NZ Truck & Driver News

 
Apprentice mechanic also a speedway rising star

Apprentice mechanic also a speedway rising star

NZ Truck & Driver News

 April 2021   

At Truckstops Christchurch, Ben Whalley is a second-year apprentice diesel mechanic, with ambitions to finish his time, doing a job he “loves.”

Away from work, the 18-year-old is something of a sensation in speedway motorcycle racing – this year having become the youngest-ever winner of the New Zealand Solo Motorcycle Speedway Champs. 

That puts him on a Kiwi champions’ roll of honour that includes famous Kiwi speedway names like Len Perry, Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs, Ivan Mauger and Mitch Shirra. 

And, in the space of just a few months, he’s backed-up that NZ championship victory by coming second in the Burt Munro Challenge’s speedway event, winning the Ronnie Moore Memorial and taking out the South Island Championship.

Pretty impressive from someone who hadn’t won a single title until this year – and who didn’t really rate himself a chance at the NZ champs: “To be honest, I thought I had a go at making the finals (ie the top four) – but I never knew I could actually come right out on top! 

“I hadn’t really thought about it to be honest. Well, maybe one day – in a few more years.”

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At Truckstops Christchurch, Ben Whalley is a second-year apprentice diesel mechanic, with ambitions to finish his time, doing a job he “loves.”

Away from work, the 18-year-old is something of a sensation in speedway motorcycle racing – this year having become the youngest-ever winner of the New Zealand Solo Motorcycle Speedway Champs. 

That puts him on a Kiwi champions’ roll of honour that includes famous Kiwi speedway names like Len Perry, Ronnie Moore, Barry Briggs, Ivan Mauger and Mitch Shirra. 

And, in the space of just a few months, he’s backed-up that NZ championship victory by coming second in the Burt Munro Challenge’s speedway event, winning the Ronnie Moore Memorial and taking out the South Island Championship.

Pretty impressive from someone who hadn’t won a single title until this year – and who didn’t really rate himself a chance at the NZ champs: “To be honest, I thought I had a go at making the finals (ie the top four) – but I never knew I could actually come right out on top! 

“I hadn’t really thought about it to be honest. Well, maybe one day – in a few more years.”

Yes, he concedes, he “had dreamt of it – a wee bit. But I just didn’t think I was ready for it.

“To come away with it this year! I was quite surprised with myself to be honest.”

He reckons he “just scraped through” the semi-finals to make it into the finals.

“There was a wee bit of luck in it as well – but that’s just part of it.” In the first of three finals races four-time champion Bradley Wilson-Dean dropped out with a blown engine.

When Ben won that race, and the next, he was able to start the finale needing only to finish to clinch the title.

“There were nerves,” he concedes. But he also says that one of his strengths is “probably just how calm I am in pressure situations.

“I’ve seen other guys muck up and they’re throwing goggles and helmets and they’re kicking bikes over. It doesn’t help at all.”

When he won the national title, Ben reckons he was “in a bit of shock. Took a while for the realisation to come.”

Interestingly, ask about his proudest racing achievement and Ben says: “Probably not the NZs to be honest: I just like it when I have to fight to win. To come from the back gives you a good feeling.”

He reckons he’s happiest with his performance at the NZ Under-21 Championships two years ago – even though he made a mistake, fell off…and missed the title: “Until then I was winning every race – and that was really my first time winning anything.”

Ben got his start in speedway when he was just eight years old, after the sudden death of his father. He and his younger brother “needed a sense of direction – and that’s where my Grandad stepped in and we got into speedway.”

His grandfather, Ivan Harris, who’d always been a speedway motorcycle racing fan, is Ben’s mentor, his race team and his No. 1 supporter: “He’s really passionate.”

The two of them do all the mechanical work on Ben’s purposebuilt speedway bike – a Jawa frame with a 500cc Italian GM motor, which produces about 80 horsepower. That makes for an exciting power to weight ratio, given that the bike weighs 70-80 kilograms…and Ben is a super-lightweight 67kg.

Ben’s on-track success might suggest he’d be keen to head off to try to achieve his ultimate dream – to compete in Speedway GP in Europe. 

He is – but right now, his biggest ambition is “just to get qualified. I’d like to race overseas – but I won’t be doing that till I’m qualified.

“I love my job. It’s kind of my life in a way. I’m always on the tools at home. 

“I quite like trucks. Everything’s big and heavy…it’s nice and physical.”

His workmates, he says, are very supportive of his racing: “They think it’s pretty cool. They’re a good bunch of guys I work with.”

The feeling’s clearly mutual. His boss Nigel Broadhead says the whole branch is “extremely proud” of Ben: “He is a very quiet, humble young man with a huge future – not just in speedway, but also in the road transport world. 

“The sort of commitment needed to achieve this at such a young age is inspirational to all of us.”  


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