Thrills, spills and (computer) crashes as sporting greats back local business

A year on from the start of New Zealands first Covid lockdown comes Silver Linings a book and an event looking back at how businesses responded as the country entered uncharted waters. This is an extract from Silver Linings Kiwi success stories in the time of Covid.
Sport was one of the big casualties of Covid-19.

For hundreds of thousands of sports fans, their weekends and evenings were devoid of the type of gladiatorial contests that normally create excitement and drama.

While some spectators were able to substitute their desire for live sports action by watching that new Michael Jordan doco on Netflix, for the sportspeople themselves, the multiweek lockdown was a form of torture.


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But one group of sportspeople soon realised they could not only compete during lockdown, but they could also do good at the same time.

Racing Local was an initiative to get the Kiwi racing-car drivers whod had to put their helmets away back on the (virtual) track.

Big names like Brendon Hartley and Greg Murphy were behind the initiative, which saw drivers from many different types of motorsports get together online on four consecutive Friday nights, and battle it out in sim races.

This was no Super Mario Kart; this was 60 of the best racing-car drivers around, in fierce competition, with thousands of spectators at home cheering them on and refuelling their thirst for fast cars.

The competition was oversubscribed almost immediately, meaning the organisers had to put in place a qualification competition.

Darren Jurgens of Flat 88 photog/Sydney Morning Herald
More than 5,000 watched the races live on Facebook.

Sarah, my wife, had spreadsheets, trying to track everything it was a massive learning process for all of us, says the brains behind the idea, Brendon Hartley.

The races were fierce, using top-of-the-line simulated-racecar software and broadcasting live to the spectators.

Prizes were awarded, grudges were repaid, and (in one particularly embarrassing event) a Kiwi motorsports legend was left in the pitstop after he apparently forgot to pay for the right software to get him on the track. Embarrassing much, Greg Murphy?

The Racing Local initiative was more than just a way for Kiwi petrolheads to let off a little steam, or watch pixels in the shapes of cars race around their laptop screens it was also an initiative in the name of charity, to help small business.

As Brendon explains: Most of us started out as enthusiastic young competitors supported by our mums and dads and other local businesses as sponsors, and many are still supported by local business and individuals who have been keen to remain associated with us.

The way the Racing Local team was able to pay back that support was by connecting up with the SOS Business team to donate all of the proceeds from Racing Local to the small businesses on the SOS Business platform.

Now its time for a bit of a role reversal, and for us to step up and give a little back by becoming a sponsor of our locals who are struggling to survive during these unprecedented times, says Brendon.

Over the weeks of racing, the initiative raised over $40,000 for small businesses, with sponsors like the Giltrap Group jumping on board, and each driver choosing a small business to donate their winnings to.

For these businesses, the money was a complete surprise and, for many, a lifesaver.

As a no-strings-attached donation, it could immediately be used to pay the power bill, top up the wages or pay off some other bill that had piled up during the lockdown period.

Feedback from the businesses was effusive: you saved my business and the money was great, but even more was the idea that people were caring for us, that we were loved are just a couple of the responses.

I get warm fuzzies to hear that is incredibly nice. Makes us proud to be Kiwis, says Brendon.

The racing format also enabled drivers from different career stages and motorsport disciplines from track racers, to motocross, to karts to compete, who would normally never get the opportunity to race together.

It was a great experience for some of the less-experienced, aspiring drivers, to race against some really top drivers, says Brendon.

Fans loved it, too with over 5,000 watching the races live on Facebook, and many more tuning in later.

It was a special time when motorsports fans, drivers and sponsors could come together, play hard and do good.

So would Brendon Hartley permanently swap his normal soupedup racecar for a simulator?

Ah no, I was quite happy to give the simulator back I love the real world too much.

The simulator may not give the same roar of the engine, the same G-forces and the same smell of highoctane fuel, but, all the same, Racing Local was a special initiative at a time when small business really needed a rev-up.

Silver Linings by Joe Davis and David Downs, of Nanogirl Labs. PenguinRandomHouse, available at all bookstores and online, RRP $45.

Stuff is a sponsor of the Silver Linings event.

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