Standout Stories from Wangaratta’s 2019 8-Hour

4 months ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Donat O'Kelly

On paper, this all-new venue near Wangaratta sure looked the goods – a stone’s throw from a dozen renowned wineries, craft beer breweries and historic pubs; enviable rainfall stats during September; 3000 acres of private property that resembled a golf course with patches of gum trees; an undulating 20km race loop with picture-postcard views of Victoria’s snow-capped High Country; the backing and support of the local council; a switched-on host motorcycle club to work with; and landowners with the sort of no-bullshit can-do attitude you only find in the country. And in reality, the venue delivered. From the 470 riders who scored an entry into the inaugural Transmoto 8-Hour at Wangaratta in late September, here are 10 of the standout stories to come out of what was a memorable weekend in Victoria.


Three hours’ drive northeast of Melbourne sits the picturesque township of Wangaratta. It’s based in a scenic region best known as the home of Ned Kelly, and for its historic cathedrals and gold mines, classic old pubs and world-class food, wine and craft beer. But if you’re into dirt bikes, Wangaratta also conjures up images of riding heaven; a town at the confluence of the Ovens and King rivers, which drain the northwestern slopes of the Victorian Alps and create prime riding conditions for much of the year. And that’s precisely what awaited 470 entrants at this year’s inaugural Transmoto 8-Hour, staged about 25km southeast of Wangaratta. Run on a 3000-acre private property, the 8-Hour’s race loop boasted a mouthwatering combination of bush trails, technical hills and undulating grasstrack on a massive scale, with the Victorian High Country’s snow-capped Mount Beauty, Falls Creek and Mount Hotham peaks serving as an eye-catching backdrop. As several riders joked after the race, “The hardest thing about the loop was resisting the temptation to stop and take in the epic vistas in every direction.”


Imagine being a farmer who’s spent years dedicated to pasture improvement and erosion management, and then one weekend, the best part of 500 frothing dirt bike riders rock up in your back paddock, intent on tearing it to pieces. Well, that was the reality confronting the Hamilton family, the landowners of the property the 8-Hour was staged on. But it sure didn’t seem to bother the family’s laconic patriarch, Doug Hamilton, who had the crowd eating out of his hand about 10 seconds into his speech at Riders’ Briefing. “This is the first time I’ve seen more people than kangaroos in the back paddock,” he began with a grin. “Sometimes you just have to say yes if you want something fun like this event to happen, so we welcome you all to our property for the first ever Transmoto 8-Hour here. I’m aware that you’ll all be making some noise and tearing up my paddocks for a day, but I’m okay with that. The grass will grow back, and I’ve got plenty of earthmoving equipment, so we can easily patch up any holes you put in it. Anyway, it’s not a bad thing that you’ll scare the roos off for the weekend, cos I reckon we’ll lose less grass to dirt bikes than to those pests.” Doug went on to reflect on the dirt bike heritage in the region, and the petrol-head affinity between his first love, flying planes, and dirt bikes. “Speaking of petrol, I might just have to show you all how to really burn some fuel in the morning!” he said, alluding to the fly-by he was rumoured to have planned for Sunday morning’s race start. Sure enough, at 7.15am on Sunday, with military precision, Doug and a mate put on an epic aerial display within sight of the packed startline – Doug behind the controls of his beautiful P40 Kitty Hawk, and his mate flying a Harvard T6 – before Doug threw in a perfectly timed high-speed pass to officially start the race. The aerial spectacle was a first for a Transmoto event, and made for one hell of a memorable race start.


To get any Transmoto Enduro Event off the ground, we rely on the support and goodwill of the local community. So when the Rural City of Wangaratta tipped in some seed capital for the 2019 8-Hour, it set the tone for the local community to get right behind the event. Mayor Dean Rees and Councillor Harry Bussell both rocked up to be part of the weekend’ festivities, and the Mayor – a property developer and former auctioneer – kindly volunteered his spruiking services for the Pole Position Auction fundraiser. Wood Park Wines – a winery literally based over the property’s back fence – came on board as a sponsor, dishing up taste testing and top-shelf bottles of wine or bubbly for the winners. The Albury-based crew from Channel 9 ran news pieces about the 8-Hour before and after the event. The Alpine Motorcycle Club offered up a seemingly endless supply of experienced sweep riders and track maintenance expertise. And with 1000 people in the paddock, the local coffee and food vans did a roaring trade all weekend. Even the weather came to the party.


Youth suicide, particularly for young men in rural communities, has been a huge problem confronting Australia in the new Millennium. And after the 8-Hour’s track builder, Alpine MCC’s Trevor Jenvey, lost his 22-year-old son, Tom, to suicide a year ago, the fundraising cause at the event was an obvious choice. After an impassioned speech by Trevor’s daughter, Ash, about her late brother and the urgent need to confront the issue of suicide, a total of $3000 was raised – $2000 from the Maben Group’s Craig Gathercole for the Pole Position, and another $1000 from the riders’ contribution for the footrace to establish the starting grid – for the Wangarratta Suicide Prevention Network, which allocated the funds to community-based Blue Tree Projects. As Ash chillingly pointed out, “More than 3000 people each year – and six men every day! – take their own lives in Australia. Suicide claims more lives than road accidents each year. It’s the biggest cause of death for kids under 15. But where are the billboards, the TV news reports, the newspaper articles that should be bombarding us with those statistics? That’s why it’s so important that we all do what we can as individuals and as a community to raise awareness about mental health and suicide and help break the stigma. The Blue Tree Project’s mission is to help spark difficult conversations and encourage people to speak up when battling mental health concerns. Currently, there are 300 trees painted blue across the country – trees so big and bold that the conversation about suicide will be unavoidable – and the money raised here at the 8-Hour will go toward painting our very own Blue Tree in Wangaratta,” Ash went on to explain.


There are a couple of ways to wangle a free team entry into a Transmoto Enduro Event: through the VW Amarok Pimped Pit comp, or by simply filling in the post-event entrant survey. And with most Transmoto events now selling out overnight, these comps seem to have become the hottest tickets in town. For the inaugural 8-Hour at Wangaratta, we joined forces with Fox Head Australia and Husky to go one step further with an FOC team comp; by offering three sad souls (who’d missed out on an entry) the chance to not only score a belated team entry into the event (yep, $860 for free!), but also be joined by recently crowned Outright AORC champ and likeable larrikin, Husqvarna’s Daniel Sanders, as their fourth team member – aka, the “Ring-In”. The winners – three Victorians called Ben Forsyth, Anthony McGuire and Ben Hallyburton – were decked out in fresh Fox threads and had the time of their lives at Wang. No doubt assisted by Sanders’ scintillating speed, the Fox Ring-Ins team placed a very respectable eighth Outright, plus they got to hang out and share a few cold ales and campfire yarns in Sponsor Alley with some of the country’s fastest and funniest Pro riders. “Somehow, the poem I wrote as the entry was chosen as the winner, and we scored bigtime,” explained Forsyth. “It was pretty cool for us boys to be able to hang out and race on the same team as Daniel, and get a bit of red carpet treatment. It was a bloody good event, and we had an awesome weekend.”


Almost 30 groms signed up for Saturday’s non-competitive Junior loop, and what a sight it was. After posing for a group shot under the start-finish arch with AORC champ, Daniel Sanders, the little tackers – ranging in age from nine to 15, and in stature from pint-size to man-child – were escorted to a nearby paddock where they enjoyed two unbridled hours of tearing around the grasstrack and bush trails of the custom-made 7km loop, while their mums, dads and siblings lined the nearby barbed-wire fencelines. Could have sworn the crowd was bigger than at a MX Nats!?


When we first staged the POD Dirt Bike Rut Limbo at Conondale’s Transmoto 6-Hour back in late July, we knew we were onto a good thing. Admittedly, we’d shamelessly poached the idea from a YouTube video, but no one’s got a patent on moto limbo, and the bar-scraping action instantly drew a huge crowd. And at Wangaratta, they were four deep behind the bunting to watch 16 willing entrants hurl themselves into a specially manicured rut (set sneakily on a downhill to make it even more challenging) and contort their bodies so as not to dislodge a progressively lowered bar. After a process of elimination (which even weeded out AORC champ, Daniel Sanders), Chris “Mainjet” Wynd was the last man standing (the last man railing ruts, that is) at a height of 90cm, and he took home a fresh set of POD K4 brakes for his efforts. Inexplicably, Wynd managed the feat in spite of running an oversize tank on his KTM. The kid’s all style!


Every year at the Transmoto 12-Hour – where one of the sponsors is Bunda Fine Jewels – we’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that it’s the only dirt bike event in the world where you get the chance of winning jewellery (a set of diamond stud earrings and a Golden Sprocket for the Ironman winner, as it happens). And with local winery, Wood Park Wines, coming on board as a sponsor at Wangaratta’s 8-Hour, that might just make it the only dirt bike event in the world where you get to do some free wine tasting during Saturday’s sign-on. The Wood Park posse also provided bottles of bubbly for the finish line fanfare and a beautiful bottle of their best red for the winners of each class and team category. Yep, gourmet racing, friends!


With rider registration, sponsor activations, raffle draws, pole position auction and the Starting Grid Footrace (to establish the top 40 positions on Sunday’s starting grid), there was so much going on during Saturday afternoon that many people had forgotten one lucky entrant was about to become the proud owner of a 2020 Husqvarna. But Saturday, September 21, is an afternoon a young bloke called Ryan Morrison will never forget. The 21-year-old from Canberra was predictably speechless when he appeared from the hooting crowd to claim his slick white windfall, and he’ll have a week or two to figure out which model he wants from Husky’s enduro or cross-country range. “Mate, that was something special,” his old man, Dave, said on Sunday arvo. “Ryan’s a bit of a motocrosser and this 8-Hour was is first ever enduro event. And he absolutely loved it. Funnily enough, I was thinking about trading-in his younger brothers’ Husky FC250 and TC85, so I almost feel obliged to do that, now Ryan’s won that 2020 bike. It sounds like he’s leaning towards the FE350 as it’s such a good all-rounder,” Dave went on to say.


Back in May, a bloke in a 2019 Transmoto 12-Hour T-shirt was getting around the pits at the 8-Hour at Mackay in Central Queensland. So we asked him whether he’d actually ridden the 12-Hour, some 30 hours’ drive away on the NSW south coast. “Yep, that’s where I got the tee, mate,” he said matter-of-factly. “My son and I raced that 12-Hour and the 8-Hour at Coffs Harbour, and now we’ve made the road trip to Mackay to race up here for the first time. In fact, the plan is for me and my son to race all seven Transmoto events this year.” With that, he introduced himself: “G’day, Rob Dummer. And this is my son, Marcus. We’re racing in a Pairs team called ‘Dum and Dummer’.” Just two laps into Sunday’s race at Mackay, we ran into Rob in the Medics tents. He’d busted his collarbone pretty badly, but insisted he take himself off to the local hospital to get it looked at. From the X-rays he sent us after the event, it looked bad enough to put an end to his seven-event plan. But sure enough, just a month later in the brutal sandfest that was the Nabiac 6-Hour, there was Rob – not back to 100 percent physically, but the shoulder somehow survived the pounding. And along with another good mate he often calls his son, Jackson Hordern, Rob has now raced six of the seven 2019 events. We look forward to seeing you at Stroud in couple of weeks’ time, Rob – where you and Jackson will be the first riders to have ever raced a Transmoto season’s ‘full house’. You never know; there might be a beer in for you, mate.

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