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Graeme Park

BY Jack Biddle

Whitianga | Wed July 23, 2014

11 OF 13. This is the caption text

While rugby may be considered this country’s number one sport, there would be far more competition race cars parked in garages all over the country than there are rugby boots. One reason is the human body can only take so much punishment when it comes to participation in any contact sport and while some players have careers that last longer than others, the reality is it’s a young man’s game.

Motorsport however has no such barriers. As long as one retains the passion, and has the necessary budget, grey power can consistently make up an awful lot of the starting grid on race days at motor racing tracks up and down the country. Plus, when the cars are not actually tearing up the track, a lot of spare time is enthusiastically spent with heads under bonnets carrying out those never ending tweaks, repairs or modifications.

One such person is local Whitianga man, Graeme Park, who has been tinkering with motor cars since he first started his motor mechanics apprenticeship in Tauranga way back in the early 1960’s (I’ll leave it up to readers to do the sums on his estimated age).

His first race car was a 1939 Plymouth Coupe, followed by the popular Mini Cooper S and a Ford Anglia, all of which he piloted around Pukekohe in the heyday of racing on the South Auckland track, as well as competing in street races around the North Island.

Once his apprenticeship was completed he, like a number of young aspiring Kiwi mechanics looking to further their experience and knowledge in motorsport, headed off to the United Kingdom and found work as a race mechanic for the renowned Brabham and Cooper factory teams. It was a golden era for the Formula 1 Brabham team at the time with Kiwi motor racing legend Denny Hulme being crowned world champion in 1967. "While I wasn’t on the Hulme F1 roster, it was an awesome experience just to be working in a similar environment," said Graeme.

On his return to New Zealand, Graeme settled back in Tauranga and while deer farming filled in the working days, it wasn’t long before he was back into motor racing, this time in an official capacity at the all-new, at the time, Bay Park motor racing circuit. It was an era where fitting massive V8 engines into look-alike mainstream body shells was popular with both drivers and the general public, which resulted in big fields on race days and packed grandstands. So it was no surprise to hear Graeme say he decided to replace the official white coat with racing overalls and was soon behind the wheel of a heavily modified Morris Marina sports sedan with a mid-mounted and turbo assisted Leyland P76 V8 engine (Graeme recently tracked down the car which has spent the last 20 years sitting in a shed and along with his brother, Murray has plans to rebuild it to its former glory).

A move to Whitianga 11 years ago and with his motor racing days seemingly behind him, saw Graeme establishing Whitianga Tractors which he owned and operated for five years. Once sold, and with spare time on his hands, a trip to Europe, which included visiting all the famous motor racing circuits, was undertaken and quickly reignited the competition flame. Once back home and with a little help from an old racing buddy, Graham Hellan from Whangamata, it wasn’t long before Graeme was on the lookout for a suitable vehicle to compete in either a specific or classic car class.

Fast forward to the present day and taking up pride and place in Graeme’s garage is a once street legal 1989 3-litre Porsche that he has spent the last couple of years transforming into a highly modified and full-on race car - now capable of speeds up to 290kph. "There are lots of past generation drivers making comebacks into this form of racing. It’s a very competitive form of motor sport which I like, however it’s the camaraderie and new friendships you make or re-establish that makes it so worthwhile. Plus it keeps the brain sharp and creates an adrenalin filled way to spend the kids inheritance," said Graeme.

The black and orange paint job on the Porsche is a carry-over from those very early racing days, while the subtle GPS initials on the front valence stand for Graeme Park Special, which is a real understatement when you look at all the work and detail that has gone into creating this 400hp race car. "It’s a labour of love and I can’t wait until the next race meeting or track test day to roll around," Graeme said.

He intends competing at tracks all over the country, including Pukekohe, Hampton Downs, Taupo and Mansfield this coming season. He would also like to acknowledge the support he has received from local businesses in Whitianga to get this current project up and running. They include Peninsula Auto Electric & Marine, Charlie’s Workshop, Whitianga Signs and Dale at Ali Pro.

When asked when he was going to officially retire, Graeme’s answer was, "This is retirement and I will keep going as long as I can." Yes it truly is a sport for all ages.

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