New Zealand motorsport administration is in crisis, Allan Dick who has been a thorn in the side of the administrators since the early sixties, looks at the situation.
MotorSport New Zealand, the body that administers most forms of land-based motorsport in New Zealand is a smoking ruin following a series of disasters that has shaken the sport to its core.
There were always questions about what would happen after the changing of the guard —the dual departures of administrative boss Brian Budd and President Shane Harris after lengthy and solid, if unspectacular tenures.
Wayne Christie was the new President of the Association and Simon Baker, a man with no experience in motorsport but with a modest “corporate” background, appointed the CEO. His salary was said to be $200,000 per annum with KPI bonuses.
The answer as to “what will happen now?” — is clear, it’s a shambles.
What appears to have been a course of empire building followed by a sharp pull-back and redundancies by the new CEO Simon Baker, the sale of the Association’s building in Thorndon, Wellington at a figure almost $200,000 below the expected price were just the starters.
The building had been valued at $1.58 million but sold for $1.3 million and the name of the buyer not disclosed.
The rumblings over “what the hell is going on?” got louder and louder until there was the resignation from the executive table of highly-regarded, long time competitor, circuit builder and promoter Tony Roberts as Chair of the Historic Commission.
Tony said he‘d had enough and could no longer work with an organisation that was so out of touch with competitors and the people it was supposed to represent.
But it was the sale of the Wellington building and the proposed moving of head office to the coast north of Wellington where it would “be closer to work for some staff members” that stoked the fires of discontent. A letter advising deep concerns over the way the sale was handled was sent to MotorSport NZ and signed by 27 member clubs. There was some mystery over the letter and who had written it but the overriding concern was that the sale appears to have been handled by CEO Baker at the request of the board without seeking approval of member clubs.
There are two sides to this — the first is that the board has the ability to make these decisions without having to get approval of a majority member clubs which is a wieldy and expensive operation.
But critics say the building was the Association’s major asset after a turbulent decade of legal battles over saloon car racing regulations. As such, member clubs should have been asked for their input.
The rumbling grew into a roar with member clubs and individuals all demanding clarity with President Christie issuing CEO Baker with what the media, drawing on events surrounding Prime Minister Ardern in the same week, would term a “gagging order.
This, in turn, drew a stunning response from CEO Baker saying he had lost confidence in Christie.
The response to that was predictable and swift. Within 24 hours Baker was gone — resigned effectively immediately.
Did Baker get the proverbial Golden Handshake? Well all Wayne Christie will say is “we have had negotiations, there was a settlement and it is confidential.” Read between the lines.
In many ways it is fortunate this has occurred at a time when there are no actual motorsport events because of C-19, otherwise the impact would be catastrophic, instead of just disastrous.
Motor sport in New Zealand is without a day-to-day manager, in the midst of an office move to a strange location, with fewer staff than before, serious questions over finances and dissent among member clubs aimed at the board, President and Executive at a deafening level.
It’s easy to appoint blame — a CEO with ideas of corporate grandeur, a board with no notion of responsibilities to grass root members and a President who is no master manipulator like Ron Frost or Morrie Chandler, two icons of the past.
Where to from here?
It would be easy to simply appoint a new CEO and get on with it, hoping things will smooth out once we get back to some sort of normality after C-19.
But that’s unlikely. The dramas of the past months, or maybe years, clearly show the way in which motor sport in New Zealand is run needs a total overhaul.
Who is to blame?
We need to look back. At the start, in 1947, motorsport was beginning afresh after the war years with more organisation and a common set of rules across the whole country.
There were few clubs and such was the excitement and interest that everyone took a deep interest in everything to do with the sport — even governance and rule-making.
But as the sports grew, so there became a dividing line between competitors and administrators that many never crossed. And as the sport grew and grew, the number of competitors interested in the nuts and bolts of the sports grew fewer and fewer.
Member clubs appointed a club representative to attend the annual general meeting of the parent body (known over the years as ANZCC, MANZ and now MotorSport NZ) but, in any cases, those representatives held that position for so long they were no longer really aware of what rank and file club members felt or wanted.
Their position as “representative to the parent body” became a life in itself — these people really did form the classic Old Boys Network which effectively insulated the parent body from the average club member and competitor.
Members of that Old Boys Network have come and gone, but essentially the situation remains.
Compounding the situation are several factors. One is that in the past 20 years or so social life at car clubs has died so members only join club to obtain their competition license to compete and the only contact they have is paying more and more in various fees with no real idea why or what for.
Then there is the growing professionalism of the sport — more privately owned motor racing circuits, more privately owned teams. There are privately owned series. And we also need to keep in mind that the sport is more than just about circuit racing. There is rallying, hillclimbs, sprints, club racing, gymkhanas and a myriad of other activities — all of which come under the umbrella of MotorSport New Zealand.
There is no easy fix to the current situation which has been brewing away for decades and finally come to a head. The sport has become too fragmented, organised and professional so that the structure, which was basically created in 1947, is no longer suitable.
Creating a corporate management structure including a board is, or was, part of the recognition of this.
But you still have the member clubs and the grass roots members as the basis on which this whole structure is built. These grass roots members, through their clubs, are still the ones who ultimately get to call the final shots.
The administration of the sport needs a total rebuild into an organisation, or organisations (plural), which can look after the demands of the Tony Quinns and other people with “skin in the game” as I have read, as well as makes sure the grass roots club members can still go and have a skid on a Saturday afternoon without breaking the bank.
This is the ideal opportunity to building for the future.
And it should begin with a Special Annual General Meeting of member clubs with representatives fully versed with the situation, prepared to tear down the Old Boys Network which has protected the status quo and rebuild.