An archive photo of Invercargill legend Burt Munro, in typical pose with his famous modified 1920 Indian Scout. Photo supplied
FEBRUARY 1, 2023: The Burt Munro Challenge is an iconic must-see or must-do event, a week-long spectacle that transcends the various codes and branches of motorcycling and now celebrates its 16th year in 2023.
It skipped a beat last year, cancelled due to restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic – and that was the first time the Burt Munro Challenge has been cancelled since it began in 2006 – but it will bounce back in just a few days' time with what promises to be another truly momentous festival of motorcycling.
New Zealanders are highly regarded for their "can do" attitude and that characteristic, along with widespread general sporting prowess and a mighty mix of bravery and bravado, are at the root of what the world-famous Burt Munro Challenge is all about.
It is that indefatigable fighting spirit, coupled with the Kiwi number eight wire ingenuity that has made the man the event is named after – legendary Southland bike racer Burt Munro – and of course the event itself, so appealing to domestic and international motorcycle enthusiasts alike.
Event manager Karen Whitham said the event "means a lot to the Invercargill community because it gives an opportunity to showcase the region wide a far".
"We have a committee that works tirelessly throughout the year. They all have their own jobs to be getting on with. We typically draw between 4000-4500 motorcyclists who will all be out riding around during the Burt Munro Challenge week and the camaraderie between these people is fantastic. It's a 'bucket list' event and appeals to all sorts of people, from all walks of life" she said.
"We have roughly 10,000 people coming to enjoy the event and it's a sort of a pilgrimage for them. They all love being a part of the event."
It all started 18 years ago, after the 2005 film about Munro's record-breaking achievements – The World's Fastest Indian – was first released.
Invercargill's Munro set numerous land speed records for motorcycles with engines of less than 1000cc, racing at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, in the late 1950s and into the 1960s. The film stars Welsh actor Anthony Hopkins, and was produced, written and directed by Australian-born Kiwi man Roger Donaldson.
The popularity of the film became a chance to introduce people throughout the world to Munro’s birthplace.
Munro tinkered with his 1920 Indian Scout motorcycle, manufacturing his own parts, until he could call it the fastest in the world.
He poured all his money into getting the Scout to the United States – at a time when New Zealand was pretty isolated – to prove that it was the fastest bike, and he ended up setting multiple speed records – one of which he still holds to this day – at the ripe old age of 63.
Americans within the small speed fraternity were impressed by this man who had come so far on a shoestring budget to chase his dream.
They were in awe of his resourcefulness too.
With money and parts difficult to obtain at that time, it bred mechanical genius, and Munro and his bike were the epitome of that.
It is thanks to the support of the Invercargill City Council that organisers could host street races, and thanks to Environment Southland that they could have bikes racing up and down Oreti Beach, while the massive support from residents added to the atmosphere.
With seven events over five days, there will be plenty of racing action, but it is typically the characters and friendships that are at the heart of the Burt Munro Challenge.
The variety of events also meant the challenge catered to all kinds of bikers.
Whitham said the community had taken ownership of the Burt Munro Challenge, which was a fitting honour to the man behind it.
“People like to hearing the hum,” she said of the influx of bikers.
She added that, because most visitors used their time in Southland to tour the Southern Scenic Route and came from all corners of the country, the whole region benefited.
The Burt Munro Challenge takes place across Bluff, Invercargill and Otatara from Wednesday, February 8 to Sunday, February 12.
BURT MUNRO CHALLENGE KEY EVENTS:
WED 8, SOUTHLAND HONDA TRACK DAY
8.30am, Teretonga Park, Sandy Point
THU 9, STAR INSURANCE NZ HILL CLIMB CHAMPS
10am, Flagstaff Road, Bluff
THU 9, INDIAN MOTORCYCLE TWILIGHT DRAG RACING
6pm, Teretonga Park, Sandy Point
FRI 10, INDIAN MOTORCYLE BEACH RACING & NZ CHAMPS
11.30am, Oreti Beach, Otatara
SAT 11, E HAYES & SONS TERETONGA SPRINT RACES
9am, Teretonga Park, Sandy Point
SAT 11, SUPER SELLER SHELLEY SPEEDWAY
3pm, Southern Bolts & Fasteners Oreti Park Speedway, Pit Road
SUN 12, HONDA INVERCARGILL STREET RACES
9am, Bill Richardson Drive, Invercargill
Credit: Words by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com