with crowd control.

As well as running the event, a lot of “health and safety” issues needed to be covered, he said.

“The volunteers…. they love the motorsport… they spend a lot of their time at the track.”

As well as being the country’s oldest purpose-built track, Teretonga Park “was also one of the last [club-owned] ones”, he said.

“Everything done in the club and at the track is voluntary. If we don’t have volunteers, we can’t race. But we need more volunteers.”

A mechanical fitter by day, Mr Lenard, who is also a Motorsport NZ volunteer commission member, is passionate about recruiting volunteers and raising their profile.

Some of the first response volunteers include senior station officer Les Costigan flanked by recruit Jason ten Hoorn Boeer (left) and rural firefighter David Coveney.

For the past six years he had volunteered at the track, the past three years in the chief first response role, which meant he was in charge of rescuing drivers and removing their cars from accidents or breakdowns on the track. Once the all-clear had been given from the control tower, he and his team go on to the track, knowing all the other competing vehicles had stopped.

As well as an ambulance and fire engine, tractors, quad bikes, four-wheel-drives and Hiab trucks (to recover vehicles from the track) were always track-side.

If someone wanted to volunteer, age was no restriction, he said.

The minimum age someone could volunteer was 14 and the oldest volunteer at the club was in their 60s. Gender was definitely not an issue, with some younger women driving the tractors and quads to bring the cars into the pits when they broke down on the track, he said.

“Everyone is trained and supervised.”

Now that Teretonga was into its 60th year, volunteering was inter-generational, Mr McLeod said, giving the example of the O’Brien family husband, wife and daughter who were all volunteers.

Another long-term volunteer was Wendy Jenks, now residing in Te Anau, who worked in administration and had been a volunteer for 47 years.

“It’s my passion… both my husband and son competed way back,” she said.

Although she said she was “semi-retired as a volunteer”, she was still at all the meetings, helping out.

Sometimes Teretonga Park and surrounds could be totally cluttered with race cars, marquees, mobile homes and people milling around everywhere, making it seem like a micro-village.

The atmosphere had a real buzz with the veterans helping out the newcomers.

Mr McLeod said a lot of the volunteers had spent years racing and now later in life they were supporting the “newbies”.

“Ex-racing car drivers were used to drive the safety (pace) cars… one at the front of the pack, and one at the rear.”

Even some of the recent stars of the track helped out, including brothers Brendon and Damon Leitch, who had “flag marshalled a bit”, they said.

“It’s the best spot to watch the action,” Damon said.

Clerk of the course Roger Laird agreed.

“Forty-three years ago I raced here, and now I have taken over clerking. It is good if clerks have had some racing experience as well, it gives them some empathy for the competitors.

“I do a couple of races a year. The training is very good… it is practical. It is very satisfying to be a part of the team and if people have been involved in the competing side, it is good to put something back. It is also a great way to get close to the action.”

For more information about volunteering at Teretonga Park, email Lenard McLeod on lrmcleod@xtra.co.nzA motorsport volunteer training day will be held at Teretonga Park on Saturday, August 12, covering fire extinguisher training, race car recovery and first aid. For more information, phone 213 0522.

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