Written by Pete McNae

There’s good news and bad coming out of the Nelson Speedway Association this week. The good is that four teams have been locked in for the Nelson Automotive Solutions-Jack’s Tyres Stockcar Teams Brawl on November 11. With all four teams to face each other in the one-night show, that’s six teams races for drivers and pit crews to manage in three hours before a winner is crowned. The Tasman Thunder will square off with old foes, the Canterbury Crushers and Greymouth Grizzlies, while a strong Southern Spartans team is booked to travel the 1000km from Invercargill.

On a less positive front, there will be no seventh teams race on the night with the advertised McCall Trophy superstock matchup between the Nelson Tigers and Woodford Glen Eagles having to be shelved at this stage. That doesn’t mean the race won’t happen – it just won’t happen on November 11.

The issues with numbers in the Nelson superstock class have already been made apparent with the class stood down for the premier meeting of the season, Coca-Cola fireworks night last Saturday, but the teams racing situation is even more problematic. Currently, two drivers are prepared to front for the Tigers, well short of the five needed – four to race plus a reserve. There is some hope that situation will change, hopefully in time to meet a commitment to the Palmerston North Panthers on Challenge Cup night (December 2) but, if that also falls over, then the Tigers’ proud history at the ENZED teams champs in Palmerston North in February must be in jeopardy.

Nelson’s decline has been precipitous. Just two seasons ago, there was a strong lineup with willing drivers in reserve. But Shane Harwood and Blair Cunningham stepped away from teams racing last season and Jared Gray and Brett Nicholls have their cars listed for sale this summer. Ben Taylor, a popular and committed Tiger, made it out for Nelson’s Easter meeting last season but his plans are unknown while other drivers have said they are ready to race on club nights but would prefer not to teams race. The damage done to cars and bodies in a teams race is hard to ignore and no one can begrudge them their choice.

So what could change? The club could pad the team in the short term with a couple of drivers from the stockcar ranks. The best cars in Nelson are, at most, a second a lap slower than the fastest superstocks, which carries some inherent risk, but there is a second a lap difference in every single Nelson class between the quicker competitors and some of their classmates. Would a superstock driver think twice about having to go around Levi Collier or Troy Currie three times in a teams race? Damned right. Another possibility is to bring in an outside driver or two as the Tigers needed to do in Palmerston North in February 2017. An obvious choice is Hawke’s Bay’s Adam Groome, who races a Higgins chassis, gave his best for the Tigers in February and who seems to sit just outside the champion Hawkeyes lineup at the moment. In an ideal world, Nelson could field five club cars but two is not five and perhaps a pragmatic solution is needed to keep the black and orange in the public eye.

There are more cars coming in Nelson. Dale McKenzie, a former 2NZ and an accomplished teams racer even while still a teen, is rebuilding his car after almost two seasons off the scene. Dwayne Whitfield, winner of the stockcar stirrer prize when the Challenge Cup was shelved last summer, is piecing together a superstock based on the ex-Alex Bright chassis but Whitfield works at sea and the car is not yet ready. Luke Ewing has put his hand up for the Tigers in the past and he and dad, Paul, will share the drive as work commitments allow, although teams racing is not part of their plan. Taylor’s car would be welcomed, while Ian Clayworth has a new car in the build, although it might not make it this season.

The costs involved with teams racing are daunting and team management has opportunities to pitch to firms but it can’t approach them without a team to promote. Nelson Speedway Association president Darryl Bridge said a meeting this week at least allowed drivers the chance to say where they stood on racing with stockcars (this extends to club nights to allow the superstocks to run) or bringing in outside drivers to bolster the Tigers. At this point, there are mixed feelings about both “solutions” and the answers won’t be found in time to race the McCall Trophy in 10 days’ time. But all is not lost. The Tigers mean too much to too many people to allow the team, and the class, to wither and die. The club has six New Zealand titles spread across four drivers along with two of the Palmerston North teams titles, plus success at the teams nationals in Auckland too.

“I know what can happen if we let this pass us by this year,” Bridge said. “Once you pull out, you just might not get asked back and that’s not a situation anyone wants to see. Jacob [Brownlees] in Christchurch is very positive, he wants to see his boys meet our team, even if it’s not at this coming meeting. If we can pull together a solution, Christchurch have the cars and the drivers to take us on.

“We have started to have the conversations and we will continue to do that with the superstock boys about how we can have them racing in Nelson and not parked up in their sheds or having to tow 400k to race for 15 minutes. We all know it’s not an ideal situation but we are hopeful of finding answers that please the majority, especially if it means the Tigers keep going. Losing them is not an option any of us wants to face just yet. I know where they stand, I would love to say there was an easy answer and we can keep that legacy strong but I think we have some work to do yet.”

A preview of the November 11 meeting, featuring the Stockcar Teams Brawl, Dave Scott Memorial for superstocks, Brett Lusty Memorial for sidecars plus open super saloon and streetstock racing will appear on this website next week.

Photos by Tom Laney,