The second round of the quick-fire motorcycle racing Suzuki Tri-Series (three events over four weekends) hits the Manfeild circuit tomorrow after the opening round at Hampton Downs last weekend.
The usual suspects are either leading their respective classes, or well and truly in the hunt after the first round. On reading the race report and results, one name leapt off the page like a blast from the past. With some surprise, and a pleasant one at that, it can be confirmed the one and only John Woodley is still hurling a two-wheeled rocket around New Zealand race tracks.
Those with even only a passing interest in the glory days of Kiwi road racing will remember Woodley cleaning up on home shores before departing overseas and making a few waves of his own. His career spanned the 1970s and 1980s highlighted by him winning five New Zealand championships, three Australian 500cc Grands Prix at Bathurst, racing in World Championship Grand Prix events (a leading privateer with a best finish of ninth at the 1979 French GP) and international events in Malaysia and Indonesia as a factory-backed Suzuki rider.
He also raced at the Isle of Man in 1978 where he finished 9th in the Senior (500cc) TT.
You'd think he had nothing more to prove, but after 29 years retired he decided that a particular itch still had to be scratched. Woodley made a comeback in 2010, riding an MV Augusta F4 R312 1000cc machine at 60 years old and is having another yahoo this year.
"I had a 14-year break from riding a bike after I came back from Europe until a couple of my mates turned up and took me out for a ride," said Woodley.
"I started road riding socially again until I bought first a Ducati in 2003 and then some time [later] a MV Augusta and then went racing.
"We've done a lot of modifications to it and it's a fantastic machine; at the moment it's better than me. I just need more track time and I'll be okay - I haven't had any for about five years.
"I have the same passion I had for racing, but the real enjoyment has come from taking a machine that is top notch [from the factory] and then improving it.
"If the MV was being ridden by one of the young blokes it would be winning. It's an old machine having been manufactured in 2007 but it would win the class in the right hands."
During his international years Woodley rode a variety of machines including the Suzuki RG500 Grand Prix bike and the infamous Yamaha TZ750. These two machines in particular were a handful to ride extremely quickly and had horsepower to burn.
However, the expat Kiwi (now living north of Melbourne) reckons his MV Augusta keeps him honest when he's tucked in behind the fairing going flat out.
"I had quite a lot of butterflies at Hampton Downs [last weekend]. The competitive spirit is still there that's for sure, but at times it gets a bit hairy, especially when the steering damper broke and I got a bit of a [tank] slapper going up the straight.
"Manfeild will be better as the damper is fixed and I've done quite a few laps around there including a couple of Castrol Six Hours.
"Manfeild was always pretty kind to me. What I'm still coming to grips with is just how much more horsepower the MV has compared to my old bikes. It's developing almost 150kW, compared to 112kW, so you arrive at corners a lot faster.
"I love racing with these young guys as they are so gung ho.
"The hardest thing these days is trying to keep up with all the technology," said Woodley.
He noted how today's young riders have grown up with sticky tyres and when they pass him, he gets a close look at what the modern tyres are capable of, and so knows he can push a little harder.
Back on a track he knows and with more track time, Woodley is easily capable of putting the frighteners up a few of the younger riders who think he might be past his prime. You can't buy experience, and with Woodley's background coupled with a quick bike, a podium finish could be beckoning.
The third and final round of the Tri-Series is at the iconic Wanganui Cemetery Circuit, which must be the only street course that actually goes around a cemetery, anywhere in the world, on Boxing Day.