Redesdale's Tony Dempster and Dean Kriewaldt have been coming to the Southern 80 for 22 years, but only started taking part 13 years ago.By Zach Hubber
Southern 80 competitors have their own traditions leading up to the event, whether it be driving up the night before, sticking to a special diet or packing lucky garments for race day.
For Tony Dempster and Dean Kriewaldt, the Southern 80 means setting up camp at Torrumbarry a week before the big race.
Dempster and Kriewaldt have been making the trek for the past 22 years with their families, which has snowballed to five families and about 45 campers.
‘‘It’s a standard thing, everybody knows we’re here the same week every year,’’ Dempster said.
‘‘It never changes. It won’t change.’’
The site is 3km from the Torrumbarry Weir towards Echuca and is a tent city of boats, buses and anything else needed for the perfect week on the river.
According to Dempster, it is one of the better viewing spots because of the lack of breakdowns early in any race.
But following 10 years of spectating from the campsite and plenty of years socially skiing, Dempster and Kriewaldt finally decided to compete in 2000.
‘‘I always used to sit by the river with Dean every year watching the Southern 80 and I had an ex-race boat, which I was using as a social boat,’’ Dempster said.
‘‘One weekend I went home and I decided we were going to do it.
‘‘I rang Dean up a couple of months later and said, ‘We’ve talked about doing this for 10 years’, so all of a sudden we did it.’’
The two grew up together in Redesdale, south-east of Bendigo, and have remained good friends since.
Kriewaldt observed for Dempster’s boat, Bandit, for 10 years before investing in Money Muncher.
But Bandit, which won the 5.2 and 6 litre social class at the Southern 80 for the first time last year, will sit on the sidelines after suffering a broken conrod at Lake Eppalock two weeks ago.
‘‘The last four years we’ve been predicted to win it, then last year everything went well and we did win it, so to not be able to race this year is a massive blow,’’ Dempster said.
‘‘The turnaround to put the boat back on the water would be at least five to six weeks.
‘‘In a two-week period you just can’t do it.’’
But Dempster will not miss out on the action, observing for River Rage in the disabled class tomorrow afternoon with driver Grant Jones and for Growler in the 6 litre expert.
He was a wanted man at one stage, knocking back four other offers to stick with Jones and Growler.
Jones was meant to be observing for Bandit, just as Dempster was meant to observe for River Rage last year, before it similarly broke down two weeks out from the Southern 80.
Growler has been substituted for Bandit in the 5.2 and 6 litre social class and driver Michael Ackerschott has offered to tow the two Bandit skiers, Dean Lewien and Mark Coleman.
Kriewaldt will link up with his brother and observer in the 70mph expert class, while their sons will ski from behind.
Fellow camper Brian Reid of Cohuna will put his boat Sniper to the test in the 60mph social class, with Dempster’s son Jayden to observe.
Jayden will also ski behind Riverdance in the stock 6 litre social class to complete the web of boat hopping from the Torrumbarry campsite.
Dempster, a diesel mechanic by trade, takes pride in building his own boat and has accepted the fact it will not be on show this weekend.
‘‘We’ll come back next year with an even bigger and better engine,’’ he said.
‘‘I build every nut and bolt myself, no-one else does anything for me. I build my engines, I maintain it, the whole lot.
‘‘To be able to run down this river and actually get to the finish line in the top three against boats that have spent up to $200,000, and be competitive against them, is a bigger goal for me than anything really.’’
As much as Dempster enjoys the thrill of racing and the sense of achievement it brought, he remained realistic of how much Bandit could accomplish.
‘‘Insurance costs are getting out of control and then to be able to stay competitive is the biggest problem because everybody’s out there spending more and more money,’’ he said.
‘‘The more you spend the faster you go.
‘‘You get a lot of people who can afford to race and can afford to spend a lot of money and you’ve got to try and stay competitive, which makes it pretty hard if you’re trying to stick to a budget.’’
But if all goes to plan this year, Bandit will be back to tackle the Murray River once more and Dempster can continue to soak up the atmosphere among friends and family at his campsite.
‘‘There’s nothing better than being able to run down this river and actually make it to the finish line,’’ he said.
‘‘I’m looking forward to getting out there again.’’
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