Southern women speedway drivers are competing hard and fast alongside the men as engines roar and mud flies.
Nationally, more women are racing and Dunedin’s Beachlands Speedway has one of the highest proportions of female drivers in New Zealand.
At Beachland’s December 18 meeting, Kahn Gray co-captained the all-women Southern Rookies team in an action-filled, 10-lap dirt track race against the all-male Otago Outlaws.
“You’re fully on trying to take each other out – the aim of the game is to take them out and we get across the line first,” she says.
She says it is the first time a “ladies’ team” has raced in the South Island.
They are driving stock cars, so it’s full contact and aggressive.
Kahn says each team of five cars has some drivers who are the runners, racing to get across the line, while others function as blockers to try and stop their opponents.
Once the Saturday evening race begins, it’s all on between the men’s blue and gold stock cars and the women’s white and pink ones.
Driver Savannah Simon collides with Harry Greer and their cars tangle together.
The race commentator describes Zane Tuhura as “a known hitter in that 88 machine” and he certainly is when he forces Kahn’s vehicle up the wall.
The action is fast and furious, and as the white flag signals the last lap, the commentator exclaims that “the Southern Rookies are spread all around the race track”.
They are indeed, and Nico Tuhura speeds across the finish line for an Otago Outlaws win.
The Southern Rookies threw everything but the kitchen sink at them,” says the commentator.
The women are ecstatic after their first event as a team. Adrenalin is pumping, screams release stress and they rehash the race together with the men, discussing tactics and analysing their mistakes in a joyful atmosphere.
The Southern Rookies are very keen to race again.
From widespread regions and ages
Before the event, Kahn explains that the women normally race individually, travelling around the country to compete most weekends in summer.
Two race out of Cromwell, two are from Greymouth, one from Dunedin and their manager, Kate Brooks, is from Christchurch.
Their ages range from 17 to 43.
Cheryl Walker and Shinnae McNally have been racing for years, with the latter a former adult mini-stocks 1NZ title holder and the Southern Rookies co-captain.
Savannah has previously driven youth saloons and it’s Jenna Tree’s first proper season in the stock car grade and Kahn’s second.
They’ve all been around the speedway scene in various roles.
The idea of a women’s team formed “over a coupla brews”.
“We talk the talk, so we may as well walk the walk,” Kahn says.
Asked why they like speedway, answers come with speed.
“The people, the adrenalin,” Kahn says.
Shinnae adds, the family environment and road trips. Others add the holidays and camaraderie.
Jenna says it’s the best stress release ever.
It’s called anger management classes!”
As we talk, there’s plenty of hilarity.
The women seem content racing in a predominantly male sport.
“It’s better. Girls are too catty,” Kahn says.
Cheryl has experienced Rotorua’s annual Aotearoa Ladies’ Stock Car Crown event.
“With men, you know where you stand,” she remarks.
“They’re all our friends anyway,” Kahn says, noting that everyone is the same out on the track.
And afterwards, they drink beer together.
Female participation on the rise
A Beachlands production saloon driver who assists with promotions, Alisa Stewart, says they have 16 licensed female drivers this season.
Female competitors comprise 40 per cent of the youth grades, 10 per cent of the adult grades and 15 per cent of the total drivers at Beachlands.
This compares with Speedway New Zealand figures of 23 per cent females in the youth grades and 7 per cent in the adult classes, with 10 per cent of the total drivers being female.
Alisa attributes the development of women drivers to their family racing heritage, the youth moving into adult grades and an accepting atmosphere.
“The males are all very open-minded, accepting and encouraging,” she says.
The Beachlands Speedway Secretary, Leanne Simon, says they’ve had one or two women drivers in the past 20 years.
In Dunedin, girls who began in the youth saloons are progressing to the production, stock car and modified classes.
Most have family speedway links and women also volunteer on the committee and at races, including through lap-scoring, looking after various grades or being the pit boss.
Leanne says females compete and volunteer at speedways throughout New Zealand.
“Honestly, we couldn’t do a race meeting without all the women that volunteer here.”
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