The inevitable bump in the road came in 2009, when Tai’s whole life, never mind his career, was derailed.
His dad, Rob, was a larger than life character who had enough personality to light up whole buildings, never mind rooms. He was a lively, salt-of-the-earth kind of man who everyone wanted to know. He was also Tai’s mechanic, his confidant, his teacher, his closest and most loyal ally.
His sudden diagnosis of terminal cancer, then, hit his son hard. He was 19, a star in the making, and now he was facing the prospect of living the rest of his life without his dad.
“You never know how bad that situation is until you live through it. It’s the worst feeling, you are just helpless and you have this timebomb hanging over you.
“My dad was pretty pragmatic about it all though and he knew he had something like nine months to live so for us it was, ‘ok how do we make this time the best it can be?’
“He came with me everywhere that year, when he could. Any race I had he’d be there with me, just taking it all in and spending quality time together. We were inseparable and it was nice, we got that time in and I’ll always have that.”
Rob died in 2009 and just months later, Tai was offered a spot in the Speedway Grand Prix series. Four years after making his professional debut, here he was being given the chance to race at the highest level of the sport.
“Before he died, my dad begged me not to accept the place in the GP’s. He said “Tai, please don’t do it, it is too early and you are not ready for it” but I thought I knew better. I was smashing points in everywhere and thought I’d do the same in the GP series but he was right,” said Tai.
He continued: “I wasn’t ready at all, and I hated it. I was missing my dad, I was scoring no points in the GP’s and that was affecting my league form so I just partied to block it all out. I basically just went mad and after the races I’d go out and get smashed, that was my life.
“At the end of that year I was fifty-fifty on whether to continue racing or whether to just pack it all in. I’d had a gutful, everywhere I went I’d have 50 or 60 people say ‘we’re so sorry to hear about your dad’ and I just had enough. I hadn’t even had a chance to mourn him because I was straight into the GP’s so I just wanted to go back to Australia and get away from it all.
“Something changed in those few months though, I saw a sports psychologist and something just clicked with me. I loved partying and all of that stuff but I knew that if I wanted to make a proper go of my career then I had to change all that and calm down a bit.’