Tina Karan is the only female to win an Aussie Speedway Championship.
In a career spanning two decades, this versatile young swinger won no less than nine major titles including both National Speedway and Long Track Championships. “I started racing in 1985 with my friend Russell Mitchell at Claremont when he built his first outfit around a Kawasaki 900. It seemed only natural I’d be the passenger even though I’d never been to the speedway and had no idea what I was getting into. I wasn’t the only female racing in sidecars but, at 50kg and a little over 157cm, was probably the smallest. There were a few sceptics but the successes starting coming, and, 18 months later, we were representing Western Australia in our first Aussie titles at Archerfield in Brisbane.”
The partnership came to an end in 1988 and, despite several outings over the next few years, Tina never settled into a permanent gig. That was until rising star Mark Drew needed to replace his regular swinger who was returning to the UK. Mark and Tina made a formidable combination winning WA state titles in 1993 and 1994, two Aussie Long Track titles, and the big one, the Australian Sidecar Championship at Broken Hill in 1994.
“On the GSXR 1100 outfit we were almost untouchable for a couple of seasons and raced all the big events that we could, setting numerous track records around the country. Most memorable was racing to victory in the 1994 Morgan Mile National Long Track. The constabulary were there with a speed gun at the end of the long straight where we reached 248km/h at the fastest point. All I can remember was swinging through the big sweeping corner with the front wheel continually airborne. Wow, we were literally flying, with no brakes. Another interesting event that we were instrumental in organising was Speedway on Ice in Perth. There were a handful of sidecars and solos plus speedcarts. We didn’t have access to proper studded tyres like they do in Europe so we had to improvise. We screwed self tappers through each knob of the tyres from the inside out and also built front wheel guards for obvious reasons. The event was amazing and, interestingly, the most competitive sidecar on the slippery surface was the Beagle Boys Ducati 900SS powered outfit because it had a less revvy engine than the JAP-powered outfits. We had to cut the event short by a couple of races as the screwed tyres had dug away the ice too close to the refrigerating pipework.”
When the Drew/Karan team folded, Tina became more involved in social water skiing, enjoying a bit of trick skiing and barefooting; she also tried a bit of skydiving. On top of that, Tina competed in the sport of inline hockey where her team won a bronze medal in the Aussie titles in 1998.
Fast forward to 2009 and Tina received a surprise call from none other than Russell Mitchell. “I couldn’t quite believe it,” says Tina. “Did I want to go to France and race in the World Sidecar Titles at La Reole. Did I ever!” They finished fourth, but that race in France was the catalyst to get the team back together when they returned to Australia. With a new outfit built around a Yamaha FZR (YZR?) Thunderace powerplant they won several state titles until an arm injury, sustained in the 2012 Mackay Grand Slam, sidelined Tina. “As my partner and I were moving to Queensland whilst Mark remained in the west, we folded the team.”
The adrenaline thrills have taken a bit of a back seat for the moment, but Tina still regularly enjoys motorcycling and is a big Ducati fanatic. “My first Ducati was a 250 desmo which I bought in the mid 80s and still have. Right now I have a 1999 996 SPS, a 1993 Superlight and a 1981 Pantah. My favourite as a regular ride is the 996 SPS – it’s a pretty angry machine that likes to get up and go. I love my little single too. I literally used to ride it every day for many years but only take it out on special occasions now. Right now I’m trying to work out what to do with the rest of my life. A cooler climate is calling. I think I am keen to move to Tassie actually. My partner and I spent two weeks riding around Tassie in 2010 and fell in love with the place. It is motorcycle heaven.”
By Peter Whitaker