Motorsport has helped Elton Goonan travel the world but the boy from Hikutaia is back home and doing what many people would consider a dream job, Track Manager at Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park in Waikato.
Motorsport has helped Elton Goonan travel the world but the boy from Hikutaia, near Paeroa is back home and doing what many people would consider a dream job, Track Manager at Hampton Downs International Motorsport Park in Waikato.
"According to my friends the perk of the job is that I work at a race track and get to drive cars every day.
"The reality is that any time I do get on the track it's usually in a Holden Colorado ute!
"Watching some of the members driving around the track is frustrating sometimes and I wish I could be behind the wheel but at the same time I feel very lucky to be a part of what's happening here."
Goonan has been working at Hampton Downs since it was taken over last year by Tony Quinn, an entrepreneur from Scotland who made his millions selling pet food in Australia.
Quinn has invested an estimated $30 million in a major upgrade of the track and the facilities at Hampton Downs. There's a new 1.2 kilometre track extension, a 850m international go-kart track, a 4WD track, new corporate and members' suites, new garages, a race control complex and a major landscaping work has given the place a much needed facelift.
The official opening of the new, improved facility coincides with the Hampton Downs 101 (October 29-30), featuring the cars and drivers of the Australian GT Championship. Some of the cars that will race the 101 laps include Audi, Aston Martin, Ferrari, McLaren, Lamborghini, Mercedes, Porsche and BMW.
For Goonan, who grew up with ambitions of becoming a racecar driver, managing the track for world class events like the 101 is the next best thing.
"I did a lot of motocross growing up and I got into car racing when I went to the UK in the late 1990s. I started in Formula Ford and from there I went to Formula 3, touring cars, GTs and the Le Mans Series.
"In 2006 I had a drive lined up in a major European series when some rich Austrian guy wrote a cheque that was three times what I could afford and bought me out of a drive. It was at that point I realised that making the next step up the ladder wasn't going to happen. One of those moments you could say.
"Up until then I had been working as an instructor and driver coach but was then offered a job at a racetrack in Sweden so I spent five years over there. I started off as the chief mechanic and ended up as the track manager. At the end of 2009, the racetrack was sold and the new owner decreed that everyone who worked there had to be Swedish. It was disappointing to say the least but it was also a great time to come home as our son had just been born and at that stage I had been away from New Zealand for 15 years so we packed up and came home.
"Before I started working at Hampton Downs I spent a lot of time around the place running a V8 drive experience. The changes that have happened since I started working here a year ago have been incredible and I can't wait to see how the Australian GTs go around here."
New Zealand motorsport personality Greg Murphy will team up with Tony Quinn in the Aston Martin Vantage V12 GT3 at Hampton Downs while New Zealand drifting superstar "Mad Mike" Whiddett will make his circuit racing debut alongside Klark Quinn, who is currently leading the championship.
"Drivers love Hampton Downs because of the elevation changes," says Goonan.
"Most other tracks in the country are billiard table flat but you've got the ups and downs at Hampton Downs which always makes for very exciting racing.
"Now with the new 1.2km extension creating an awesome 4km international circuit, the challenges as a driver have just gone up another level. With my drivers helmet on, I think it's the best track in New Zealand and I've raced on most of them."