Kurri Kurri speedway driver Kiona Sunerton has made motorsport history becoming the first woman to win the RSA Street Stockers Australian title.
Sunerton led from the first corner to the finish line of the final at Gilgandra to win the title from Dungog’s Brendan Wakeman and Raymond Terrace’s 2018 champion Shane Carlson.
“It is so surreal I can’t believe it to be honest,” Sunerton said on Sunday morning after she and her husband Peter had driven back overnight from winning the title.
“I haven’t slept yet, I’m still running on adrenaline at the moment. I guess winning gives you a bit more adrenaline and you just keep on driving and talking and the next thing we were home.
“When I saw the white flag it was the happiest moment of my life I knew I had one lap to go and I’ve got this.
“When I came around for the checkered flag I was just so emotional.
“You do a lap after you go past the finish line and go back around to get the checkered flag to do a victory lap.
“I pulled up to get the flag and the poor kid was standing there to give it to me and I said ‘Can you just give me a sec mate’. I was just trying to wipe my eyes I was so emotional.
“It was an overwhelming feeling of relief and disbelief.
“He just stood there with the checkered flag waiting for me to get myself together before I did the victory lap.
Sunerton said to finish on the podium with Wakeman and Carlson was a thrill and great for the Hunter motorsports fraternity.
“It was funny because the three of us were all mentioned in the article we did with the Mercury about leading the way for the Hunter and it turned out that way,” she said.
“I can’t wait to get a big No.1 on the side of the car and show it off for the next 12 month.
“My next race is the NSW title. My first race in the Australia No.1 is a crack at the NSW title on March 2 at Sydney.”
Sunerton said the significance of being the first female winner in the category had not struck her until she was approached by a young female fan after the victory ceremony.
“It was a bit like when I won the NSW title. To me it was a lot of hard work by a lot of people and I didn’t consider the gender factor.
“But down there last night I had a young girl, that I don’t know, come up and she just wanted to congratulate me.
“It’s little things like that that make you realise you are breaking down barriers.
“To me. I think of myself and just one of the boys and that I’m out there doing what they do, but to the girls that are having a go or wondering if they can get into the sport and be as good as the boys, it was special.
“Suddenly I’m a bit of a role model and show that it can be done.”
A member of one of speedway sedans famed Lodge family, Kiona started racing when she was 16.
“This is 21 years in the making. This is the culmination of a lot of efforts from a lot of people, in particular my husband Peter and my dad and brother,” she said.
“Dad wasn’t there, he rang almost just as I got out of the car. He had watched it live on Facebook. He was pretty emotional. He said ‘you won, you deserved it, you outclassed them’.”
Sunerton said despite pre-race talk of being among the favourites, the reality she might be crowned No.1 only really hit when she was drawn beside Wakeman on the front row after qualifying equal first on points.
“I was so nervous when I qualified off the front. It kind of hit me at that point that I could be champion,” she said.
“I had talked about in the lead-up and had spoken about how well the car was going. I’d let myself think how would it be to win but never thinking it would actually happen.
“I started to feel really sick, thinking ‘Oh no, ‘what am I doing here’. I started to put all sorts of pressure on myself, but when the green light fell it all went away and it is what it is.”
Sunerton won her first and third heats to qualify for the final, but a second placing in the second heat proved pivotal.
“I led it for a bit and then got a little bit too cautious and got passed and finished second,” she said.
“It was a bit of a lesson for the rest of the meeting.
“I won the third heat which qualified me equal first with Brendan Wakeman. We were both on the front row but he got poll based on passing points, he
“We started side by side. I led from the first corner to the checkered flag.
“There were a heap of stoppages at the start of the race. In the first seven or eight laps there were three or four stoppages.
“I kept getting into the rhythm and the yellow light would come on and I thought ‘No, I’m not good at stoppages’.
“It’s not my strong point. I start to overthink things and worry about what is happening behind me.”
But with the lesson learnt from the second heat she was able to let go and secure the memorable win.