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Patron recalls beginnings as Teretonga celebrates 65th

Teretonga Park in Invercargill turns 65 years old next month and club patron Barry Keen has been there and seen it all from the beginning.

The Southland Sports Car Club, which operates the circuit, celebrates its own milestone with a 75th anniversary next year and in the 10 years prior to the circuit opening ran assorted events such as grass track racing, beach racing, gravel hillclimbs and the like. It was at one of these events that Keen, until then more interested in planes, attended and purchased a car from Jack Johnstone. It was Keen’s first car. He did not even have a road car at the time.

When Barry became involved plans were already well advanced towards the construction of Teretonga Park.

To raise money for the construction of the circuit the club ran two races on a road circuit at Ryal Bush in 1956 and ‘57 and Barry raced at the latter. He remembers names such as Peter Whitehead of Great Britain and Tony Gaze of Australia, a WW2 fighter pilot with 14 kills to his name, competing.

Meanwhile work continued at Teretonga with Harold Williams in charge. The circuit took a lot of work with plenty of working bees plus Charlie Emerson, a contractor who was a club member providing bulldozers and scrapers. There were 4 concrete mixers with members and wheelbarrows working constantly when the starting grid area was laid. Barry recalls a manuka fence around the pit area with posts set in sand. “It did not last long in the wind.”

The circuit was built from chip seal and in order to firm and pack the surface a public open day was held. “People could drive around the circuit which helped pack the chips and there was a 44-gallon drum of fuel on site to fill everyone’s tank when they had done their laps.”

The first race meeting was held on 30 November 1957 and Merv Neil of Auckland in a Bobtail Cooper won the feature race. Barry won the saloon car race in a Standard 8. “It was raining at the time.” There was carnage with the stones. “The surface was terrible at that time. There were broken windshields, goggles, stone chips and even blood drawn. The grip was very second hand as everyone had conventional tyres.”

The first international event was held on 8 February 1958 with kiwi Ross Jensen in an ex-Stirling Moss Maserati winning the main race.

That preceded a history that saw some of the world’s biggest names racing at Teretonga Park. Barry can recall nine World Champions but the biggest name in Barry’s opinion was Stirling Moss who raced at the circuit in 1962. “I was thinking of quitting motor racing but entered just to say I had raced at the same meeting as Moss. While Moss never won the World Championship everyone knew who Moss was whether or not they followed motor racing.”

Barry did continue racing and had his own successful career, in conjunction with George Begg, another Southland motor racing legend.

Keen has seen plenty of progress at Teretonga Park over the years. “The track was resurfaced with hotmix which was far better, the lap times went down as soon as that happened. The pitlane used to be protected by a row of haybales and there was a ditch around the circuit. There were lupins everywhere originally and now the circuit looks like a park which Barry credits to the various groundsmen, the late Dave Holland, then Russell Adamson and current groundsman Daryn Cammell.”

“When Swede Jo Bonnier raced here in the early day’s he had a yellow and green car and he went off at the end of the straight and they couldn’t find him initially, the car blended in. The esses, part of the original circuit were replaced after a crash in 1966 by a straight run after the brickyard to the elbow.”

Facilities have definitely improved as well. “The Control Tower was simple at the start. There was an extra bit for the timekeepers. Over time it was improved and covered in and then moved to the outside of the circuit. Now it has been replaced a by a state-of-the-art facility.”

The 65th will be celebrated with a club day at the circuit on Sunday 6 November with a Standing ¼ and a Flying 1/10th in the morning before a BBQ lunch and then a race meeting in the afternoon with the Noel McIntyre Drainage Club Saloons and Sports & Racing Cars.

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