For a bloke that did not want to go to the speedway in the beginning, Kevin Purton, from Deloraine in the central north of Tasmania, certainly achieved a lot during his time in the sport of speedway as a competitor. In this week’s Where Are They Now piece, we caught up with the two-time National Super Sedan Champion.
How did the speedway journey start for you?
Initially, I was not really into speedway, but it was my wife, Debbie, who encouraged me to come along with some friends to Carrick Speedway. Prior to getting involved in speedway, I was competing on two wheels in motocross and enduro events. After I attended my first race meeting, a fortnight later, I went out and bought a race car and off I went racing.
You started off in Fender Benders, what drew you to them?
I chose Fender Benders, as they were the most affordable for me. At the time, I was in my early 20s and I had just started my panel shop business, so money was tight. I bought my first race car and it was heavily damaged, but being a panel beater, I was able to fix my $150 purchase and go racing.
During your time in Fender Benders and then later Tassie 6s over a four-year period, what were your highlights?
I had a lot of fun running those entry level classes and ended up winning back-to-back Tasmanian Titles before I moved onto another class.
Another class was in the form of Super Sedans, what attracted you to one of the sport’s leading sedan classes?
After I had won back-to-back Tasmanian Titles in Tassie 6s, I was feeling confident and was looking for another challenge, so I went wanted to step up to another level, so I joined Super Sedans.
How were your first two seasons in Super Sedans?
I was very much out of my depth. I had bought an older car and I was struggling from the outset. I could put it together for a heat race but when the feature race came around, I was not in the game.
After your first two seasons in Super Sedans, how were you feeling?
I was feeling frustrated and defeated! Due to my lack of knowledge, I was struggling to be consistently competitive and I was really questioning my move into Super Sedans. However, my wife, Debbie, said to me, give it one more season and if you are still feeling the same way, then you can call it quits.
During the mid-1990s, you travelled to the mainland for the first time to contest a North Queensland Series, how did this trip change your trajectory with your speedway racing?
If I had not raced up there, I probably would not have kept racing. Despite going up there and winning the series, I had met five-time Queensland Champion Lyndsay Hawkings, and I spoke to him about how I was struggling. He suggested that I updated my equipment, and it was like a lightbulb moment, and I did not look back. Lyndsay and his family remain good friends to this day and I owe a lot to Lyndsay for everything he did for me during that uncertain period of my career.
With that advice taken onboard, where did you go from there?
I was recommended to talk to Danny Smith, who was from Lismore in northern NSW. At that stage, he had not yet started the Rocket Chassis business and was just starting out building race cars. Once I bought one of Danny’s cars, I never looked back. In my first three race meetings back in Tasmania the following season, I won three feature races in a row.
Photo: Damon Kingshott
You spent just over two decades in Super Sedans, what were your highlights?
Of course, my back-to-back National Title wins stand out. After the controversy caused by one driver following my maiden National Title win on home soil at Latrobe Speedway in 2005, it was very gratifying to come back the following season in 2006 at Toowoomba’s Charlton Raceway (Qld) and take the win. Apart from my National Title wins, I was proud of my multiple Tasmanian Title, Grand National and Grand Prix wins.
The 2015 National Title at Latrobe Speedway, ironically at the venue of your maiden National Title win, you announced your surprise retirement from the sport, how did that come about?
I had spent 25 years racing speedway and I felt that my time was up at the age of 50. I was told by people that you will know when it is time to retire. Prior to the National Title of that year, I did not tell anyone that I was going to retire, and not even my wife, Debbie, who found out like everyone else when I announced it over the microphone to the crowd.
What are you up to these days?
Once I retired from racing speedway, I ended up selling my race car to Laura Davidson and her family. The deal as part of the sale was to spend 12 months with them showing them the ropes, as they had just stepped out of AMCA Nationals. I am still helping the Davidsons and they have become good family friends. I also help other Super Sedan racers in Marcus Alexander, Tim Johnson and Robbie Bird. I get a lot of satisfaction from helping people in Super Sedans via a mentor role to help racers improve and get more competitive. Aside from speedway, at the time of my retirement from speedway, I also sold off my panel shop but kept the towing section of the business, which I am still doing to this day.
When it comes to the sport of speedway, what are your thoughts about the sport today?
As a former competitor, I will always be in the corner of a competitor. When I retired, I was offered a chief steward’s role, but I turned it down, because of the above reason. When it comes to the officials, I feel that a lot of people go into the roles with the best intentions but when they get into the role they change. It turns into a us versus them sort of scenario. In some cases, the frustrations with officials and their inconsistent calls drive people away from the sport. It is something that happened when I started and still happens to this day, and it’s something that needs to change for the betterment of the sport.