Paving way for racing

By Merania Karauria


In his day on the racing circuits of the world, Wanganui man Rod Coleman was known as "Hot Rod".

Today, the 86-year-old won't get back on a bike for the 60th anniversary of the Cemetery Circuit, but he'll be there to watch the races. Just like he was there at the beginning of the now-famous one-mile central Wanganui circuit that attracts riders from around the world.

A young Mr Coleman was given the job to create the petition and interview everyone who lived and worked along the circuit.

He needed their signature to agree to the race and the closure of the road.

No-one objected and a presentation at Wellington by Mr Coleman's father Percy was successful.

And for the first time in New Zealand, authority was given to close a public road in the centre of a city.

That was 1951 when Mr Coleman senior, a former New Zealand grass track champion and Maurie Harris who was the president of the Wanganui Junior Chamber of Commerce, approached the Wanganui City Council to hold the street race through the middle of the town cemetery.

Mr Harris' committee and the council were the organisers of the Wanganui Carnival which was usually held in February, but in 1951 it was decided to hold the carnival at Christmas.

The carnival was an event held over two weeks that started with the Boxing Day races, and that night was an open air vaudeville show at Cook's Gardens.

Until January 9 open-air art and sports events were held, and one night Selwyn Toogood held his own "Monster Cash Quiz Show" at Cooks Gardens.

The Wanganui Motorcycle Club applied to the Auto Cycle Union (ACU) for a road race on Boxing Day, but this was met with opposition because it was too close to the NZTT.

After discussions with the Auckland club, the objections were lifted and the date was made 'Hot Rod' paved way for race

The biggest surprise was that permission had been granted.Rod Coleman available to Wanganui.

Discussions between Mr Coleman and Mr Harris followed and the plan was to make the street race part of the carnival with profits being donated to the event.

A helpful chief traffic officer agreed that if the Wanganui club could get signatures from everybody on the proposed circuit to not oppose the race on Boxing Day, then he would assist Mr Coleman to present the document to the authority in Wellington.

The petition was successful but all did not go so well because a retired judge who objected to the road being closed, stopped the club from charging a fee to enter the circuit.

"This meant asking the public for a donation which considerably reduced the gate takings."

The judge continued his objection until he died and then his daughter tried to continue what her father started, however she was unsuccessful.

But there was one more problem for the race, and that was the trains that used the railway lines.

"There was a central railway station that was in frequent use adjacent to the circuit.

"It was quite usual to watch the finish of a race and right afterwards see a train cross the track to the railway station."

Mr Coleman says the circuit in 1951 was not smooth.

In parts the tarseal was old and bumpy, especially on the S-bend on Heads Rd.

The crossing over the railway line was above normal road level so bikes became airborne. On the corner of Ridgway and Wilson St was a dairy.

"I remember Earl Colver from Napier parting company with his motorcycle on this corner, and according to him, arriving at the counter to a startled attendant," Mr Coleman said.

In the 1952 January edition of the English The Motor Cycle, an editorial said: "There were several houses on the one-mile circuit, but other scenery included a bus depot, a vehicle testing station, two cemeteries, the city's gas works, a petrol store, part of the railway station and several factories and warehouses.

"The biggest surprise was that permission had been granted for racing on public streets."

- WANGANUI CHRONICLE

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