5min with Donald Welsh

Some of you will know Donald, some will have seen him and wondered whats with the hat, but everyone will know the smile and enthusiasm that he brings to the sport as a volunteer. We sat down with Donald and got some insights into what he does on, and off events.

img - - taken in Whangarei by international motor sport photographer Sophie Graillon

img – – taken in Whangarei by international motor sport photographer Sophie Graillon

A lot of us have seen you or know you from rallying, but what do you do for a normal job?
So I have a business selling and renting suits here in Tauranga, and I do much work in the community as a parenting coach

You’ve been involved in rallying a while now, so when did you get involved with rallies or motorsport?
Like Hayden I was a school boy follower so always had a greater focus on rallying over any other form of motorsport. So after taking photos for a few years Russell Whyte asked me if I was interesting in crewing for his timekeeping crew and that was the start of it

What was it that got you involved?
The chance to get close to both the cars and drivers was a great opportunity and before the days of internet and digital cameras I was pouring money into film and developing with little return

You’ve done a few internationals… how many have you done?
Um….Can’t count that many I’ve run out of fingers and toes…..ah first one was 1986 and I’ve missed three, but I had a note each time!!. Every Rally Rotoura and missed Whangarei twice.

img - - Hoki Tawa

img – – Hoki Tawa

Ok, most people will know you for the fantastic hat… so how did the hat come about?
I snuck an old jesters hat out of the house…..and got caught by TV3 splashed across the news on the Saturday night….so the following year my fanstatic wife made me one….and the post chief asked where their’s were! So we had a whole crew with them on. This was back in the days of regroup in the field and they were good to help keep warm…..and it has just carried on. I’ve even had international co drivers score my hats!

Having been part of the event teams for almost 30years, there must be some good stories, so tell us one good story from years gone by… what stars have you met?
I have lots of stories, could be here all day!

  • Fabriza Pons came into a regroup with smoke coming out of her ears demanding to know from the Post chief ‘where the hell we were at the last regroup’; there was usually one we just couldn’t get to. So according to Madame Pons we were the best regroup team on the world stage and next year she was going to demand the organisers provide a helicopter to fly us between regroups!
  • Just before my time there was a story about the police chasing some Spanish guy and they tried to enter a regroup in the main street of Hamilton. Post chief Pat Smith, so the story goes, threw the police out of her park ferme telling the police they could deal with the driver after his time was up! The police did as they were told!!!
  • Derek Ringer asking the co drivers after Colin thrashed them all in Motu if they had taken the shortcut
  • I don’t meet too many rockstars they arrive at a control I’m at, but I can’t say I’ve met them. It’s more a case of who I haven’t had into a control and that would be the Gp B superstars who retired once the Gp B cars stopped. I’m not one for autographs but I have got both Carlos and Luis on a now retired hat!

Some teams are a little over the top… but some are amazing, tell us about the good ones?
Back before the cloverleaf rallies around a central service park we would regroup in the field, usually the space they gave us to park cars was about the size of a postage stamp with 60 cars expected, so the crew’s favourite drivers where the ones who saw that there was not a lot of space and parked up close. Carlos and Luis would ask if it was ok before shutting down and so did Stumpy and Marty on the national scene. Funny how precious drivers are when asked to park their cars up close!!

Your role is vital to the running of the start of the stages… you get to see the nervous drivers and the white faced codrivers, so tell us about your role in a rally and how it works into the event?
So I now run the timing crew at a timing point, I organise the crew, the logistics such as accommodation, food, and transport, read the regs and the sup regs, collect the gear from the orgainsers, then on site I help set up the gear, test it all, communicate with rally base (that’s been a challenge for me) troubleshoot any gear problem, sometimes do a bit of training, make plans with the crew for problems (like cars failing on the start line or a code white stage stop) walk the first one or two cars up to the start line and then just “strut around like Captain Peacock”

Whats the best part of it?
These days it’s the challenge of getting all the cars processed and then out past the de-control sign (beyond the known limits!!). But it’s the privilege of being part of the bigger group that runs one the best rallies in the world here in New Zealand. Besides I haven’t won Lotto yet, so not many options at this stage!

So, whats been your best event ?
Best event ever? WRC in New Zealand of course.

In an ideal world, if you won lotto tomorrow [don’t we all dream], would you by a car… if so what and why?
If I won lotto well yes I would buy a car, but something that stands out (of course) probably two wheel drive and let’s see if I can DRIVE as opposed to operating a vehicle. It might even be something a bit unusual, remember Bart?! Maybe a SsangYong Ute!! Seriously I don’t want to be known as the rich guy who turned his 4WD double turbo box into a metal ball!

How do people get involved in the sport and learn about what you do?
Best thing is to do what I say and not what I’ve done, so join a car club and get started and just maybe the club might be looking for marshals, or timekeepers. It’s all learning on the job stuff.

So a tough one… who’s your favorite competitor / or codriver and why?
Difficult question that one, so let me be a bit cryptic maybe the “odd couple in the chicken cooker”. Really it’s the guys who are just happy to be there are the best. It’s really good to see the women out there and the older faces that appear from time to time. Now my crew are doing starts its much more serious stuff.

How do you see rallying in 2016 / 2017, whats your opinion on its direction and what are you looking forward to in 2017 / 2018
The AP4/Proto/R5 cars are exciting and will draw the crowds, but there will be a limited market for them and not enough cars to make a rally economic to run, therefore there needs to be some thought, on cars for lower field runners. Maybe some new classes with cars that are cheaper to build and run. Something like the Hyundai Accent class that run in Australia, cars that are cheap to pick up on trade me and there are lots to choose from. Great to see the GpA cars out having a run.

Any last words….
I really really look forward to welcoming the WRC world rally circus to my home city of Tauranga. Just think of all the hats I’d need!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Whakahari toku hoa

Thanks heaps for your time Donald, and from all the teams in the events, to all the volunteers like yourself, we are really thankful for your time and input into such a cool sport.

See you on the startline at Coromandel in my Group A jigger. [Simon]

[photo with whistle & hat –  taken in Whangarei by international motor sport photographer Sophie Graillon]


About The Author


The New Zealand Rally Championship is this country’s premier nationwide rally championship. It attracts New Zealand’s best drivers to compete in numerous categories for the prestigious MotorSport New Zealand-sanctioned rally championship titles. In 2024, there are six NZRC rounds, each with a unique character reflecting the diverse regions – from Northland to Invercargill