By Pete McNae

Everyone wants a winner — the first past the post, the wearer of the red ribbon, the one on the top perch of the podium. But while just one competitor gets the photo opportunity, many more toil away with less success, happy to be involved and with their own stories to tell.

Nelson’s Graeme Porter sits squarely in the second group. The 30-year-old fabricator and driver at Design Windows has ambitions and his own goals for the Walkers Engineering New Zealand TQ Midget championships this weekend but, realistically, a place on the dais is a step too far. Porter’s already conquered enough hurdles to be unfazed by the odds against him.

The married (to Nyssa) father of one (5-year-old Lilly-Rose) is a battler. A learning disability and difficulty with his speech mean Porter has had to graft for his achievements; his job, his family, his speedway career and his role in his other passion, Special Olympics. A capable basketballer, Porter (pictured on the far right of the team shot at the top of this page) has been a regular at national and international Special Olympics competitions, currently serves as an athlete rep on the board of trustees and, this past week, has been in Singapore to take on a new role on the athlete council for the Asia Pacific region. Porter’s a Special Olympics Global Messenger and has been a two-time finalist, winning once, in the Attitude Awards, recognising achievement among folk with disabilities.

“It works in my favour – winter is basketball and summer is speedway so I don’t have to choose and I don’t think I could,” Porter says. “Both are like my other family and now I’m getting on a bit, I’m almost the old guy. Especially with the Special Olympics, I am starting to run out of time to play so I am taking on those admin and official roles so I can give back to the young ones like so many people did for me when I started out.”

Porter’s speedway passion was fuelled by his maternal grandfather, who got a ministock class up and running in Kumara many years ago. His parents, Robert and Andrea, didn’t race but are hard core supporters, investing time and money into sons Daniel and Graeme and their hobbies over the years. Daniel raced ministocks in Nelson many seasons ago and is planning a return in TQs while Graeme started as an 18-year-old in adult ministocks in Blenheim. When the class dwindled there, his options were a long and costly tow to Greymouth or Christchurch, or a change of class. Graeme opted for TQs in a car previously run locally by Rob Martin as an affordable way to stay in speedway.

It’s not been an easy ride. He’s had more than his share of crashes and mechanical failures, with his shift to a water-cooled engine being particularly fraught. “We broke a lot of stuff and it was just about the end for us, especially with a house fire at my parents’ place that meant it was harder for them to support me. I think we had just about got on top of it and got the car running right when I smashed the wall at the King of the Coast and wrecked my car.”

For this season, Porter committed to buying his own car and purchased an ex-Matt Leversedge TQ from Christchurch with the nationals season in mind. He picked it up on the day of Nelson’s first practice at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway but, so far, it hasn’t seen a race lap. Continual electrical issues have plagued the car and Porter hasn’t managed a single meeting this summer.

“It’s something in the wiring loom and how you have to cut it when it goes from being a bike loom to a TQ loom – you don’t need indicators any more and that kind of thing. So, I think it’s fixed and I go to kick it in the guts and … oh, no, same problem.”

With Porter in Singapore for the past week, the car has been back with the Leversedge family in Christchurch with Brent Leversedge hoping to have the 12N  here in time and ready for qualifying on Friday.

“It wasn’t my plan and it’s not really the right way to go into a championship but it’s life, isn’t it?” Porter says. “Everyone has challenges and things that don’t go how you want them so I’m not complaining about it – I just want to get the car out there so we can give back to my sponsors.”

Porter is quick to give credit to those who have helped him through his decade in speedway. Top of the list is his family but the likes of Jack Mclauchlan and Jim Chambers have been staunch supporters.

“Without them, and sponsors who have been with me the whole way, I can’t race. Jack and Jim have been wonderful and they kept me going when it was getting too much and we had so much going wrong. Lift N Shift and Jack’s Tyres have always been on my cars and quite a few others too so I really want to get this car on the track and put their name out there.”

Porter remains grounded about his chances in a field in which he’d be the rank outsider, having not turned a lap, nor even heard the little watercooled Suzuki run cleanly. He’d love to qualify for the A Main but, like so many things Porter has achieved, he’ll keep his goals in perspective.

“I am competitive, I like to do well when I attempt something. Sometimes, for me with my disability, it takes me a bit longer but I don’t give up and I don’t take failing too good,” he says. “I do speedway and Special Olympics for fun and enjoyment but you like to win and you like to get to your goals, too.

“If I don’t qualify for the finals, then I have other goals about racing clean and mixing it with the top cars and showing off my sponsors and making them proud I’m out there.

“Our budget means I probably won’t ever be able to race in the North Island so this is the only chance to run with those drivers, when they come to our track. That’s exciting for the Nelson club and, for me, it will be up there with the best things I’ve ever done.”

For a bloke who has faced a bit and conquered the lot, that’s saying something.

  • Graeme Porter’s 12N TQ midget has sponsor support from Design Windows, Jack’s Tyres, Scott Construction, TJ Hoult Engineering, RTP Photos, Lift N Shift, The Diff Shop (Chch), Kells Hotel (Greymouth), KH Fabrication (Chch), Smith Speed Spares (Greymouth) and the Auto Super Shoppe Nelson City.
  • The race night pit crew consists of Nyssa, Lilly-Rose and Daniel Porter, mum and dad Andrea and Robert, Charlie Shaw and Jim Chambers.
  • Graeme gives special thanks to Jim Chambers, Jack Mclauchlan, all the Christchurch guys for their help, everyone who has offered parts, setups and advice during his years in ministocks and TQs and a special vote of thanks to all the club volunteers.
  • Check back tomorrow for an interview with a title contender with a great history in the class, along with details of the meeting format.