Over the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to follow Targa New Zealand events around most of the North Island. My main priority during these trips is to bring you, our readers, an insight into the thrills and spills and daily activities of the competitors as they prepare for — and eventually tackle — these challenging events. Make no mistake, the challenges are real: and for most of the teams involved, just getting across the finish line after hundreds of kilometres of special stages, often through some of this country’s most spectacular scenic roads, combined with just as many — if not more — touring stages over many days, definitely takes its toll on man and machine.
I have to admit though, the highlight for me is meeting the drivers, co-drivers and crews — they are what makes this event so interesting and, indeed, the success that it is today. My role is to gather as much information as I can, and while performing that function I’ve had the privilege of meeting some wonderful people — many of whom not only make my job easy by giving up precious time to provide me with up-to-date information, but are always happy to stop and have a chat about the event generally.
One such person I’ve come to enjoy catching up with regularly throughout these events is Mr Dad’s Pies, Eddie Grooten. Eddie is always positive about the event, and despite whatever drama may be unfolding around his team, he is always happy to stop for a chinwag about how his day is progressing.
We recently caught up with Eddie before he headed off to compete in the Targa South Island, and asked if he’d be happy for us to feature his car and to delve further into his fascination for the iconic, air-cooled 911. In typically modest Eddie fashion, his response was — “I thought you only do this for famous people … apparently not!”
Björn Waldegård won the Monte Carlo Rally in a Porsche 911S in 1969, when Eddie was 16 years old, and won the same event again the following year. This was also the year that Eddie fell in love with the Porsche 911 and, at the time, he made a promise to himself that one day he would own one of these German sports cars.
It only took 38 years for him to realize that dream!
Forty-two years ago Eddie and a friend entered several events in Holland and Belgium — both very similar to Targa New Zealand — in a Datsun 1800, a relatively heavy car but very reliable. The events consisted of several special stages, some on dirt but most on tarmac. The times between the stages were very strict, and they’d drive through the Belgian Ardennes as if they were a special stage, with normal traffic around them. When looking back, Eddie wonders how they ever managed to get away with these types of antics without earning a few speeding tickets. Unfortunately, this type of sporting event soon became a little too elite, and beyond the means of an apprentice mechanic such as Eddie.
However, he still remembers the camaraderie and exciting special stages of those European events, and reckons the Targa NZ experience is very similar. Indeed, so humble is Eddie that he feels very fortunate that he can be part of this fantastic form of motor sport today.
Not long after Eddie emigrated to New Zealand from his native Holland in 1981, he bought a small, struggling business based at Red Beach, at the bottom of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, north of Auckland. His girlfriend, Erika, arrived six months later, and together they began their new life in a new country with a business that had suffered four owners in the two years before their ownership — as Eddie puts it, “You’ve got to have rocks in your head to put all your money into something like that!”
One year later Eddie and Erika were married on the beach, and 33 years on they still run the same business, and have made some progress on the way. In fact, Dad’s Pies is not only one of the oldest-running pie companies in the country, it is also one of the leading suppliers of ready-baked chilled and frozen pies, pastries and food service products to the local market and to export markets globally.
During those years spent developing and building a successful business, Eddie’s passion for motor sport was forced to play a secondary role in his life. Four years after they married the couple’s daughter, Mieke, was born, followed by number one son Ben, and two years later Tom arrived. In addition to his business commitments, Eddie’s three children were top priority, and he had even less chance and money to think about race cars.
However, his interest was reignited when he began to hear good things about an event called the Dunlop Targa. One day, he thought!
Boys and their toys
On the first of August 2007, Eddie realized his one-time dream to own a Porsche, when he purchased Toni Patmore’s 911SC in Wellington. Like a kid with a new toy, Eddie was so excited that he could hardly wait to get behind the wheel and feel the power of that 3.0-litre air-cooled flat-six engine behind him. Dad’s Pies general manager, Kevin Smith, travelled to Wellington with Eddie, and the two men planned to drive the Porsche back to Auckland — the long way round, of course! Eddie figured it would be nice for Kevin to get the feel of a true classic car so, in Napier, he handed the reins over for the next leg to Taupo. Cruising along, Eddie casually suggested to Kevin he could stretch the Porsche’s legs along the straights, near the Lochinver Farm. Kevin obliged without too much resistance, as there wasn’t a car in view as far as you could see, except for one lonely vehicle coming over a hump about 10 kilometres down the road. You guessed it — lights began flashing and, according to Eddie, they were lucky that the car was not confiscated on their first ride.
In October 2007, realizing another long-held dream, Eddie made a return to motor sport, lining up for his first Targa New Zealand event — what a disaster that turned out to be!
He made the classic mistake, or rather — as he puts it himself — an event full of mistakes. The car broke down in Te Kauwhata and had to be towed all the way to Pirongia, where Steve Rasmussen finally got the Porsche up and running after replacing all the injectors. They were then able to catch up with the rest of the field in New Plymouth. To make matters even worse, Eddie discovered that his co-driver had a difficult time determining left from right, a revelation one doesn’t want to hear on such an event, especially from a co-driver. Eddie wasn’t sure whether or not to feel sorry for him or be mad and, just to add insult to injury, his wife admitted to being aware of the co-driver’s disability prior to the event. Her comment of ‘I could have told you that’ only came afterwards.
That aside, the team arrived in New Plymouth absolutely knackered at 2am, only to learn that their accommodation had been re-let because they hadn’t arrived on time. Fortunately they found a bed, albeit miles away, something which didn’t prove particularly easy at that time of the of the night. Consequently they slept in the following morning, forcing them to rush around first thing — and that, says Eddie, was not a good idea.
Fortunately for Eddie and his co-driver, given the fantastic special stages through the Taranaki region, and with the Porsche finally performing reasonably well, they could begin to properly enjoy themselves. Although at the rear of the field they were slowly catching up — and it was about then that Eddie made his second and third mistakes.
He wasn’t feeling totally in tune with the car, and was pushing on as if it was the most important race of his life. “How stupid can you be?” he recalled. The car in front looked as if it had moved to the right, and Eddie assumed it had done so to let them through on the inside. He was wrong, and a collision was only avoided by Eddie swerving onto the grass, which caused the 911’s low front spoiler to dig into the soft ground, catapulting the car into the air while it performed a triple end-to-end flip-over, before finally coming to rest landing on all four wheels, but backwards. Eddie certainly expected a call from Cirque du Soleil after that performance!
Needless to say, Eddie’s prized Porsche — and his heart — were badly broken.
His son, Tom, was part of the service crew with Motorsport Services that day, and he’d became worried about the ‘old man’ when he didn’t make it through the stage. Eddie felt awful to have put his son through such a worrying ordeal, and knew that if it hadn’t been for the roll cage he could’ve been meat pie himself.
Fortunately, Dale Perry from Rally Drive NZ suggested that the car was repairable, and they reached an agreement to resurrect the 911 instead of sending it to Clark Proctor’s Metalman scrapyard.
Before Eddie could be certain that repairing the car was viable he was offered a similar, earlier-model 911 with the 152kW (204bhp) engine. Even today, Erika still reminds Eddie that she understands the Porsche was his young boy’s dream, but still wonders how he ended up with two of them in the garage. Technically, Eddie admits that he should swap the 911 engines over, as the higher-powered 152kW unit produces more torque, which would be perfect for Targa events. However, he isn’t convinced it’s the right thing to do — yet.
The Targa North Island event earlier this year was a great one for Eddie and his team, but his car, now 36 years old, was starting to show signs of weakness. On one of the long straight stretches of road the Porsche became momentarily airborne, and when it landed back down on terra firma the engine shuddered to a halt. They lost two special stages during which time crew member, Nigel ‘Paddy’ Patterson, discovered a wire under the distributor had almost disintegrated — they reckon it was probably an original item. Paddy, owner of Southampton Auto Electrical, decided to solve the issue once and for all by installing a modern ignition system, and replacing all the wiring. The engine compartment now looks nice and tidy thanks to Paddy and his son, Andrew. Meanwhile, Kayne Barry rebuilt the 911’s gearbox with a lower ratio, which Eddie reckons will enable him to get up to speed out of the corners a lot quicker — that’s the theory, anyway.
By the time you read this article, Eddie will already have completed Targa South Island. Eddie’s oldest son Ben, has acted as co-driver for the past three years, having taken over those duties from Roy Crane. For Targa South Island, Eddie asked Roy’s brother, Tom, to share the silly seat with Ben. Tom recently won the BMW scholarship and is looking forward to gaining some experience as a competitor.
As well, Eddie and his crew once again teamed up with fellow Targa competitors Gerry Hodges (1985 BMW 635CSi) and Kelly Silverthorn (1985 Porsche 911 Carrera) from Canada and, under the competent management of Gerry’s wife, Barbara, at the time of our photo shoot they were all looking forward to a great week of racing and friendship.
According to Eddie’s wife, Erika, Targa is not competitive, and Eddie is happy to leave her with that thought. The truth is that Eddie cherishes the opportunity to compete, and when he brings his trusty 911 SC home in one piece after a week of adrenaline rush he can’t think of anything better for the soul.
Eddie would like to thanks his continuous sponsors: Dad’s Pies Ltd, Bakels NZ, Staples Rodway, Weston Milling, Southampton Auto Electrical, Kayne Barry and Castrol NZ.