Flag falls on season 2017-18

Written by Pete McNae
Nobody’s perfect, but the sidecar combination of Derek and Mathew Ramsay might be no more than 5m away from it. The Wairarapa family team provided some of the best moments of The New Gate Company Easter Extravaganza, the eight-class ending to the summer season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway. Today’s racing (the meeting started at 4, just after the only couple of menacing clouds had drifted past) featured open club champs for a number of classes who had wrapped up Easter titles, while the sidecars and TQ midgets rolled placings over from Friday to find their champions.

And, for most of the meeting, it looked like the Ramsays might sweep the field. They were unbeaten on a brutal track on Friday in a field of 16 and kept their record intact through the first two rounds of top eight racing. But, with four laps between them and perfection, Nelson’s Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley became the ultimate spoilers. Drake got the slingshot start with the Ramsays on their tail. The Nelson pair kept it together though, pulling away on lap three to score a big victory, one which would lift them into an eventual runoff for third against 3NZ John Hannan and Bryce Rose (Whanganui). Drake and Satherley came good in that one too, sewing up third in the Easter champs behind the national champion combination of Russell Stuart and Andrew Parker, with Parker a showman from the chair, playing to the crowd at every opportunity and the Ramsays, who looked like world beaters but had to settle for second overall. A second tier for the eight non-qualifying bikes saw Takaka’s Shaun Solly hand over the handlebars to Invercargill’s Erwin Tree while Solly slotted onto the chair. They were way too strong for their opposition, sweeping all their starts. Sidecar fields of this quantity and quality have been rare in recent seasons and Friday night’s track was barely rideable, let alone raceable, so trike fans were thankful for the efforts from the class here (including class rep Milly Steer) and the travellers, some of whom made 12-hour treks to compete.

With today’s meeting the last hitout for most competitors (there’s the King of the Coast at Greenstone Park next Saturday, then a superstock event in Palmerston North on the calendar for some), heat three in the contact classes is always the best time to wreck some s***. The stockcars surely did, the streetstocks too. Even the superstocks rubbed bumpers without any unnecessary big wind-offs. The superstocks began the weekend with 10 starters and finished their sixth race of the weekend with all 10 still circulating at speed. Shane Harwood gave up the drive in the 18N Toyota V8 to stockcar driver John Everett, who had a mint meeting, getting around the Nelson track more quickly than he ever had before, coming out of contact with Alex Bright intact and handing Harwood’s car back in tip-top condition. National champion Willie Humphries, who had appeared a little pedestrian on Friday, was dominant today, his two wins and a second placing stamping his class on the class and earning the open club championship. Fellow Palmerston North driver Jordan Dare (Friday’s winner) was a full six points back in second with Alex Hill again the best of the locals in third.  Dale McKenzie took the other heat win — his car is on the market but “Junior” would be a huge loss to the Nelson ranks, should it sell.

So, while the superstocks kept it relatively seemly, there was much more bump and grind in the 22-car stockcar field. Shots were fired in heat one (Blenheim’s Scott Alexander getting the win), temperatures rose in heat two (Michael Paynter carried the flag) and it was Parker v Joshua bare knuckles in heat three. Thank Levi Collier for much of that — with any aspirations of a club championship long gone, he popped Blenheim’s Gavin Marshall (got one back, gave two more) and Greymouth-registered Tank driver Willie Simpson, then welded a rim to the wheelgate when he drove three laps showering sparks after contact with Marshall. Paul Perkins and Hamish Carter, driving Brad Neiman’s 17N Rees-Ford also got into it, Carter having to retire to the infield with a loose wheelgate, tough luck for the teenager who was running second after two heats. Paynter’s third heat win confirmed his club champion status, ahead of Shane Brooks who was strong all weekend, and Dylan Clarke. The performance of Carter, Josh Nell, Baiden Mailman-Byrman and Jarod Fisher across the weekend was promising, given all but one (Nell, 18 in February) should only have been allowed Fanta to celebrate their efforts.

Streetstocks got a late call-up when the midgets were pulled from the programme and didn’t waste their opportunity. After a few seasons off the scene Shannon (Shandog) Marr finally terminated Ryan Musgrove’s Holden in heat one while the third heat, with every single starter coming in for some rough justice, was a ripper. Standout drivers were Matt Watson, who managed two wins and probably got the better of Nathan Thomas in their personal duel, Kyle Davies and heat two winner Steve Soper. Blenheim’s Sydney Briggs was the lone traveller — he took a huge shot from Marr in race one and then finished his car off in race two with Zac Butler a new name who has clearly done a few laps in the past.

The rooster to feather duster scenario applied in the super saloon class with Friday’s competitor of the night, Ian Burson, having a day where he might have been better staying at home with an Easter egg and an ale. Peter Dickson ran him down over the last two laps of heat one to take the win then the diff in Burson’s car spat its teeth out at the start of the second heat. With Shane McIntyre also out (engine), Dickson had a clear run in the feature although Nelson’s Shane Carey kept him honest for many of the 15 laps. Trevor Elliott looked like he might challenge Carey for second until he was vacuumed into the turn one wall and buckled his racecar.

Bent panels are more the norm among the production saloons, another class who raced Saturday only, stepping in for the youth ministocks. The arrival of 3NZ Matt Sherlock (production saloons held an official SNZ championship for the first time this season) added interest, especially when Sherlock won a heat, then was involved in heavy contact with Eddie Frans, putting Frans in the wall in the feature. Sherlock was sent to the rear of the field, wiping out his championship chances. Although he later successfully protested the ruling, the on-track outcome saw Frans win his second race of the day and finish with the Easter championship. Second in the Easter feature was class rookie Cam Lankshear with Tony Diedrichs wrapping up third, good reward after a season chockful of bad luck.

The three-quarter midgets, one of the jewels in Nelson’s crown this summer, completed the programme with points from Friday’s racing carrying over to today to find the Easter champion. National titleholder Jeremy Webb went into the second stage with a points lead over Kyle Glover and Alicia Mclauchlan with Saturday’s outcome a carbon copy of what had happened 24 hours earlier. If anything, Webb was more dominant, winning both heats and putting the icing on the bun in the feature. Glover and Mclauchlan were worthy of their podium steps but Webb has been too good this summer. Greymouth’s Rodney Thompson and hard-charging locals Morgan Frost and Dylan Stone-Cuthbert were fun to watch as they skipped across the bumps in turn two.

So, that’s it for another season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, highlighted by Webb’s national TQ victory, the Challenge Cup superstock teams race win over the Panthers and an entertaining Stockcar Teams Brawl that might have spared the event from the scrapheap. Crowd numbers were down across the season — back-to-back nights are expensive for even the most hardcore clayheads and the dwindling superstock numbers matter in a town that has provided six national champions in the class. Both of those items are likely to be addressed before we do it in the dirt in October.

Photos by Rebecca Connor, BM Photography on Facebook