Looking down at his right leg, Hamish Dobbyn could see his foot pointing back in the wrong direction. While taking a corner at 70km an hour, his toe had got caught in a tyre-barrier and every ligament in his knee was twisted out of place.
This was the start of a series of injuries that devastated Hamish’s ten-year motocross career. With seven titles in New Zealand and Australia, plus a third-place finish at the FIM Junior World Championship, the Warkworth-born racer was travelling the globe as part of the KTM Red Bull Team. But after four knee reconstructions, he had to face the facts.
“It was gutting. Working so hard, for so many years, to build up towards this goal. You’re finally at that top level. And you’re being made to stop something you didn’t want to stop,” says Hamish.
The journey started at Warkworth Motorcycles, where ten-year-old Hamish would go with his older brother after school to look at bikes.
“My brother and I hounded dad for a bike, and when I finally got one there was no going back,” says Hamish.
“I started racing in local events when I was ten. I was one of the slowest guys on the track to start with, but I worked my way to the front, and when I was fourteen I started racing internationally.”
“I get my competitiveness from my mother. I’ve always been motivated by wanting to improve, wanting to win – setting new goals for myself and reaching them one by one.”
After the devastating injuries, Hamish went travelling for a while, before he came back to work for Dobbyn Builders, the Warkworth family business. Hamish’s uncle landed them a project at Port Albert General Store – famous for their fish and chips – where owners Grace and Dave Pratt talked about their passion for racing and how they owned a speedway car.
“They joked around, saying it was time for me to transition from two wheels to four. Eight months ago, that joke became reality when Dave called up and said they needed a new driver, if I wanted to have a go,” Hamish says.
“I had my first test drive and did really well, but on my second drive I crashed the car and completely wrote it off. So I was surprised that Grace and Dave let me carry on!”
Since the car had to be re-built, the Port Albert team went into the season with hardly any practise. Hamish was thrown in at the deep end.
“People compete for years before they get into the midget cars, which have a top speed of 140km per hour and the same power-to-weight ratio as a Formula 1 car,” he explains.
Western Springs International Series is the biggest speedway event for New Zealand and Australia combined, drawing crowds of up to 30,000 people.
“It’s great to see lots of families in the audience. The days of motorsport being a men’s only sport is over, and we often have a couple of female riders up at the front in both motocross and speedway.”
“Physical strength isn’t that important in speedway, but good cardio is key, to keep your heart rate down and stay calm. If you get tired and flustered, you can make bad decisions. Everything happens so fast at this speed – a split second can make a difference between a crash or a miss.”
Despite being on his own on the track, Hamish sees motorsport as a team effort.
“People think it’s an individual sport, but I’m just one part of a team of great people, mechanics and sponsors – like my dad who’s my biggest supporter and has never missed a race.”
His partner of seven years, Heather Price, organises everything behind the scenes.
“Whoever is the best prepared off the track has the best chance to win. Heather is in control of all the bits and pieces you don’t think of. I’ve got the easiest part of the job, just racing.”
Grace and David’s gamble on Hamish has paid off: After two competition rounds, the Port Albert General Store team has placed in both feature races, which was their goal for the year.
“My three-year-goal is to win an international feature race at Western Springs,” says Hamish. With a team and family this passionate behind him, he has a good shot.