All legends in their own right, Ben Townley, Katherine Oberlin-Brown (nee Prumm) and Aaron Slight will be recognised for their achievements in motorcycle racing at Motorcycling New Zealand’s annual meeting in Wellington.
There will also be posthumous recognition of cross-code motorsport hero Rodger Freeth and MNZ is looking forward to having sons Hayden and Stefan accept the award on behalf of their late father.
Both Townley and Freeth were to be inducted in 2018, however this was deferred to 2019 as they couldn’t be present at last year’s ceremony.
Rodger Freeth made his name racing McIntosh Suzukis at Bathurst in the 1980s. With 13 New Zealand road race titles to his name, Freeth’s motorcycle racing career came to an end after damaging ligaments in his hand in 1986. He had been co-driving rally cars since 1979, navigating for a raft of Kiwi and international drivers over a period of 14 years.
In 1988 he moved into the driver’s seat as a circuit racer, winning the NZ Sports Sedan Championship, also setting NZ land speed record in 1993 in a Lola Indycar at 315km/h. Rodger Freeth passed away on 18 September 1993 following a crash in Rally Australia while co-driving for long-time rally partner ‘Possum’ Bourne.
Ben Townley started racing motocross from an early age. His first championship win in New Zealand was the North Island 85cc class in the 8-11 year age group in the 1993/94 championship year, and before the decade was out several other titles came his way. Townley headed to Europe at age 16, initially racing for the German-run Phase Suzuki team, and, after three seasons, he took a KTM to win the MX2 World Championship in 2004 before heading to the USA in 2006.
He then rode for the Mitch Payton-owned Monster Energy Pro Circuit Kawasaki, finishing runner-up to Ryan Villopoto in the 250cc motocross championships (main photo above) and then winning the 2007 East Coast Lites (250cc) Supercross Championship.
Injuries plagued Townley for the next few years and he announced retirement in 2013 before making a comeback in 2015 to compete at the Motocross of Nations in France. Suzuki picked him up in 2016 before a final injury ruled him out of competition for the last time. These days family keeps him busy as well as being the new brand ambassador for Yamaha NZ.
The induction ceremony for Freeth, Townley, Oberlin-Brown and Slight will take place at the 2019 MNZ Annual General Meeting dinner this Saturday night.
Tomorrow we will take a look at the achievements of Katherine Oberlin-Brown and Aaron Slight.
Words by Ian Dawson
Photos by Andy McGechan, BikesportNZ
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