He’s one of the fastest fathers in the country, who’s helping his two sons – Mitch and Damon – become superbike stars. Along with putting the Tony Rees in Tony Rees Motorcycles, he also holds the lap record at Hampton Downs, set last season, and doesn’t look to be slowing down…

Interview: BRM | Photos:Craig Dawson and Doug Cornes

We don’t need to list your accomplishments in motorcycling, but can you tell us how you started riding?
It all started when I was 11 years old. I bought a wee pull-start motorbike, one of those little monkey bikes, which we fixed up. On the first ride, the throttle jammed and I ended up crashing into the church that next door. You could say it was a holey experience, as I put a hole in the church – it was lucky that I was wearing a helmet. That’s where it all started, though. I fixed that bike up and made a little bit of money from it, and then bought the next one. I did my first motocross on that, a little Yamaha 60. Soon enough, I sold that bike, saved up some more and then bought a YZ80. That’s when I got really serious about racing and motocross. I did the whole motocross thing ‘til I was 19, on and off, racing the Junior and Senior Nationals.

So, how did you end up on road bike?
One day, my boss at the time, Phil Sheif – who owned Sheif Motorcycles, the dealer I started my apprenticeship with in 1984, when I was 16 – had come back from watching Aaron Slight racing at Pukekohe, and the parts guy said, “Let’s go road racing, Tony.” “Yeah, whatever,” I replied. I had no idea about road racing but I thought I’d give it a go and we made it happen. We started off on a 1985 RZ250R, racing at all the Hamilton club days, which was my first series. That first year, I won that class. Then, last year, Damon won his class in that series.

Team Honda DNA

The path that you took is quite similar to the paths that led Mitch and Damon to racing, isn’t it?
It is, yeah. But it’s not because of me telling them to go road racing or anything, as those two have always wanted to ride motorbikes – both the boys were right into their motocross – so it was never forced upon them. I was always, “If you wanna go riding, let’s go riding.” It doesn’t worry me what they’re doing, so long as they’re having fun and happy, you know? Really, I thought Mitch would never go road racing, as he always said there wasn’t enough jumps. But when he did the Motul 6 Hour with us, last year, it got him started. Now, he’s pretty fired up about it.

And both are looking to move up to the Superbike class, too?
That’s right. I thought Damon might’ve done it, this year, by taking my spare bike racing. But he really enjoys riding the 600 and feels like he still has something to accomplish in that class. Mitch, on the other hand, is jumping in the deep end. He’s more than capable of riding a motorbike, though. It will take some time to get used to having all that horsepower, but he’s no fool. He raced MX1 on a CRF450R, so if you can ride one of them properly, you can get to grips with a CBR1000R. At the end of the day, it’s just another motorbike – just a really fast one.

Tony Rees at the pointy end – as usual

Okay, we’ve got to ask: are you nervous that the boys are coming into your class and hot on your heels?
To be honest with you, I knew it was coming. I’ll never forget one of my friends, a long time ago, saying that “it won’t be long”. I said, “What won’t be long?” “It won’t be long ‘til Mitch is kicking your ass on a dirt bike.” Then, one day, while we were out riding some trails, Mitch was waiting for me in the pits, so I asked, “Did you take a short cut home?“ Shit, he hadn’t… he’d just beaten me. I figure it’s not that far away with the road racing, too. Really, the hardest part would be for Vicki, who has to put up with all three of us road racing. But she has always been the instigator of me going racing, always saying that we should go road racing, as it’s what we do – we’re pretty lucky to have her.

Next year, when all three of you are in one class, how will family dinners be?
We’re pretty fortunate that, as the boys were growing up, we spent so many years going to racetracks. I remember going to race in Invercargill and pulling out toolboxes, wheels and cots with babies in ‘em. Since way back when, we’ve been doing it as a family, so it’s great that we can still do that. The best race I’ve ever done was the Motul 6 Hour with the boys. Thinking back to 1988, I never would have thought I’d be racing a 6 Hour with my two sons – that’s pretty special.

This year, I’ve only been doing some events, the fun ones like the Burt Munro. I’m going to do that, again, as well as the Suzuki Series, but as for the Nationals, I’m just going to become the mechanic-slash-team manager and helping the boys.

Although, if all three of us are out there racing, it will get a little competitive. But we leave it at the track.

So, in 2017, you’ll be the team manager that holds the lap record at Hampton Downs?
Maybe… I feel that someone’s going to smash that pretty quickly.