Motorcycle racer Tony Rees aims to defend his Cemetery Circuit titleby Sam Button
King of the road
It began when a young Tony Rees bought a friend’s broken minibike. “I fixed it up and rode it for a little bit,” the Whakatane-based veteran rider recalls. “That’s where it all started.”
By 11, he was competing in local motocross races and at 23, he’d won his first Cemetery Circuit. Held on Boxing Day in downtown Whanganui, the popular annual event – named after Heads Road Cemetery, which riders navigate around – is the longest-running street circuit in New Zealand.
That win, in 1990, was the first of seven feature-race victories on the 1.6km circuit for Rees, who’s taken out the title for the past three years – making it a 26-year span between his first win and his most recent. A 10-time champion in Paeroa’s Battle of the Streets, he won at the NZ Superbike Championships in 2005, and was back on the podium at this year’s event in March.
Rees, who’s run Tony Rees Motorcycles in Whakatane since 1994, lives his love of bikes on-road and off. When he was 16, he took up a mechanical apprenticeship, working at Yamaha dealerships in town and in nearby Kawerau – eventually taking over the Kawerau shop after it closed, before moving back to Whakatane in 2002. “Things got a little bit tight in those small towns,” he says.
With the support of wife Vicky, motorcycling has become a family affair, with sons Damon, 22, and Mitch, 24, catching “the road-race bug”. At the 2017 nationals, Damon and his father won the Supersport and Superbike titles, respectively, while Mitch filled in for his brother at the Australian Superbike Championships in Victoria after Damon broke his leg. “They’ve been racing bikes since they were four,” Rees says. “No push from Dad. They’re fully amped and motivated.”
Rees, who’s now 50, has no plans to put the brakes on his own career yet. He’s competing in the Suzuki Series, which opens on December 10 in Taupo and ends on Boxing Day at the Cemetery Circuit – where both his sons will also be competing.
“Christmas Day is always a bit rushed; you have to catch up with the family really quickly then head out the door straight to Whanganui,” he says. “But I enjoy the challenge of that race. The response from the crowd is always fantastic.”
This was published in the December 2017 issue of North & South.
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