70th Birthday Present a 70 Lap Super Saloon Race at Heavy Trax Hire Central Motor Speedway
Fast zeroing in on the age where many of his contemporaries have retired to spend their days in recliner chairs, Ray Stewart is still hands firmly on the wheel of his heavy equipment hire business and is regularly strapped into the racing seat of his 800 horsepower super saloon to scorch the clay at Heavy Trax Hire Central Motor Speedway on the outskirts of Cromwell.
This Saturday (Jan 11) Ray’s milestone birthday is being celebrated with the Ray Stewart 70th Birthday Super Saloon 70 Lapper. Adding to the action will be a sprint car 40 lapper. Ray’s actual 70th birthday is on February 22 when he will be at Woodford Glen competing in the New Zealand Super Saloon Championships.
Mosgiel-based Ray Stewart is more than an advertisement for baby boomers to stay active, he’s an inspiration for those who have suffered serious health issues. Although it happened six years ago, Ray vividly recalls the sudden, excruciating bear hug that dropped him to the floor. With the help of others in the shop he was in, Ray got back onto his feet and remarkably, walked to nearby Dunedin Hospital. There A & E staff promptly sat him in a wheelchair. What followed was a quadruple bypass and a three week stay in hospital.
Surely this major heart attack and serious open chest surgery would mean the end of a near lifetime involvement with two and four wheel motorsport for this self-confessed petrol head. Not a chance. After all, this is the same Ray Stewart who at 40, and despite losing the sight in his left eye when things went drastically wrong while helping a friend work on a high pressure pump, kept on motocross riding for another five years.
“Without the benefit of depth perception that you get with two eyes, riding motocross was difficult, but I did stick it out until I was 45,” explains Ray who during his long two wheel career was rated among the top five motocross riders in the Dunedin-Taieri Plans area. “On four wheels this depth perception thing didn’t seem such a problem, so having been a regular trackside at Dunedin’s Beachlands Speedway as well as raced a home-built single seater in hill climbs in the 1970, speedway seemed the way to go.”
As much as he professes to have been an average Dunedin born and bred kid, and who as a teenager was a ‘Beatles nutter’, Ray left school at 17 and pretty much immediately demonstrated the drive and ambition that has taken him far in business and life.
“I started working as a toolmaker apprentice on three pounds, 10 shillings a week. Meanwhile, a good mate was getting 40 pounds a week at Burnside Freezing Works. When he told me there was an opportunity for me there, I took it and worked at Burnside for some six or seven years.
“During the freezing works off season I found work in engineering shops picking up lathe, welding, fabricating and other skills. My first real business venture was in 1988/89 when I imported 34 cars from Japan and although they all sold, I felt it wasn’t what I wanted to do. My engineering background then led to importing and selling loaders and excavators.
“Our point of difference of low hours earthmoving machines at reasonable prices saw us sell thousands. Then came the 2008 global financial crisis that had customers coming to us wanting to hire rather than buy. And that was the start of Heavy Trax Hire. Now in Dunedin, Invercargill, Cromwell and Auckland, ours is still very much a family business.”
Gail, Ray’s wife of 47 years, is a key member of the management team at the Heavy Trax Hire head office in Dunedin as is daughter Rebecca (40). Heavy Trax Hire in Auckland, the company’s largest business arm, is run by son Daniel (42).
Speedway racing doesn’t come cheap but with his business going well, in the late 1980’s Ray bought a two litre, four cylinder race car based on the Nissan 200SX. Then as now, four cylinders was a rarity among methanol fuelled, flame spitting V8 powered super saloons.
However, Ray soon had that four cylinder engine producing more horsepower than many of the V8’s. Known as the ‘Hissin’ Nissan’ because of the noise made by the turbo shut off valve, Ray raced that super saloon orphan for 13 years, winning races, coming fourth two times in the NZ super saloon championship and taking out a NZ super saloon GP at Auckland’s Waikaraka Park in Auckland. This first super saloon started the tradition of Ray always racing with the number 34.
Deciding Hissin Nissan had become outdated, and impressed with the Hypermac chassis being built by Shane McIntyre, multi time’s super saloon NZ1, NZ2 and NZ3, Ray went the V8 way buying the super saloon Shane had driven to 2NZ. This started a relationship that today sees Ray driving a new-this-season Hypermac featuring four wheel steering, the latest development to come out of super saloon racing in the United Sports.
Ray’s involvement with super saloons was very much a catalyst for the growth of this class in the South Island. Concerned super saloons were thriving in the North Island but on the wane in the South, Ray was convinced an annual South Island series would rekindle interest and improve skills through bringing super saloon drivers together to compete in fields of 18 and more. How right he was.
With the support of Elf Lubricants, the 2009/10 speedway season welcomed the launch of the seven series Elf Super Cup. After a number of seasons, the series became the Vertex Super Cup and then last season, the Mag & Turbo Super Cup. Round four of the six round 2019/20 Mag & Turbo Super Cup will be at Heavy TraxHire Central Motor Speedway on Friday, Feb 7 followed by the 2020 South Island Super Saloon Championship the next day.
But first, the dirt slinging, sideways, door-to-door action that is super saloon (aka Monsters of Speedway) racing is this Saturday (Jan 11) at Central Motor Speedway that for the past five seasons has had Ray’s business, Heavy Trax Hire, as the season sponsor. For details of how the 70 laps will be raced you will have to be there. And don’t forget there will also be the 40 lap adrenaline pumping sprint car 40 lapper sponsored by Civil Construction. Lots of other fast and furious classes will be racing, too. Bringing a bit of humour to the Cromwell clay on Saturday will be a super saloons pensioner race.