In what was the perfect tribute to his longstanding involvement in the sport of speedway, last Saturday night saw Kalgoorlie local Bob Wakefield take to his home track for the last time, with Kalgoorlie International Speedway honouring him with a special variation of the annual Street Stock Gold Rush event.
Bittersweet is the perfect way to describe how the 67-year-old felt heading into the Gold Rush event after making the decision to retire from driver duties, bringing to an end a career that has spanned over three decades.
Lining up for the 38-lap feature race, which was a surprise nod to his renowned WA # 38 Valiant Charger, Wakefield didn’t quite experience the race he was hoping for, with mechanical issues dropping the car from six cylinders to five, causing him to come home just outside of the top 10 in 11th. However, that wasn’t enough to dampen his spirits amid the outpouring of respect he received.
“I can’t describe how special last Saturday night was for me. I held it together fairly well during the night, but the presentation at the end of the night definitely got me,” admitted Wakefield, who also received a framed photograph from the club following the race.
Building a reputation as one of the sport’s most charitable and approachable stalwarts, Wakefield was known for his unfailing willingness to assist people in any way he could.
What began as spectator interest in speedway, with Wakefield attending race meetings throughout Perth from a young age, quickly became something more when he volunteered to help build Kalgoorlie International Speedway, later getting a taste of the driver’s seat when he was enticed into a guest drive by Modified driver Greg Oxwell, for whom Bob had pit crewed.
Commencing his own competitive racing career in 1992 aboard a Valiant Charger, an odd addition to the regular Street Stock fields of Ford Cortinas and Chrysler Sigmas, Wakefield later built another Charger in 1995, receiving valuable mentoring and advice from Street Stock veterans Neil Hoffmann and Wayne Cullenane, which he carried through the rest of his career.
Contesting his maiden National Title at Esperance Speedway in 1995, the dedicated racer went on to participate in a total of 19 National Titles, along with 27 state titles. Having upgraded to an XF Ford Falcon in 2004 and again upgrading to an AU Falcon in 2008, his best National Title result came in 2011 at Mildura’s Timmis Speedway when he placed third.
Other highlights for the National Street Stock Hall of Fame Inductee include winning the Open Club Championship at Kalgoorlie International Speedway from the rear of the field in the Bergin family owned EL Ford Falcon – a car that had never before won a race –and enjoying a competitive campaign aboard his Valiant Charger during the 2003 National Title at Mount Gambier’s Borderline Speedway.
While these are only a couple of the highs that Wakefield has experienced throughout his career, his fondest memories have been the countless friendships he’s made across the country.
“There are so many people, including my wife Debbie and son Evan, who have helped to make my career so memorable,” expressed Wakefield. He counts Gympie’s Mothar Mountain Speedway in Queensland as one of his favourite tracks, racing there during the 2017 Queensland Title and professing that he’d never quite seen anything like the dog leg and hill that the track exhibits.
“Going back to the early days, with people like Neil Hoffmann and Wayne Cullenane, to current drivers such as Anthony Beare, Jamie Oldfield and Brad McClure, I am extremely grateful for all of the support and assistance I’ve received over the years and I hope that I’ve been able to repay a small part of that.”
Having been a former president, treasurer and committee member of the Boulder Speedway Association and also a life member of the club, Wakefield has certainly given a great deal to the sport, and despite the fact that his career as a driver has now come to an end, his generous nature and staunch involvement in speedway is a trend that will no doubt continue in one way or another.