Crash just a stop on the road for teen

Streetstock racer keen to be back at the wheel

Doug Laing





Asolid smack into the wall at Meeanee Speedway and being cut out of his car and rushed to hospital in front of several thousand fans has done little to dampen the determination of teenaged streetstocks racer Richard Watty. He can’t wait to be back at the wheel of his new car, and would be tomorrow had it not been for crashing at Napier’s dusty summer nightspot on December 27 — the day after his 19th birthday. It could have brought an early end to his second season. He was knocked unconscious, but quickly came to and was extricated from his grey EL Falcon by the rescue crews and St John Ambulance staff. But for onlookers it was a scary reminder of a near-identical crash 16 days earlier after seasoned Gisborne racer Brenden Gooch was flown to Auckland for spinal surgery. Watty was, however, discharged from hospital before 5am on Tuesday, and was back at work as a quarryman the next day. His night knock means a three-week stand-down from racing, with hopes both he and the car will be fully mended about the same time. The teenager grew up racing karts but there have been at least three generations of the Watty family on the stock-car track as he follows in the tyre treads of father Justin Watty, grandfather Warren Watty and two uncles, based mainly in Marlborough. They are just one of the families proliferating in speedway nationwide, which promoter Bruce Robertson says is growing in cars and car driver numbers despite the hindrances of the Covid-19 pandemic. Watty said streetstock fields barely averaged 12 cars last season, but this season there’s at least 30. And Robertson says almost 50 from the lower and central North Island, including local favourite, 2019 national champion, 2021 New Zealand title runner-up and Hawke’s Bay MagpiesNPCand Ranfurly Shield rugby prop Jason Long, will line up in tomorrow night’s Hawke’s Bay Superstocks Championship. He believes lockdowns and other limits on people’s movements and spending have allowed more time and possibly more money for them to prepare their cars. “The numbers are skyrocketing,” he says. The superstocks dominate the programme of 17-18 races and a demolition derby tomorrow at Meeanee Speedway, based on the city councilowned Pukekura Domain off Sandy Rd and now entering a seventh decade as home of speedway in Hawke’s Bay, starting from the need for a new track for TQ sprint racing in 1961. Racing starts at 7pm, and a crowd likely to be among the bigger of the season with about 5000, Robertson says. For Watty, a significant crash was part of the learning experience, and the hard work that has to be done to keep the car in trim to keep racing and paying his dues to such sponsors and supporters as Bay Tyres, Forestry Maintenance and Unique Speedway Engineering. It’s one of the tough parts of the sport, he says, but adds: “The more people you know the better. The more you show you’re a hard, faster racer the easier it is, or if you don’t ask you don’t necessarily know.” Of the crash he recalls racing clockwise, being stalked on a bend by a rival, braking too early and being shunted into the wall. He thought: “This is going to be a beauty: Just hold on.” Coming out of a moment’s stunning, he tried to reverse but realised it was game over. Three days later he said: “It’s bit tender, but all good.” And the car . . . ? “It’s all fixable.” His racing number, 124R, extends on the number 24 used by his father, and the R recognises where the car was built — in Rotorua, one track he is hoping to race on as his driving takes on the challenges further afield than Meeanee. The problems of the Covid era include Speedway New Zealand cancelling major title racing this summer, limiting some of the opportunities, but Watty will be happy enough getting back into racing at Meeanee. He and his dad and other family moved to Hawke’s Bay just two years ago. “I’m a man of not many talents, and the talent’s running out,” he says, but he knows enough that with the tools, help of a few friends and the support of the speedway community he can aim for the goal. “You know you want the car running 100 per cent all the time.”. He hopes to be racing by the end of the month. A realistic target is January 29, when Meeanee also has its annual Hawke’s Bay Saloon Championship.