Written by Pete McNae


Sam Satherley has had four heart attacks – a warning one and three others that might have tipped over a lesser man.

He’s got enough steel in his left leg to be a body double for the Terminator.

And he’s not far off turning 70, a pretty decent innings for most folk but unique in New Zealand’s speedway sidecar ranks.

“I’m the oldest bugger out there regularly these days,” said Satherley, known to many as “Pa”.

“There’s a fella down in Christchurch who is off and on and Knuckle (former Nelson, now Blenheim-registered competitor Neil Hill) is getting up there but a little bit younger than me.

“Basically, with the injuries and the crook ticker, I should give it away but as long as my legs keep moving and I’m not a risk to myself or anyone else, I see no need to retire.”

Pa and swinger Jono Kilburn will line up with close to 25 combinations on Saturday in the Rick’s Tyre and Auto Ltd South Island Sidecar Championship at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway. The field is so large, qualifying will be needed from 4pm, although the meeting proper starts at the usual time of 6pm. By then, the field will have been distilled into a top 16 and non-qualifiers. While the non-qualifiers will have their own series through the programme, the championship field will race under FIM international rules in crossover heats with all bikes facing each other once. The top three will go direct to the A Main while a B Main will pit qualifiers 4, 5, 6 and 7 against each other with the winner transferring to the title race.

Satherley, who admits qualification on Saturday would require a run of his best form, had a role to play in assembling the big field. With entries due to close and a pitiful field carded, he gave the class a rev-up on social media.

“I told them I had already spent three days working on the track and basically asked them not to disappoint me, to pull their finger out, get their entries in and make sure the club’s hard work wasn’t for nothing,” he said. Within 24 hours, the entry list had bounced from three to eight to 23. “Some of these young guys just need a friendly kick up the arse.”

Pa’s earliest contact with speedway in Nelson was when he crewed on Neil Henderson’s Jag-VW stockcar almost four decades ago. Then he spent a few years living in Australia and hung around the sprintcar scene in Queensland. When he returned to New Zealand, sons Daniel and Kieran, who shared their dad’s love of bikes, were getting into sidecar racing in Nelson.

The boys raced together, then, when Daniel moved north, Kieran swung for a while on Dad’s older 61N bike (“I was 61 at the time so that’s how the bike got its number … the newer bike is 64 for the same reason”). When Kieran had the chance to join Adie Drake on the 47N Green Machine, Tony McKenzie joined Satherley for five seasons before McKenzie chose to run his own bike this year and Kilburn hopped on the chair.

“I put the word out to see if he was keen and he came back with ‘bloody oath’. I can’t say enough about what a good man Tony McKenzie is but young Jono’s a good boy, he listens and he’s a great kid.”

The Satherley family have had their fair share of sidecar calamity and Sam carries a metal plate and anchor bolt in his left hip. The heart attacks were a while back, but he’s had open heart surgery to get on top of them and feels the health issues might have shaped how he approaches his racing.

“There’s no protection on a bike and no brakes so you already have a bloody big measure of risk so I think riders and swingers deserve a safe track and that’s where I come in.”

Since legendary track manager Murray Teece passed away, Satherley has been part of a small crew dealing with surface preparation at Nelson. He admits there was “no book” left by Teece and the likes of himself, Brendon Higgins, Kevin Freeman, Lawrie Moir and others who have pitched in, have had to learn on the job.

“There’s more to it than getting a fast track, I want a safe track so all these guys have the best chance of getting home in one piece,” he said. “For me, unless the track is up to scratch, I say bugger it and won’t even try. If it’s as good as I think it will be, and nice and smooth, the 64 bike will fly.”

The 61N has also been sighted this season with James Shelby (Wood) running the bike for Satherley. While Pa prefers to run the newer bike and loves the flat twin sound of the Suzuki TL 1000, he’s always willing to support the class with his store of frames, motors and spare parts.

“Back in the day, sidechairs were more serious and there are still guys who expect to win every race but it’s like a big family for me in the pits now. We all laugh, we share the bits and pieces with other guys and then there might be a bourby afterwards.

“I get asked sometimes how long I plan to keep doing this and I just don’t know. While I can swing my wobbly legs onto the bike and I’m not a menace to everyone else out there, why should I stop?”

  • Sam Satherley would like to thank previous swinger Tony McKenzie and current passenger Jono Kilburn for their friendship, support and enthusiasm while he races with assistance from Allied Civil Construction, Brand’s Truck and Digger Hire, Davies Plumbing, Super Charge Batteries and SMS (his own business, Sam’s Mechanical Services in Appleby).
  • The Rick’s Tyres and Autos South Island Sidecar Championship will start with qualifying from 4pm. There will be a break at 5pm with warmups at 5.20, the grand parade and 5.50 and racing proper from 6pm. Support classes include stockcars, TQ midgets, production saloons and youth ministocks.

Race photos by Tom Laney,