Love affair with rally leads to ... just plain love affair

Otago Rally competitor John Spencer gets in a practice drive in his Datsun at Whare Flat...
Otago Rally competitor John Spencer gets in a practice drive in his Datsun at Whare Flat yesterday.PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
John Spencer’s story is as old as time.

You know the one. Boy meets girl. Boy and girl fall in love. Everyone lives happily ever after.

And so it was for Spencer.

But the Otago Rally played an instrumental role in the romance.

It is what lured the 57-year-old over from Australia in the first place.

He had heard about the Otago Rally and how wonderful it was, so in 2003 he made the decision to come over and compete.

PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
PHOTO: PETER MCINTOSH
He loved it "from the moment we arrived at the airport’’.

"We got picked up by one of the organising crew and were treated like royalty,’’ Spencer said.

"It was an awesome experience. Loved the hospitality, loved the roads and came back several times over the years.’’

In 2014 he decided to return again but this time to compete in the New Zealand Silver Fern Rally.

That is when he meet his second wife and "soulmate’’ Carmel Spencer (nee Wilson).

The couple fell in love and for the next five years Spencer split his time between New Zealand and Australia.

Two years ago, he sold his business in Brisbane and made the move to Dunedin permanently.

The couple were married a few weeks before New Zealand went into lockdown last year.

Spencer’s other great passion is rallying.

"This will be my sixth start in the Otago Rally,’’ he said.

He is entered in the classic section and is driving a Datsun. He has finished as high as fifth in the vehicle previously.

In all the years he had competed in the classic rally, he believed the competitiveness in the top 15 cars was as good as it had ever been.

"I rate the field this year — even without the internationals. There is some real talent here.’’

At the top of his list is three-time winner Derek Ayson in his Ford Escort.

"I’ll be rooting for him if I can’t get there,’’ Spencer said.

His Datsun has a new engine and differential, but Spencer has not spent much time in the driver’s seat recently.

He has been competing in a different car "so I haven’t run it for a while’’.

He also has a new co-driver, Dunedin’s Rob McConnachie. McConnachie is the president of the Otago Sports Car Club.

The pair know each other well but have not raced together before.

They had their first outing in the car during a practice event Whare Flat yesterday.

Spencer believes his car has the potential "to run at the pointy end of the rally — it just remains to be seen whether we can do it for 290km’’.

The Otago Rally gets under way on Friday night and has a ceremonial start in the Octagon.

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