Dozens of past and present Northland Car Club members are set to gather and celebrate the region's most memorable motorsporting moments this weekend, as the club's 60th reunion gets under way.

A member since the club's early days, Brian Skudder fondly recalls the delight in seeing legendary drivers such as Bruce McLaren gracing Northland's Puhipuhi Rd and Waipu Gorge.

"I'd just started work with Western Motors and was still riding a pushbike to work," Skudder said.

Emerging talent George Lawton, a past recipient of New Zealand's Driver To Europe scholarship, races up Puhipuhi Rd in an Austin Healey, circa 1957.
Emerging talent George Lawton, a past recipient of New Zealand's Driver To Europe scholarship, races up Puhipuhi Rd in an Austin Healey, circa 1957.

"I remember going out to the Puhipuhi Hill Climb to help to get it ready for it's very first event. It was very exciting for us young guys seeing those guys, they were heroes to us."

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Skudder recalls the club's initial events were run on the smell of an oily rag for the love of the sport.

"Times were tough in those days," he said of the post-World War II economic climate.

"I just remember the friendships, I made a lot of strong friendships from it."

As well as the good times, bad times also ensued for the club's members - especially in the pioneering, dangerous days of motorsport.

One tragedy saw one of Whangarei and New Zealand's most promising drivers lose his life far too young.

George Lawton, or "Joe", died in the arms of fellow New Zealand racing legend and close friend Denny Hulme after he crashed at the Formula 2 Danish Grand Prix in 1960.

Lawton, who was leading the race at the time with British racing legend Sterling Moss right on his tail, was only 21 when he died.

Fifty-five years later, the memory remains strong for Skudder.

"I was doing shifts on the petrol pumps at Western Motors when I first heard the news," he said.

"I can still remember to this day the shock of hearing that ... motor racing these days is all the better for the safety features they have."

A club member since 1973, current president Alan Strong hopes memories like this, as well as the happier ones, can be reminisced upon during the weekend's proceedings.

With a hill climb at Doctor's Hill Rd scheduled for Saturday, followed by a dinner event, and then a Motorkhana on Sunday, Strong said the reunion would provide a chance for old buddies to reunite.

"The main things is some of the older members, some of them are getting quite old ... a lot of them are in their 80s and there's a couple of them in the 90s now so it could be one of the last times some of them see each other," he said.

While Skudder and foundation member John Windelburn will be joined by plenty of other older members and legends from around the province, another notable member making the trip home for the event is Ron Dixon, the father of four-time Indy Car racing champion Scott Dixon.

-More details of the Northland Car Club's 60th Reunion can be found at www.ncc.org.nz/events.htm