From the Blog

Mixing with the stars

Last weekend was the final round of MotoStars for the year. It should have been Round 6 but, with the cancellation of Rd 5 at “home” (Kembla Grange, just down the road from me) It became Rd 5. The Kembla track is closed and looks like being permanently so as the avaricious owner would rather make money from renting out the land around it to various industrial entities than spend a little to upgrade the track and continue to provide a valuable community facility. Anyway, the Port Macquarie venue, the delightful Pacific Park track just on the Pacific Highway south west of the town is an ideal venue and is a track that is universally liked by competitors and officials alike. MotoStars organisers made sure that the competitors were more than compensated for the loss of the Kembla round by making the event a double-header with Practice and Qualifying on Saturday morning then two rounds of heats in the afternoon and three rounds of heats on the Sunday.

As usual, I travelled up early, quite a deal earlier as it turns out but I had a good reason. It was my first run in the new van and I took the opportunity to spend some time with my good mate and solar guru in the Hunter Valley and have him refit my panel and battery pack that I had removed from the Minibago. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds due the height of the new rig but we got it done on Wednesday afternoon and I hit the road to Port on Thursday.

Anticipating that there would be the usual practice/coaching day on the Friday of the meeting, I doddled along and stayed the night in a farm stay just outside Wauchope (courtesy of the lovely people at MotoStars who paid for the night without telling me they had done so.) Now the weather in Wollongong has been very pleasant so I packed light. Bad move. It was FREEZING at Wauchope and I barely survived the night in the van that is not yet lined and insulated. Brrrrr. I hustled off in the morning in search of sustenance and some warmth, finding myself (unsurprisingly) at one of my favourite north coast haunts, the Fuzzy Ducks Cafe in the main street of Wauchope. Here, amidst a plethora of Coca Cola memorabilia and posters, one can partake of the cafe’s famous $7 breakfast that includes a large glass of orange juice.

While enjoying my brekkie a couple of high school students came in and ordered some red frogs, a particularly favourite delicacy of mine. I told the lady of my preference and said that I didn’t know anyone who sold them any more. I added that I had been reminded of them when I had seen one on the footpath around the corner on the way to the cafe. “Did it have a hole in it?” the lady asked. I said it didn’t and asked why was that important. She went back into the kitchen and emerged with this which she put on my table.

I was intrigued and asked why the frog had a hole through it. “We do it ourselves,” she said, “Then we thread them onto a straw when we serve strawberry milk shakes.” was the answer. Ingenious. I then told her that the frog that I had seen on the footpath didn’t have a hole but that I was pretty certain that it had croaked. A brief flurry of frog jokes then followed as we kept the other patrons amused. I finished my $7 breakfast, bought a bag of red frogs for later and left, satisfied and happy.

So it was a fill up with diesel at the local servo (67l of fuel with the odo showing 634kms – this equates to around 10l per 100kms or around 36mpg in the old money – astonishing really given the van’s size and total lack of aerodynamic efficiency) and I headed the short distance out to the track. Strangely it was deserted but a car arrived and the driver opened the gates so I was encouraged. I enquired from him about the practice day I expected to be on but he told me that none had been booked. Well, that will serve me right not to assume as, when you assume…well, you know the rest.

With memories of the punishing cold of the night before I took the time to go into Port and seek out some warmer clothes, especially pyjamas. Since I have a ton of clothes at home I was looking for a cheap solution so I thought I’d go to the local Coles. Here I discovered, much to my disgust, that Coles have an extensive range of womens’ clothes, but NO mens’ clothes at all. In these days of supposed equality I was appalled that this blatant discrimination has even happened let alone been allowed to continue. I am certain that, if the situation were to be reversed the “sisters” would be screaming discrimination from the rooftops. Not impressed.

Fortunately I solved my problem with a visit to the local thrift store and so ensured my sleeping comfort for the rest of the weekend.

While I was in town, however, I also took the opportunity to visit a local landmark that was very familiar to me from my childhood.

The little Uniting Church in the main street has been there since the middle 1800’s and was originally a Methodist Church. In 1954, when I was just 5 years old, we stayed in the church hall behind the church when my father conducted a fortnight of meetings on the beaches and in the streets of the town. Dad was in charge of the work in Newcastle at the time and a large group of young people also took part in the mission which I remember vividly. I was shown around the building by the curator and swapped some yarns and some of my childhood memories. A very pleasant way to spend an hour or so. Thankfully the church building has been fully restored and is still in use.

After lunch I headed back out to the track (about 15kms south of the town) and hung around until competitors started to arrive. We renewed acquaintances and I found out that, while the solar setup had been installed, something wasn’t quite right as it was charging the batteries but not allowing any output. Oh well, I managed to keep my phone going as well as my little fridge by cycling charging of them through the van battery (this was to prove to be a bad move as I will soon relate).

Racing on Saturday and Sunday was excellent as it always is. On Saturday, a guest rider turned up, World Endurance Champion, Josh Hook. He rode his little Ovale 190cc mini bike in the MotoStars Senior races and his brand new Husqvarna motard bike in the Supermoto races, the second of which he won. Fresh from his victory in the Bol d’Or in France the weekend before, it sure was a thrill to have a reigning World Champion in the house.

Commentary at Port is done from the verandah outside the Timing Box and so it is open to anybody who wants to climb the stairs. During the races it is always crowded so doing my job can be a little fraught, especially if the (mainly) kids get a bit excited and start yelling support for their favourite riders. Fortunately, they are all good kids, as are their parents, and they respect my need to have relative quiet while the races are on. It does, however, lead to some pretty hilarious situations like the one that occurred on Sunday. Having to leave my post for a pit stop, I put the mike down and headed down the stairs. I had hardly got to the bottom when I heard someone talking on the PA. I looked back and saw that Stuart Brown, one of the dads, had picked up the mike and had started calling the race :). Now here I must say that, without exception, I am sure that all the kids would love to be able to do my job, I knew that already, but I didn’t expect to find that my position is also coveted by some of the parents! On the way back to the box I noticed that the voice on the mike had changed and that Jack McCarthy, one of the boys, was now on the mike calling the race! I wasn’t going to interrupt, I figured I’d just let him finish. He was doing a great job, as had Stuart who, for some reason had sub-contracted out his stolen position to Jack. Jack ran out of things to say so I said, “Come on, you gotta keep talking.” He kicked back into gear for a minute or so then fell silent again. I heard one of the other kids say, “Thank the sponsors.” so I quickly thumbed through my folder to where I have all the sponsors listed and Jack, very professionally, thanked the sponsors. He finished the race, summarised it and read out the podium positions before handing the mike back to me. How much he had learned about commentary from listening to me for two years and how much of it was just his natural ability, I don’t know, but I do know that he and Stuart did a fabulous job and provided us all with some great entertainment.

Speaking of Stuart Brown from Elite Motorcycles in Toowoomba, he (at last) delivered my scooter that I had bought off him a few months ago and which he had been unable to get to me till now. What a little ripper of a bike it is and I christened it by logging in a couple of (slow) laps of the track late on Friday afternoon.

Being a dyed-in-the-wool Muppets fan it was inevitable that it would be named Scooter, so I am looking forward to registering it and bimbling around town on it. Lest you think I am made of money, it cost me the grand sum of $200, exceptional value in my opinion.

At the conclusion of Sunday’s races I returned to the van to load up Scooter and head into Port for the Presentation Night. The central locking didn’t work, Oh oh. I opened the driver’s door with the key and tried to start it. No light, no action. I looked down at the little fridge in the passenger footwell and realised that I had left it plugged in in the morning. The battery was as dead as vaudeville. A couple of attempts to jump start were unsuccessful so it was time to call the NRMA. They took quite a while, around 90 minutes I think, but it was Sunday night and it was out in the country. After some heavy duty huffing and puffing, Peter, the wonderful local road service guy, got me going AND helped me load Scooter into the van as well. BUT there was a problem, as Clarkson used to say. The engine needed to be run for an extended period before I turned it off again and Peter said that, if I went into town for the presentation, I’d need to call them again to get me started at the end of the night. Not something I wanted to do. So, most reluctantly, I skipped the presentation, made my profuse apologies to Damian and Amy (after all it was entirely my fault) and pointed the van south.

I arrived home at 0030 on Monday morning after having driven straight through (fortunately I had filled the tank at Wauchope so I didn’t have to stop for diesel). I was pretty shot on Monday but I am an experienced long distance driver so it wasn’t as daunting as it might have been.

MotoStars is going from strength to strength and I am tickled that I have been able to be a part of it from the start. Next year is looking like being even more exciting so watch this space for details as the organisation continues to foster the development of our young talent. It truly is an exciting venture and the organisers deserve all the kudos that they are receiving.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow I’ll sit down and reflect on Aragon. 🙂