‘Something primal’ in racing

Vintage racer Stuart McElrea (right) brought a Burt Munro title back to Balclutha. He is pictured...
Vintage racer Stuart McElrea (right) brought a Burt Munro title back to Balclutha. He is pictured with British bestie Joey Hunter, who was visiting from Southampton. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Balclutha biker Stuart McElrea roared to victory in Invercargill recently.

The Burt Munro Challenge attracts thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts from around the world with competitions in all categories, and the local realtor drew on years of experience to race away with the coveted "Classic up to 500cc" sash.

"Qualification was on Friday [February 9] in pretty cold, wet weather and I came in fifth out of 12 or 15," Mr McElrea said.

"We were meant to have two races the following day but a bike in another class blew up and it took two hours to clean the fluids off the wet track."

Racing was 8km southwest of Invercargill, at Teretonga Park, the southernmost FIA-graded race track in the world. It has the second-longest straight in Australasia.

World-class superbike celebrities including Antony West and Mitch Rees were there, setting new track records.

McElrea’s heats were not time trials, but head-to-head races with up to 30 high-performance bikes in multiple categories contesting six laps of the 2.57km circuit at the same time.

The Saturday round was reduced to one race, where he finished fifth again, but Sunday arrived with dry weather and McElrea’s late 1960s, 500cc Triumph 5TA was tuned and polished for two last rounds.

"I was sixth on the grid, and it’s confusing with bikes in other classes falling behind or rushing past, but you’ll find yourself up against someone doing about the same as you ... there’s something primal," McElrea said.

"There’s no mirrors but you can hear and feel them and it’s sort of a duel, pushing yourself and each other to be that little bit better.

"You’re concentrating so hard you lose track of time and get quite grateful for the flags and markers to tell you where you are."

Bikes were fitted with transponders to bring certainty to the mechanical maelstrom.

While McElrea knew he had been topping out at about 175kmh, it was not until he cut his engine and checked the leaderboard he discovered he had come first in both races, nine points in the lead and 2024’s clear champion in the class.

"Ive been riding all my life but didn’t start racing until I was 56," he said.

"I’ve competed at 13 of the 17 Burt Munros and winning’s something, but the whole gathering is special.

"You have your regular life and then there’s racing — the gear, routines and rituals, smells and noise, atmosphere and camaraderie.

"It’s like stepping into another completely different world for a while."