Otago men honoured at MSNZ awards

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 26 Aug 2017 | Latest News
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Roger Laird. Photo: Emma Gilmour

Two humble Otago men, who have contributed significantly to car rallies in the region, were recognised at the Motor Sport New Zealand (MSNZ) 50th anniversary of rallying event last weekend.

Dunedin's Norman Oakley and Roger Laird, of Gore, would both admit to being happier working away behind the scenes but were forced into the spotlight last Saturday when the pair received two of the 17 MSNZ Rally Heritage Awards in front of hundreds of their peers in Hamilton.

MSNZ president Wayne Christie explained that the Heritage Awards were established in 2014 have typically been presented to those involved in circuit racing.

‘‘So as part of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of rallying in New Zealand, we are delighted to present the first collection of Heritage Awards to those who have made significant contributions to rallying,'' he said.

Anyone who has ever had anything to do with the Rally of Otago would know Oakley's name. Part of his award notation dubs him ‘‘an exceptional event organiser and motivator of people who developed the Otago Rally into a prestigious and internationally-recognised event''.

After dabbling in rally driving for about six years in the 1980s, initially in a Datsun 1200 before upgrading to a Datsun 1600, Oakley was first a clerk of the course for the Otago Rally in the early 1990s.

He pinpointed 1989 as a crucial year for the annual Dunedin-based event, as after ‘‘what could go wrong, did go wrong'', its future viability hung by a thread. A core group of about four men, including Oakley, then decided to turn it into a rally that Otago could be proud of. It became a national championship round in 1994 and three years later the classic category was added.

‘‘Somebody had the bright idea of ‘Why don't we get somebody well-known to drive in it to help boost the entries','' Oakley said.

And so the legacy of inviting international star drivers to compete in the Classic Rally of Otago was born. In recent years the event has attracted former World Rally Champions Miki Biasion (Italy), Ari Vatanen, Finland's Juha Kankkunen and Hannu Mikkola, and Bjorn Waldegard from Sweden, as well as international drivers Pasi Hagstrom, Piero Liatti, Jimmy and Alister McRae and Alex Fiorio.

Oakley gave credit to a fellow MSNZ Rally Heritage Award-winner Brent Rawstron, of Christchurch, who has long been active as a sponsor and team owner, responsible for bringing overseas drivers to Rally Otago and kitting them out with a rally car and crew. Oakley, who works closely with his brother Roger on the Otago Rally, is also a former MSNZ executive and rally commission member.

Laird is synonymous with the Eastern Southland Car Club and he has worked tirelessly over the past 42 years as a competitor, scrutineer and organiser on the Gore, Southland, Rankelburn and Catlins rallies, as well as the Race to the Sky hillclimb.

He is also a MSNZ rally clerk of the course and a former member of the MSNZ rally commission. Like Oakley, Laird's love of motorsport began with a foray behind the wheel, and his car of choice was a 105 E Anglia. What has kept him involved for all these years is quite simply the people, whose passion is rallying.

‘‘You form great friendships and there is a real camaraderie among the teams,'' Laird said.

He also insisted he was just one cog in a greater machine that kept the rallies running successfully.

‘‘Rallies are always a real team effort and there's a really good team at the Eastern Southland Car Club. To make events happen there is a huge number of people who need to be involved,'' Laird said.MSNZ Heritage Award winners


Recipients of MotorSport New Zealand Rally Heritage Awards. -

Norman Oakley (Dunedin); Roger Laird (Gore); Willard Martin, Bob Haldane, Neil Allport, Mike Marshall, Blair Robson, Doug Benefield (posthumously, Auckland); Murray Thompson (posthumously, Wellington); Dave McCahon, Mike Fletcher (posthumously, Christchurch); Jim Scott (Whangamata); Gary Smith (Hamilton); Robin Curtis (posthumously, Fielding); Malcolm Stewart (posthumously, Dannevirke); Brian Green (Palmerston North).