Photos by Jeremy Ward | shot360.co.nz
Hamilton teenager Tiania Wallbank isn’t old enough for her driver’s licence yet, but she spends every spare moment behind the wheel of her mini stock, competing at Huntly Speedway.
And while she may not cross the line first at every event, she is highly regarded in the sport for her sportsmanship and pure love of speedway.
Tiania Wallbank’s home-away-from-home is where she chooses to spend every possible moment; whether competing, spectating or helping upkeep the facilities. The 16-year-old is a familiar face at Huntly Speedway, where she competes her mini stock and has future plans to step up and race stock cars.
The competitive teenager is following in the footsteps of her parents and grandfather, and most of her favourite childhood memories revolve around the speedway.
“My dad and mum race here, my grandfather raced here when the track was first built, and all three of my sisters have competed. In fact, my youngest sister was almost born in the control room.”
The timing of those contractions are still written on the wall of the control tower- where Tiania’s mum is usually found officiating on race days.
“It is very much a family sport in every meaning of the word; first because it’s the sport my entire family are involved in and passionate about, and secondly because all of the people at Huntly Speedway I basically regard as my extended family.”
While being first through the chequered flag is obviously a goal, for Tiania, participating in the sport is all the reward she needs.
“I love every moment of it. I love getting ready and before the race, lining up, competing, and every moment after the race, as well as the social aspect with all the people involved.”
Having first got behind the wheel (officially) aged 12, Tiania proudly races her blue mini stock, built and maintained by her grandfather.
“All I have ever wanted is to race,” she says. “I don’t go to get the chequered flag, I go to enjoy myself. It’s granddad’s night out otherwise he sits at home and I go because my family watches and it’s something we are all involved in and enjoy.
“I’m not the best racer out there but I always strive to do my best.”
Tiania is well known in the sport, respected for her healthy attitude, good sportsmanship and her sense of humour.
She has been nominated and awarded ‘personality of the pits’ and even when not competing, she and her family are often at the grounds, helping paint or do any other jobs on the ‘to do’ list. Tiania has enormous respect and affection for Huntly Speedway president, Red Wootton.
“We live about half an hour from the track, but we are there all the time, even when it’s not race season. Red keeps the tracks in first class condition even in the off season. He is amazing, he owns the track and is constantly out there improving it.”
The level of involvement from Tiania’s family is impressive and their support reflects the Wallbank’s love of speedway.
At just a few hours old, Tiana was in the grandstand watching her older sister race. And when younger sister Olivia was born (narrowly avoiding a control tower delivery), staunch supporter mum was back at the track with her newborn baby in time to see her older siblings race.
With the season set to kick off this month, Tiania is gutted that neither she or her blue mini stock will taking part in the opening event.
The whole family is off to Australia where dad is currently working – but Tiania plans to earn some money working over there herself and return home with enough saved to buy her first stock car.
“Once I turn 17 I can step up into other classes and I want to be able to fund myself and try and get some sponsors behind me for stock car racing.”
The Hillcrest High School student can’t see herself racing seriously anywhere except on her home track; ‘racing in Australia is completely different with clay tracks, and Huntly Speedway is where my heart is and where I want to race.
“It’s going to be really weird not being so involved this season, but my plan is to come back and try and do some mini stock events with a day driver licence, so I’m still part of the family here.”
Racing in the mini stock class, Tiana reaches speeds of between 50-70kmph. Her mini stock has been built and is maintained by her grandfather.
“It has a Datsun motor and while I check all the basics, it’s all pretty straightforward and uncomplicated. Mini stock is a non-contact sport.”
With plans to move up to stock car racing next year, which is a contact sport with significantly more power and speed, Tiania is excited at the prospect.
Her confidence took a hit last season when she did a triple roll on the track, but despite the experience, was back laughing in the pits at the end of the event.
“You don’t roll much in mini stock, it’s the first and only time it happened in three seasons of racing, and no one even touched me – I did it all by myself! My confidence was up, I put my foot down and hit a rut and over we went.”
Although unharmed, it did dent her confidence, but not her determination.
“It hasn’t changed how I feel about the sport. It’s just the adrenalin rush I’m addicted to. You’re in the car in control of how fast you’re going, and your confidence levels dictate how far you want to put your foot down, and carries you through.
“My goal is to get a chequered flag, that’s everybody’s goal, but also to make my parents and grandad proud. They put all the work and money into the car so I want to be able to repay them by making them proud.”