Founded in 1984, ORANZ guides the safety and professionalism of competitive off road racing in New Zealand and oversees the National Series.
Since the beginning, off roading for sport and recreation has been driven by enthusiasts who have shaped the positive and welcoming culture of the sport.
Like all great things, ORANZ started with a dream.
Sparking a passion
Two key events set Ian Foster down the path that led to the founding of ORANZ.
In 1976 he bought a ‘52 Studebaker with a flat deck, replaced it with a well side tray made with Ford F100 guards, gave it a lift job and fitted DC3 aircraft tyres. Finished in electric blue paint with chrome side mirrors, the truck was a show stopper and Ian was hooked on modification.
An invite in 1977 to an Auckland Buggy Club event at Muriwai Beach came next. This sparked a lifelong passion for off road racing and sealed his future. He soon purchased a beach buggy and despite his first day driving in Woodhill Forest ending in a concussion and jaw broken in three places, his enthusiasm was stronger than ever.
The Bug Inns 1981 - 1984
In 1980 Ian created the Fonzie Van, designing and building a one piece mould to replicate the Vandetta, a VW van built by cutting the back off a VW car. He made five Fonzie Vans and wanted to sell more, but knew people needed to see them in person.
This seed of an idea led to the inaugural Bug Inn, a VW enthusiasts event, held in March 1981 at the Meremere Drag Strip Complex. Francis Baptist, Peter Baker, Stewart Ried and Ivan Unkovich all joined Ian to bring the event to life. Featuring eighth of a mile drags, car show, trade displays, a Miss Bug Inn competition, piston throwing, car cramming, VW park up, engine blow up competition, helicopter rides, mini bikes, trade stands and more, the event was a hit.
The Fonzie Van got its audience, but the gathering of so many like-minded people had other, greater impacts. Buggy and off road driving were still new in New Zealand, and the Bug Inns accelerated the growth of off road racing as a sport.
From Bug Inns to ORANZ
In the early 80s the sport was thriving, with the most ardent enthusiasts competing at over 35 club and interclub events a year. It was a lot of fun, but with no national coordination, the events were often chaotic.
Ian’s dream was to become New Zealand’s off road racing champion, and so Bug Inn '83 hosted the inaugural New Zealand Off Road Racing Championship. Despite Ian’s enthusiasm, New Zealand’s first Off Road Racing National Champion was Darryl Corson.
In 1984 Ian started to focus on the formation of a national organisation. He put out a call to interested parties and met at the Raceway Motel in Taupō and the Off Road Association of New Zealand was formed.
Respecting the strong recreational element for off road driving enthusiasts, the group cut “racing” from the name of the association.
The group turned their attention to staging the New Zealand Off Road Racing Championship Series and from 1987 - 1992 the New Zealand Off Road Grand Prix Series was televised nationwide on TV3.
The arrival of the UTV
Part of the excitement of off road racing has always been putting on a good show for spectators and giving newcomers an opportunity to experience the adrenaline of the ride. Drivers also needed the time and ability to modify vehicles. As modifications skewed toward single seater race cars the chance to take a passenger and give them a feel for off roading was lost, and the growth of the sport started to flatten out.
Enthusiasts had dreamed of the factory offroader and the arrival of the UTV in 2016 changed the game again. These vehicles enabled passenger participation, allowed people without the skill or passion for modification to get involved, were safer, and made the sport more accessible.
ORANZ added the UTV Classes in 2016, with Ben Thomason winning the first S Class competition.
A place to race
Getting out and having a bash around was always dependent on club events or having access to a paddock, now clubs around New Zealand enjoy permanent tracks, including CMORC in Manukau, AORCNZ in Makarau, the CORC in West Melton, and in Otago offroaders benefit from the passion and generosity of Slim and Janina Slee who have built a track on their farm in Kurow.
The future of ORANZ
ORANZ’s primary role is to run the National Championship, define and uphold the standards of the sport and provide insurance for national and local club events. Each club has an ORANZ delegate, keeping the sport connected across New Zealand. The defined pathway for young racers ensures the sport continues and a new generation can join the sport safely.
Off road racing is an incredibly fun recreation. We strive to strike a balance between keeping it safe and professional without losing the element of rough and ready excitement that first drew so many of us to the sport. While modifications and the passion for off road driving are often passed down through families, the community has remained welcoming to newcomers, with established members always keen to extend a hand and share their knowledge and passion.
Want to know more history? Many of the founders of ORANZ, including Ian Foster are still showing up and giving it hell and are always keen to have a chat about the early days.