While 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride for many, this year is one Donald and Jye Irving have been looking forward to for a long time.
The pair are preparing to take to the track for the first time, as the father and son duo embark on a speedway rivalry that could last for decades.
The 2019-20 speedway season was cut short due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, but next time Donald is on the track, Jye will also be in action in street stock action for the first time.
Donald is a veteran of the Hamilton Speedway Drivers Club and has been in the driver’s seat for 16 years, getting involved in the sport after a chance meeting with another driver.
“I used to do a lot of demolition derbies and I got sick of building cars everytime I wanted to do one,” Donald said.
“I was at the Mount Gambier show and Anthony Beare had his car on display and I got talking to him and he said he would help me build a car.
“Trudy (Donald’s wife) said she would race as well, so we bought a car and so we bought a XF Falcon and did that up.”
Donald was a revhead from an early age, watching different motorsport both on television and in person.
“I was always hooning around in paddock bombs and stuff,” Donald said.
“We went up to Bathurst nine years in a row, camped at the top of the mountain with a group of others each year.
“I have been to Formula 1 back when it was in Adelaide a couple of times.
“I used to be a real speedway fan when I was young, I didn’t go as much then I got older but got back into it and haven’t looked back.”
While the racing is what everyone is there to do, it is the off-track things that continues to keep the 54-year-old invested in the sport.
“The racing is just a bonus, it is the friendships and people you meet which make it all worthwhile,” Donald said.
“We can go to Darwin, Western Australia or other places and we always have somewhere to stay.”
Donald started off racing his XF Falcon before transitioning to a VY Commodore.
An accident last season forced him to abandon the car and more to a VE Commodore, but in a sign of the family nature of racing, Jye will take to the track later this year in the VY Commodore for his debut season of senior racing.
The costs are many, not just financial, but the time spent building and maintaining cars as well as spending days on the road travelling to different events.
Donald said it was a big sacrifice, but one that had its benefits.
“It is quite a few hours that go into it,” he said.
“Preparation and repairs, just keeping the cars looking good and keeping them reliable.
“A lot of money also goes into it; if you want to be competitive, you have to spend the money.”
Both Donald and Jye travel to most events together, regularly contesting state and national titles as well as other events across Australia.
Both drivers were supposed to be in Tasmania now with the Street Stock National Titles scheduled for last weekend at Latrobe, while the Tasmanian state titles were scheduled for this weekend.
Donald has spent much of his racing career racing street stocks, but had a year of production sedan competition as well.
With different rules for each class, he said there were some aspects that were harder to adapt to.
“The classes are pretty similar even though production sedans can have a lot more set up with regards to suspension and engine,” he said.
“They race anti-clockwise every time, but we can’t set street stock cars up for one way, because we don’t know which way we will be racing until we get out there.”
Jye has spent seven years building up to this point of his career, first getting into a junior sedan at just 10 years old.
The 17-year-old first started out in a Datsun Sunny before moving to a Daihatsu Charade for his last two years of junior racing.
Jye said the move was important to try and get more competitive on the track.
“It had a bigger engine, so made us more competitive,” he said.
This year he will be driving the VY Commodore which will put him back in the driver seat of a rear-wheel drive car.
Transitioning from a rear-wheel drive car to the front-wheel Charade took some getting used to for Jye, but he is excited about the challenge of stepping up a level.
Donald is already nervous about the proposition of losing races to his sun, already joking about the rivalry which has started to bubble away.
“When Jye was young, Anthony (Beare) bought him a rear-wheel drive paddock bomb and we used to race in the paddock together back then,” Donald said.
“I told him he better not beat me, because if he does I will put him into the fence.
“In all seriousness though, I think he will go alright.
“In the junior cars, they are a lot harder to drive compared to the cars we drive with power steering and from my past experiences, all the juniors I have watched have all gone very well (at the higher level).”
The minimum age to drive a junior sedan is 10, and Jye wasted little time, competing in his first race a week after his 10th birthday.
Jye said being around the sport since he can remember sparked his interest in racing.
“Definitely having a background helps, you watch people who step into it without the help and it takes a lot to get used to everything,” he said.
“Trying to learn how to set up a car is probably the biggest thing to learn, trying to adapt to different set-ups and other things.
“You have to change your driving style everywhere you go, everything is always different.”
The Baimbridge College student balances his education and racing commitments with the hope of eventually becoming a mechanical engineer.
“I will be looking for an apprenticeship next year in either boilermaking or fiiting and turning,” he said.
“I try and do the main parts (of school) before I go away for events so I don’t fall behind too much.
“It is hard to balance it sometimes, there is a lot I don’t get to do but I do the main things.”
Covering thousands of kilometres each year getting to each event has seen the pair compete at many tracks around the country.
Both Donald and Jye had some particular favourites away from their home track at Hamilton’s Western Speedway.
“I liked Alice Springs and Darwin,” Jye said.
“I can’t fault any of the local tracks though.”
“I like the Western Australian tracks, they seem to be bigger and faster,” Donald said.
“All the tracks are different surfaces, shapes, sizes.
“The Hamilton club has really improved with extra members and the Western Speedway track improvements as well.
“We have got new spectator areas, new canteen and the pits have been modified over the years, making it an even better set-up.”
Donald’s most recent triumph involved Beare at the recent New South Wales state titles last month.
“At the start of March I raced at Moama at the New South Wales state title, Anthony had done an engine and I qualified for the final and I stepped out of my car and gave it to him to drive and he won the NSW title in my car,” he said.
“I have been good friends with Anthony for a long time, he lives in Mt Gambier and that was a big thrill for me to see him win it.”
Both drivers have had some promising results on the track though with a podium finish for Donald in the 2006-07 national titles, while Jye finished fourth in the Western Australian junior sedan state title in January.
With some uncertainty around when racing will resume, the pair will continue to prepare Jye’s car for the next season with Donald’s VY Commodore getting re-shelled.
With a healthy rivalry between the father and son developing, there is no doubt both drivers are talented and will spend many laps chasing each other around the speedway tracks for many years to come.