NEW NUMBER ONE IN NELSON

THE LONG WAY HOME

 

Written by Pete McNae

 

Jason Long can legitimately claim to be number one all year round.

The Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union sponsorship manager also plays loosehead prop for the province’s Mitre 10 Cup team in the winter and wears the No 1. Claiming the New Zealand Superstock Championship at Woodford Glen last Saturday night — and the 1NZ  that goes with it — simply means Long is a 1 for all seasons.

The 26-year-old has entered the Westmeat New Zealand Superstock Grand Prix this Saturday in Nelson and will roll in to the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway complex proudly sporting the new national stickers on the flanks of his Rees racecar, which was formerly 41B. Signwriter and fellow superstock competitor Zach Lawrence was given the task of whipping up some new numbers after a couple of hectic nights in the heat at the Glen ended with Long on the top step of the podium. Typically, the numbers will be understated — a lot like Long, his race car and his approach to sport.

“We don’t tend to go too far with the cosmetic stuff — it’s more important that the car works how it’s designed to than whether it is shiny all over,” Long said. “I think that fits the way I approach speedway and rugby too … I’m out there to do the best job I can without needing to be flashy. If I do my job right and the team has prepared well, then it goes a long way towards getting the result at the end.”

Long had a few misgivings when he fronted for practice at the Glen last Thursday. The track was baked, turn four will always be one of the more challenging in speedway and he wasn’t very confident that the Long team could get the Rees-Hartley Nissan where it needed to be by qualifying on Friday. “We had a lot to work on, practice threw up a bunch of issues,” he said. Despite having recently won the North Island championship, the former 2NZ and past Grand Prix winner wasn’t sure what to expect in Friday’s qualifying meeting.

“I had my back draw in heat one and then two starts off grid nine. The plan in that situation is to make as many passes as you can from the back, knowing that you can go into the other heats having broken the back of the work,” Long said. Coming from the rear, he had made his way up to third when he and Asher Rees stumbled over the crippled car of defending champion William Humphries off turn four. With Humphries limping out by the wall and Rees and Long charging, the ensuing crash saw Rees rolled and Long dropped well back into the pack. “I was sorry for Asher because it wasn’t an intentional thing but for me, I just had to start over and get as many spots as I could in the laps we had left.”

After heat two, he was in a strong position, a couple of points behind Peter Rees, with the standard pre-decider chats going on in the pits about who could perhaps be passed with confidence and who needed to be watched. “I’ve had some battles with guys like Willie (Humphries) and Jordan Dare over the years but you’d be crazy to put all your faith in pit talks — basically you run your race and treat everyone as a potential threat.”

While Simon Joblin won heat three, he completed his victory lap and then threw the chequered flag to Long, signalling the Bay driver had become the new 1NZ. With Peter Rees a couple of places back, a hesitant Long knew he was in the mix and saw people along the pit wall applauding him, but was still unsure. “They wanted me to take the flag but about halfway round, I was hoping I hadn’t done that, only to find out later there was a runoff or something.”

Long was safe, he had the title in the bag, ahead of car builder Peter Rees with Simon Joblin (one of three Joblin brothers in the 26-car finals) in third. Nelson’s two qualifiers; Brett Nicholls and Alex Hill, managed ninth and 17th overall with Nicholls among the quickest drivers all weekend and a justifiably delighted Hill held back only by a DNF in heat two. With Trevor Lineham (injury) and Ian Clayworth (car not ready) late withdrawals, Nelson was also represented by Shane Harwood, who missed qualifying through a Friday night runoff and is out of Saturday’s GP with broken ribs, Dwayne Whitfield, Phil Krammer and Nick Fowler in the borrowed 66R Hampton tri-rail. Dale McKenzie has entered to make his first appearance of the season this Saturday.

Long believes the long — pardon the cheap word play — history in the sport of the family team (father Murray went as far as 3NZ before passing the car to Jason) might have helped on Saturday. “We’ve helped other guys win races and win championships and we have put in the hard yards over a very long time,” Jason said. “There’s an element of respect that comes from putting the car on the line at meetings all over the country and that’s one thing we will do with the 1 on the car — we aim to be visible for the sport and the sponsors.”

He says his rugby career doesn’t clash with speedway. An elevation to Super Rugby level would mean a longer season and contract clauses prohibiting hurling 1500kg 500 horsepower race cars into each other every weekend through the rugby off-season but Long, who plays his rugby at a svelte 112kg, is busy enough at NPC level. He had an injury-blighted season last year and was part of a Magpies team that went down to the Tasman Mako 29-0 at Trafalgar Park in the 2018 campaign. “We ran into a pretty good team that was building for the playoffs,” Long said. “It was a tough one to take to go home with a zero.”

Saturday’s Grand Prix will be a different story with Long one of the favourites to come through again. While driver/car/budget fatigue from two race nights in Christchurch and a midweek meeting in Greymouth have cut the 52-car field, the Nelson Speedway Association is still expecting a list of better than 40 superstocks for the one-day meeting that starts at the earlier time of 5pm. The superstocks will qualify in groups before a three-heat final with the earlier start and Nelson’s slick organisation aimed to lead to a finish well before 10pm.

Long was last here for a teams race between the Hawke’s Bay Hawkeyes and Nelson Tigers (RIP) a few summers back and likes the Nelson track, a totally different venue from the bigger Canterbury and Greymouth ovals. It’s certain to get hectic with 26-car top drawer superstocks hitting turn one in the first finals heat on Saturday.

“It’s a huge week for us, for everyone — coming down for four race nights in a week and rebuilding parts on the fly. We are really lucky to have Pete Rees and his experience alongside and Bryan Hartley was there and stoked to see two Hartley engines on the podium after we went 1, 2, 3, 4 in the North Islands. That’s the thing — the driver gets the pats on the back and the handshakes but I know how much work goes in to every race. I have had an amazing season but without mum and dad (Fiona and Murray), Amanda (Long’s partner),  the crew who came south (Aussie and Aaron), my brother Jeremy, and Ron, who are usually there but had to work through this week and the sponsors, none of it happens.

“With the rugby, I have a window to compete and then you’re too old or broken but I can hopefully see a lot more years of Long family involvement in superstocks and with the Hawkeyes team … we’re loving doing this together and the successes aren’t the sole focus but I’m happy and thankful to take what’s come our way.”

  • Jason Long’s 1NZ superstock runs with support from Auto Super Shoppes, Rees Race Cars, Hartley Race Engines, Clark Performance, Patangata Tavern, Interislander, Zach Lawrence Designs, Henderson Road Panel and Paint and Marshall Batteries.
  • The Nelson Speedway Association has reshaped the Westmeat New Zealand Superstock Grand Prix in response to its ongoing resource consent issues. The meeting has become a one-day event, on Saturday, January 12, starting at the earlier time of 5pm. The field will be split into groups for qualifying heats with the top 26 cars racing a three-heat finals series to find a champion.  Scrutineering will start at 12 noon with a grand parade at 4.50pm. With the first qualifying heat underway by 5pm, the club is hoping to have the meeting wrapped up around 9pm.
  • Due to the quality of the field assembled and the fact that patrons will effectively get two meetings in one, adult entry and family concession passes have been increased for this meeting only. A single adult pass is $25 and the two adult, three children concession will be $50. All other prices remain at their usual levels.
  • Support classes include stockcars, streetstocks, production saloons and a big field of youth ministocks.

Woodford Glen photos courtesy of Brian Hopping, Hoppy’s Photos page on Facebook