Generations rise through the ranks

Sievwright Oreti Park Speedway members (from left) Scott Reed and son Finn, and Ollie Cunningham with dad Alex. Photo: Vanessa Adcock Photography

THE old saying ‘‘it’s like a family’’ rolls off the tongue of both Scott Reed and Alex Cunningham when asked ‘‘Why Speedway?’’.

‘‘It’s been a sport that has given me a lot. It sort of becomes a bit of a family. You meet lifelong friends there. I’ve met people throughout the country through the sport,’’ Cunningham said.

Both men are the second of three generations to race at Oreti Park.

The club boasts many families in its ranks.

Their fathers, Russell Cunningham and Brian Reed, were both former TQ and Sidecar racers in the early days of Oreti Park.

‘‘It was a time when leathers were worn, cigarettes were welcomed in the pits and kids were not, these were the Gladiators of Speedway,’’ they said.

Russell was instrumental in some of Oreti Park’s most significant developments.

Sidecar pit bays and toilet blocks were built under his watch, at the same time Reed served on the committee.

The club’s resurrection in 1999 is a particular highlight for Reed.

The first South Island Solo Champs were a drawcard for the crowds both on and off the track, he said.

Both Cunningham and Reed were approached to lead the club and made a significant impact during their time at the wheel.

One of Cunningham’s most memorable moments happened when his father took him out to gauge if his interest was genuine — only for Reed to have a career-impacting crash in front of them.

When quizzed if he was still interested, 15-year-old Cunningham’s resounding ‘yes’ launched the second generation of Cunningham riders. More than 20 years later, it was inevitable his son Ollie would also join the ranks.

‘‘Maybe I should’ve got Ollie into golf or something more sane,’’ he said with a laugh.

Ripping around the track’s surrounding paddocks on a motorbike while his father and the others were racing was Reed’s earliest memory of his involvement in the sport.

His crash seriously impacted his career, suffering broken ankles, knees, back and elbow, made his return to racing a subdued one.

Cunningham had his own share of injuries and broken bones, which saw him take a break for a few years.

‘‘The sport gets under your skin and even when [you’re] not racing,’’ he said.

Reed is still involved with the sport as a scrutineer and referee.

Some of both Reed and Cunningham’s fondest memories include the crazy speedway trips around New Zealand or to Christchurch and back — all for a few minutes of racing.

The friendships made, the tinkering in the garage, the family environment and the race buzz — they reminisce of a time where full fields of Solos graced the tracks.

Qualifying events were held for national titles and big nights out with what have become lifelong friends followed after big racing days.

Cunningham’s career highlights are 3rd in the South Islands, 4th at the NZs and an amazing but humbling time in the United Kingdom in 2008.

As the attention shifts to the youngest generation of riders, Reed’s son Finn has already made a mark in the junior grades — taking out the Speedway New Zealand Youth Gold Cup.

He hints the Reed name will continue to be etched into the archives.

Cunningham’s son, Ollie, who has been racing for the past two years, earned a first place ribbon on a Peewee 50cc in his first year of racing and has continued to win gold as he rises through the grades.

‘‘He’s right into it now. My advice to him is ‘get out there and enjoy it’.

‘‘The main aim is we do the sport because we enjoy it,’’ he said.

Cunningham has worked tirelessly on infrastructure and future proofing the facilities, while Reed’s investments into the juniors has been impressive; managing the many training sessions for younger competitors.

Reed gets immense pride when he sees the kids trust him to keep trying to change a technique or attempt something they didn’t think they could do.

They both agreed they would love to see a return to the heyday of Solos.

They believe Oreti Park is definitely doing its part to help make that happen.

The focus was now on how to keep the younger generations involved and build up the senior grades and possibly as a professional career, they said.

‘‘It’s an obscure sport, not mainstream… it’s important we keep the sport alive as well as the club,’’ Cunningham said.

The club presently fosters the most juniors in the country.

Both agreed less red tape and more track time would help to breed a future world champion.

They also agreed the Burt Munro Challenge was an absolute ‘‘must see’’ on the Speedway calendar and were proud to have been part of the inaugural Australasian Sidecar Champs held in 2020.

As much as they stepped away from committee roles, they both planned to continue supporting the sport and their sons through their careers.