Andy Caldecott had Speed, Strength, Skill, Stamina and Spirit. Plus a healthy dose of humility.
Born in Keith, South Australia, Andy Caldecott, like many of his compatriots, spent much of his youth on two wheels, roosting around the backblocks of what was once known as the Ninety Mile Desert. Not surprisingly he started a bike shop and – from vintage motocross to the wild world of Thumpernats – Andy made his name as a tough competitor building a considerable fanbase by the time he took on the Australian Safari.
Despite its hardships Safari will always be remembered as a sociable event; though I’d never come across Andy in the bivouac. In the mornings he’d long roosted off into the wilderness before I fronted the starter and, in the evenings, Andy was piling on the zeds before I wobbled across the finish line. Yet there I was on the last day of the 2002 Safari about to lead the field out on the final stage – a lap of Bathurst showground in reverse finishing order – and the great man himself made the effort to come and offer congratulations to us backmarkers; even though he’d just won his third straight Safari.
A year later Andy followed up his Safari hat-trick with an unprecedented fourth win; a win that may have been his greatest ever. After drowning his KTM Rallye in the flash flooding Macquarie River Andy handed a 20 minute lead to his opponents. Then, due to widespread flooding, the entire second and third legs of the Safari were cancelled; drastically reducing the time available for Andy to make up the deficit. However, as KTM supremo Jeff Leisk highlighted at Andy’s funeral some years later: “Despite his calm manner Andy was an incredibly determined competitor with a fierce will to win.” Caldecott clearly demonstrated that determination when he went on to blitz the final four days of the 2003 Safari, winning the event by less than three minutes.
This triumph earned Andy a second shot at Dakar and, along with team-mate Dave Schwarz, he headed across to Barcelona. As Dave recalls “I was amazed that the heroes of the World Rally scene such as Heinz Kinigadner, Giovani Sala, Fabrizio Meoni and Alfie Cox greeted us Aussies almost as compatriots.” Andy went on to finish sixth outright whilst Dave scored a podium in the 450cc division. “Sitting on the beach at Lac Rose Andy and I were pretty pleased with ourselves, but Andy wondered ‘do you think anyone at home really understands what we’ve achieved.’
Caldecott’s lifetime mate and longtime mechanic, Carl Fuller, recalls Andy’s ability to extract the best from his machines – VMX, Thumpers or Rally bikes – without flogging them mercilessly. “It was always a pleasure working with Andy, he always gave 100% but it had to be fun along the way. “In the early 2000s we built up a very trick Kato 540 Thumpernat contender, all finished in silver with cool graphics personally designed by David at Andy’s long time sponsor ‘Keith Signs’. There we were, resplendent at the first round at Traralgon. I’ve carefully warmed up the bike ready to go and asked Andy ‘You all set?’ ‘All good’ he replies. ‘Don’t forget about that big soggy patch at the first corner’ I remind him. ‘All good’ he replies.”
“So, first practice, first corner, Andy goes down like a bag of spuds, causing quite some damage to the new bike. Eventually, and somewhat sheepishly. he made it back to the pits where his first words were ‘Geez I can be a knob at times’ followed by his signature smile. We couldn’t help but laugh.”
In November 2015 Caldecott was inducted into the Motorcycling South Australia Hall of Fame. Just as appropriately every January 9 Andy’s wife Tracey, daughter Caitlin and son Mitch get together with a few of Calde’s mates in the beer garden of the Keith Hotel for an informal memorial. Simply because trophies get dusty whilst good memories don’t.
By: Peter Whitaker