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Drag racing in the blood

Flashback to 2010 . . . Bob Wilton with a mock-up of what the now internationally-acclaimed drag strip was expected to look like. PHOTO/FILE

By Gary Caffell

Bob Wilton has had almost two decades at the helm of Masterton Motorplex Drag Racing Club and he’s as mad keen on the sport as he ever was.

In fact, the winner of the Lifetime Achievement trophy at last night’s 2017 Wairarapa Times-Age sports awards is already planning to make his club’s 20th anniversary celebrations something special and is heavily involved in coercing prospective funders to lend support to the construction of a new burn-out pad at their internationally-acclaimed drag strip alongside Hood Aerodrome.

“I like to go down to the drag strip most days . . . there’s always something to keep me busy,” Wilton said in an interview before he left for Australia to attend the 50th national championships in Brisbane.

“It’s well and truly in my blood, I love it now as much as I ever have.”

These days Bob Wilton’s involvement in drag racing is strictly administrative but back in the early 1980’s he was no mean competitor himself, holding a number of national records.

Unfortunately, however, he had a bad accident which left his car pretty much a wreck and he decided to give racing a miss and focus on administration.

Wilton can recall when drag racing events were held on Dixon street in Masterton with its popularity growing to the point where it became patently obvious that a better venue was required and when a site at Hood Aerodrome became available it was quickly snapped up.

For almost a decade Masterton Motorplex successfully held meetings there but in early 2008 came the news that Eagle Air was about to provide an air service from Hood and that the drag strip, and the club, could be destined for the scrap heap.

As it happened, however, this cloud certainly had a silver lining for it prompted Wilton and his committee to start looking seriously at what they could do to save the situation and from there came the dream of constructing a track of international specifications which would be the envy of all other drag racing clubs throughout the country.

Before that dream became a reality though there was considerable work to do, not the least of which was raising the funds required to make it happen, funds which grew from between $800,000 and $1m to over $3m by the time it all came to fruition.

“It was tough, really tough, to keep the funds coming but we had some terrific support from the local community and people like Bob Francis worked their butts off to help us bring it all together . . . it’s amazing to think what was achieved in such a short space of time.”

Come February, 2014 and over 3000 fans were there to watch the country’s first-ever purpose-built track opened and more than 200 cars create an atmosphere which Wilton himself described as “petrolhead heaven.”

The 850-metre long track included an uphill run off and was the country’s widest at 20m and had the largest concrete “launch pad” at 155m.

In short it was pretty much state of the art stuff, an incredible monument to all those who had worked so tirelessly to make it happen and huge boon to the Masterton and Wairarapa economy.

“I still pinch myself to think that we’ve got a world class drag strip here in Masterton . . . now we need to make sure we value it and keep improving it so that it’s always something we can be proud of,” Wilton said.

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