A Cromwell speedway champion has died after plunging 60m off a Southland cliff shortly after rescuing two of his mates.

On Friday night, Daryl Ainsley had gone to rescue two mates who got stuck while driving on the Tautuku Peninsula, in the Catlins.

"It was a bit boggy out there, so they asked him to help tow them out," his brother Lomas Ainsley said.

"He was more than happy to help them out, he just called them 'bloody idiots', and then went on a wee drive on the way back."

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His mates went back to the place they were staying, thinking Ainsley would return later.

By morning he still hadn't returned to the crib, so they went out looking for him.

Ainsley's vehicle was found in the sea at the bottom of a 60m-high cliff out on the peninsula at about 11.20am on Saturday. His body was in the water nearby.

Lomas Ainsley said the family got the tragic news shortly after.

"We are all a bit over the show. He was one of a kind. Always there for anyone who needed help, financial, emotional, physical, he never asked, he just did it."

Daryl Ainsley, a 52-year-old father of three, was a respected Cromwell shearing contractor and president of Central Motor Speedway.

"He was a very well-known fella," his brother said.

"We have been getting messages from friends of his from all over New Zealand and Australia. It is mindblowing.

"He was extremely motivated, and if he thought of something, he would just do it."

Once he decided he wanted to be a DJ.

"The next day he went out bought all the gear and started DJ-ing all over central Otago.

"Another time he and a mate went and bought a pub. He did the Coast to Coast several years in a row too.

"He threw that passion into everything he did, and was involved in many clubs, boards and committees."

Over the past seven years he had thrown his all into speedway racing, his brother said.

He was a three-times South Island champion in speedway saloon racing.

Alexandra shearing contractor Peter Lyon said Ainsley was a friend.

"As a fellow contractor, I have the utmost respect for him. He was so valued by a lot of people, including his clients."

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan said he met Ainsley several times over the past 15 years.

"I enjoyed his energetic character, his enthusiasm and passion."

Ainsley once talked him into driving a stock car in a celebrity race.

Cromwell Community Board chairman and deputy mayor Neil Gillespie had much to do with Ainsley over the years. They played squash together and he dealt with him as a councillor and community board member.

"When Daryl really got involved with something, he gave it 150 per cent," Gillespie said.

"It's a huge loss ... there will be big boots to fill ... but my first thoughts are with the family he left behind."

Senior Constable Murray Hewitson said police were investigating the incident on behalf of the coroner.

It was "rugged" terrain out on the peninsula, he said.

"There is a lot of farmland, no fences, and cliffs all around the place."

- with Otago Daily Times