Never mind the track at Pukekohe. Let's spend more on the track to Pukekohe.

As one who grew up in the metropolis of Pukekohe, I could not be more proud that the town is soon to be part of an incredibly popular and lucrative sporting enterprise, the V8 Supercars Australia.

Whether Pukekohe, or any other part of the country, will enjoy the fruits of that lucrative enterprise is another matter.

What we can say with confidence is that Pukekohe's time in the limelight is overdue. It was a typical small, faintly gloomy New Zealand town hit hard by government cutbacks when I attended its high school in the 1980s. Some people had money, but many didn't have much, and the depressed times bludgeoned the formerly affluent farming folk and the urban poor alike.

Mobile phones, computers, even a decent main street were years away at that point. I got paid $3.50 an hour to pick strawberries, and when the local Deka department store was shut down and not replaced with anything offering similarly cheap cosmetics, lingerie and other knick-knacks to impoverished teenagers, I felt certain I would never be able to make an enjoyable future there.


Modernity caught up with the place, however, and these days Pukekohe provides a semi-rural haven for city workers, including many school chums who have returned there to raise families. It's got pretty good restaurants, a new movie theatre, plentiful retail and service offerings and an attractive pedestrian mall.

It also now has a potentially enormous tourist magnet in the form of its racetrack, and enough dedicated petrolheads to ensure a solid local audience for racing events. But is it enough to satisfy the huge corporate backers of V8 Supercars Australia? Is it heck.

Despite the fact Pukekohe Raceway is a privately owned venue with more than $15 million in assets, and V8 Supercars Australia is a business worth in the region of A$300 million and is mostly owned by a private equity firm Archer Capital, which has more than A$2 billion under management, the sponsors are looking to spread the risk of staging the New Zealand leg of the V8 race in Pukekohe.

About $10 million of Super City money, with $2 million in government funding, is being ploughed into the Pukekohe Raceway to bring it up to standard.

Projections are only that: projections, guesses. No one seems to be held to account when they are wrong and cause thousands of dollars in losses. Estimates of hundreds of thousands of people turning up to watch the V8 Supercars seem optimistic; if they don't show, the council will have effectively upgraded the Pukekohe Raceway for little return.

It might have been more helpful if authorities had instead decided to put that $12 million towards ensuring public transport and other facilities will be of a standard befitting an event the size and scope of the V8 Supercars.

A little known fact is that trains in the backwaters of India, where whole extended families and their barnyard pets cram into antiquated carriages with no air conditioning, enjoy better riding conditions than train passengers between Pukekohe and Auckland, and their trains are more reliable, too.

It is ironic indeed that people may flock to Pukekohe to see awe-inspiring machines riding a state-of-the-art track, paid for tax dollars extracted under urgency. Meanwhile, a steady stream of tax dollars put towards our rail system can barely get us from point A to point B.

* Illustration by Anna Crichton: