It is a trivia question that may stump a few motocross aficionados and fanatics … what year did Kiwi hero Ben Townley win the big annual Woodville Motocross?
The answer is never, and it’s an answer that the former world and American champion intends to change at the 51st annual running of the event this weekend.
It surprises many people when they learn that the Bay of Plenty rider – world MX2 champion in 2004 and United States East Coast Lites Supercross Champion and US 250cc class runner-up in 2007 – has not yet collected the Woodville silverware.
But there are a couple of very good reasons for this and the fact that the 27-year-old from Taupo is regarded as New Zealand’s leading motocross international offers the first big hint.
For so many seasons he has been racing overseas when Woodville has been run, either that or injured, and he’s had more than his fair share of debilitating accidents over the years.
He missed the Honda New Zealand Motocross Grand Prix at Woodville last year because he had just suffered another injury, the main Woodville title in 2011 won instead by fellow Kiwi international Josh Coppins (Yamaha), of Motueka.
Townley (Carlton Dry Honda) will be up against Coppins again this weekend, as well as a flock of other Kiwi internationals such as New Zealand MX1 champion Cody Cooper (Moto City Suzuki), of Mount Maunganui, 2009 MX1 champion and 2010 Woodville winner Justin McDonald (Bel Ray Honda), of Christchurch, and regular Canadian championships campaigner Mason Phillips (Kawasaki), of Papamoa.
“I’ve only raced at Woodville once over the past 10 years, and that was not a happy day for me, battling in the mud, so I’m really looking forward to being there this weekend,” said Townley.
“This is one of the biggest events on the Kiwi calendar and it will be an ideal build-up for me ahead of the nationals and then my Australian campaign that follows.”
Townley arrives at Woodville with a major domestic win under his belt already, having dominated at the annual Whakatane Summercross just after Christmas, his first big event in New Zealand this summer, and that hot form easily makes him the favourite to win at Woodville.
“I am taking nothing for granted,” said Townley. “I expect to see Josh and Cody and Justin all pushing hard at the front.
“Woodville is very much a level playing field because it’s a venue that’s used only once a year and nobody gets to ride on it at any other time. That fact alone means it’s hard to predict who will win the day. I’m just hoping it’s my turn.”
The senior MX2 (250cc) class will also be extremely hot with the likes of Tauranga’s Peter Broxholme (Bel Ray Honda) battling Queenstown’s Scotty Columb (Murray Thorn Suzuki), Mangakino’s Kayne Lamont (BikesportNZ.com Suzuki), Masterton’s Luke Burkhart (Motorex KTM) and Kiwi former GP rider and current national MX2 champion Darryll King (MXDK Rockstar Yamaha).
Since the stand-alone event was first staged half a century ago, in 1961, the Woodville Motocross has grown to become the jewel in New Zealand’s motocross crown.
The long and illustrious list of previous winners includes Kiwi former world champion Shayne King, Britain’s Greg Hanson and Sweden’s Gunnar Lindstrom, to name a few.
The man who founded the event in 1961, Palmerston North’s Tim Gibbes, was a former Grand Prix motocross racer and one of the stuntmen in the Hollywood blockbuster The Great Escape, featuring the late Steve McQueen, and he won the main prize at Woodville in 1962 and 1964.
Gibbes will likely be among the many thousands of spectators on the hillside at Woodville on Saturday and Sunday.
© Words and photo by Andy McGechan, www.BikesportNZ.com