With less than two days till kick off, the 2019 Australian Senior Speedway Sidecar Championship will also hold a momentous memory for Australian and New Zealand fans alike, with household name Andrew Buchanan confirming his retirement upon the close of this weekend’s event. Racing with passenger Denny Cox this weekend, Buchanan will be hoping to end his career on a high before returning to his native New Zealand to spend more time at home.
Andrew and his wife and long-time passenger Phillipa Burns are a highly respected duo in the Speedway community with an impressive collection of wins under their belt, having become the epitome of the Speedway persona. Positive, competitive and a pleasure to be around, the pair could be described as the heart of the sport they have immersed themselves in.
In the lead up to this weekend’s festivities which includes both the 2019 Australian Senior and Junior Speedway Sidecar Championships, Buchanan and Burns sat down with Motorcycling Australia to reflect on their combined racing career and their plans for the future.
Congratulations on your retirement, Andrew. What led to the decision to give the game away?
Andrew Buchanan: Just the time and the effort before you have to get to the meetings. It’s not so much the riding, it’s the stuff outside of racing like bike prep, travel, and the logistics of it all. To stay at the top end of the sport you have to manage so many competing priorities that are as important as one another. There are just too many other things going on in our life like our farm, our business, and a few other things that Phillipa and I want to go and do together.
Tell us about how you two both got involved in Speedway Sidecar?
AB: We run an engineering business and a couple of guys raced sidecars at work, and we went along with them. At the end of the meeting we basically had a chat and I asked Phillipa “do you want to have a crack at this?” and she said “Yes, why not”! It’s something we can do to spend time together, and that’s how we got into it! We bought a bike off one of the guys that worked for us and away we went!
In our second year of competing in the New Zealand titles down in Invercargill, we were lucky enough to meet Darrin Treloar. Darrin handed us Bernie Koppe’s phone number and said to us “go and buy one of these Mitch frames, in Australia, and come over to Australia and race the best guys in the world”. And here we are nine years later!
And Phillipa, what for you held the appeal in Speedway Sidecar? Why on earth would you say yes to being on the back of one of these crazy things with no brakes?!
Phillipa Burns: Starting off I remember saying that it was only going to be just local races. We had four kids, at least two in primary school at the time, so as you can imagine we were very busy managing our family, fulltime work and a farm! So, I said only local races and we’ll just do it for a bit of fun. But after we started competing we started winning titles and in turn qualified for the New Zealand Championship that first year. If we’d have not won anything we’d have just puttered around locally, but we won, so…
When did you notice it was all getting serious? When did you think “Hey, actually we could have a crack at this”?
PB: Well, Andrew’s mind went straight to winning the World championships as soon as we started! The worlds were coming up the following year, and New Zealand were going to be given guaranteed starting spots, we weren’t told how many. But because most of our bikes over here are made for clay, and don’t fit the FIM specifications, they just ran a qualifying meeting for any bike that would pass scrutineering at an FIM event! So we went to that with our Mitch frame, and we won it. So we knew then that even if New Zealand were only allocated one spot, we were in. And then we went to Australia to do meetings at Gillman Speedway and Mildura to get used to how meetings are run in Australia- that was six months before the World Champs.
AB: We got a big wake-up call at the World Championship! I think we finished ninth, but it was an incentive, and we wanted more of it. We wanted to have a real crack, and that’s when we really got serious. We went home and started training, got fit, and were lucky enough to get involved with the likes of Mark Mitchell at Bill’s Bits and Bikes who helped us out, and that really nurtured us into who we were. And we raced with the good guys week-in, week-out and obviously, when you’ve got Darren Treloar, Mark Mitchell, Mark Plaisted, and Trent Headland on track with you, you become very competitive! And you’ve got that New Zealand/Australian rivalry as well, which became really good and we made some really tremendous friends out of that.
Tell me a little about that Speedway community that built up around you?
PB: It all started through Mark Mitchell, who we met in Mildura at our very first meeting and who said “come to Gillman to the practice in the midweek”. We stayed for three weeks in Australia, so we raced in Mildura on the weekend, then we went to Mildura practice mid-week and then we went down to Gillman midweek and we did their practice as well. Mark was a huge help right from the beginning, introducing us to people and helping us out in the pits.
AB: Mark was tremendous. He took us out to Mildura and Gillman; we did some practice sessions, which was huge for us. Bernie Koppe did that at Townsville for us too, so we’re ever-thankful for the likes of Mark Mitchell and Bernie Koppe.
Obviously those formative years worked out well, as you did get on top of the Aussie conditions in the end. What were the career highlights for both of you?
AB: I guess the special times for us, and the times that I enjoyed the most was doing the World Cups together, and the most special time – even though it turned into tragedy for us was the first Australian titles – was when Phillipa and I did a Qualifying round. It was a really special day for me but it ended on a bad note, with Phillipa’s accident. And just being held in high regard by the other competitors. The Sidecar Grand Slam was a highlight as well.
PB: When we first were picked to go in the Grand Slam, we received some backlash in being put straight into the main event, so to put a stop to that we said we’d do the qualifying meeting the night before, and one of the locals could get one of the seeded spots. We then proceeded to win the Qualifier on our own merit, which I was pleased with.
You did mention that first Australian titles, a great moment in the first instance but then Phillipa you had your big accident, I think a lot of people don’t understand the effect that it had on you guys?
PB: For me it was no drama, because I’ve got no memory of it. I don’t even remember racing at all that day. I remember arriving, and I remember having my leathers on, but I don’t remember any racing. So there was no emotional attachment. I love Speedway and I love the people that you deal with so there’s no negativity attached to that moment. But the first time we came back to Australia we actually went to Kurri Kurri and Andrew went to practice because he was having Denny Cox swing for him as a trial, and he was extremely nervous. It was bloody hard for him.
There seemed to be a lot of support from the Speedway community in Australia and New Zealand while you were getting back to full health?
PB: Andrew did all that himself. I never knew about any of that until about a few years later when I saw the emails and I was absolutely blown away. There was a meeting at Gillman to raise money, but there was also one in Auckland, at Rosebank. They raised a huge amount of money, which meant that the mortgage was paid and we didn’t lose our farm, which was a huge weight off Andrew’s shoulders. Everyone rallied round – it was extremely impressive. The Ogilvy family up in Brisbane were a massive help at the time. As were Jeff Garman and Katrina where Andrew stayed, while I was in hospital, and Peter Campton.
AB: The New Zealand and Australian Speedway community were extraordinary. The Coxes, the Bonds, Darrin Treloar and his family came down to visit. They are things that I will never forget. I take my hat off to Darrin for doing that, and I’m forever grateful for taking the time out and bringing his family down.
So you mentioned the farm was one of the things you wanted to go back to after Sidecar, what else does the future look like?
AB: We want to spend more time at home, on a usual weekend we fly out on a Friday into Australia, and then we fly out Sunday, get home at 2am on Monday morning and then we’re at work at 7am. So it’s really difficult around February through to April, it’s like every weekend you’re in Australia. We want to take some time out and catch our breath, put some time back into our farm, and our four beautiful kids.
PB: The kids have been neglected for about nine years now, honestly!
AB: We want to support Denny Cox, who’s going to ride the bike all season, so we really want to support him, and it’s a good time for Denny. One door closes another door opens, and you never know what this young man can do. I think with his brother on the side they’re going to be turning some heads. They’re going to be on a reasonably good bike right from the word go, so that always helps.
PB: Andrew’s always involved him in setup of the bike and not just told him what to do, he’s asked him his opinion on things, explained why he’s doing things, he’s educated him over the last few years and I think it’s giving, well I hope it’s giving Denny some confidence to be able to make changes, set the bike up as his own and to make changes confidently.
AB: You could say he’s done his apprenticeship on the side and he’s certainly ready!
Is there anything you’d like to say to your fans here in Australia, and those back home in New Zealand?
AB: I just want to thank everybody in Australia! It’s been really tough for Phillipa and I for the last two years, so we just want to take time out and just say thank you to everybody in Australian Speedway community. Sam Redfern has been marvellous to us and I have the utmost respect for Darrin Treloar.
I’d love to come and live in Australia and spend all my time over there and just go racing full time, because that’s the only way you’re going to beat Darrin!
Special thanks goes to Denny Cox and his parents in allowing Denny to hop on the side of the bike at just 16 years old. Big thanks also goes to Bernie Koppe, Paula and Peter Christopher, Kerry and Mark Mitchell, and Bill and Bronwyn Mitchell, Dave Parker, our sponsors, Talley’s, AB Engineering, TNL Logistics. Without any of them we wouldn’t have been able to do any of this and I’m really appreciative of that!
We’ve got one big meeting to go!
The 2019 Australian Senior & Junior Speedway Sidecar Championships are running from 20-21 April at Pioneer Park Speedway, Queensland this Easter long weekend. To stay updated on all things Speedway, be sure to check out the Australian Speedway Championships website and Facebook.