YOU CAN’T WIN THEM ALL (UNTIL YOU DO)

THE WEBB MASTER

Written by Pete McNae

Twelve months ago, a window was closing on Jeremy Webb. Years of frustration at national three-quarter midget championship meetings were building up, denied by bad luck, broken parts, errant rivals.

And then, almost a year ago to the day, Webb rolled in the gates at one of his favourite venues, the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, and didn’t just force his way through the window, he kicked the door down as well. At that one meeting, he joined his father, Dick, as a national champion in the TQ class and hoisted a significant burden off his shoulders.

“I had come to terms with the fact that I’d had opportunities and it probably wasn’t going to happen,” Webb, a 27-year-old concrete cutting company director, said. “I should have won Greymouth and the fuel pump failed. I should have won Napier but someone spun in front of me. We had shifted focus to being a team that raced a midget with the TQ filling gaps as a second car and I think I’d accepted that I wasn’t going to get that 1NZ that I had wanted for so long, although we wouldn’t stop trying.”

Then it happened. Webb loves the Nelson track and had a tidy run to the feature last February. When he passed Morgan Frost for the lead in the final, he dared to hope it could happen. Auckland’s Ryan Baker certainly didn’t make it easy over the closing laps.

“Ryan was on a charge, I knew he was there and I knew he was fast so I had to cover him. I expected him to whip round the outside but he stayed low and I was able to close that off,” Webb said. “When I came off [turn] 4 on the last lap and saw the chequer, it felt like 20kg of concrete was lifted off each shoulder.”

With that pressure alleviated, Webb approached last weekend’s meeting at his “other” home track, Ruapuna, with a different mindset. If Nelson was pressure, Ruapuna was pleasure.

“I was more excited because we had enjoyed a great year with the 1NZ on the car and anything after that was purely bonus territory. I just had a pretty charmed run, really.”

Webb went 1-1-1-1-4 in his qualifying heats, chose grid 2 in the feature, nailed a lap one restart and was never headed as Peter Hunnibell and Baker swapped last season’s places on the podium. Even his closest rivals were able to concede that Webb’s run of results meant he was a deserved defending champion.

“I still had a sleepless night after Friday’s meeting. Mates were sending me screenshots of their betting slips and telling me I needed to make them some money and I thought maybe I had shown my hand too soon.

“In my last Friday heat, Scott [Baker] was running quick out front and I possibly should have sat behind and just played my cards closer to my chest but the competitor took over and I went round the outside.”

Saturday’s heat racing could have seen it all come unstuck, too. A hole in the track saw the 1NZ Harris-Suzuki teeter on its right front wheel before it settled down again. “Another 3km/h into that corner and I’d have been in the wall.”

Webb, with a wide buffer on the field going into the feature, made a prudent choice for the final. Realising that heat wins count for nothing if you can’t complete the job in the title race, the crew stiffened up the car and Webb decided to race at 90 per cent.

“I had something up my sleeve if I needed to push and take risks but, really, we had an outside line that worked for us and no one else so I was lucky enough to keep that extra in reserve.”

Webb will have a new set of 1NZ stickers on the car when he arrives in Nelson this weekend for the Waimea Vehicle Testing Station New Zealand TQ Grand Prix. While no one gets rich racing speedway, never underestimate the value of carrying a national number.

“Back when I was a kid and we were at the Nelson track and Dad was 1NZ, these other kids were checking out the car and saying ‘that’s 1NZ, he’s the best there is’. I love writing 1NZ on my meeting entry, filling in 1NZ on the scrutineering sheet. The fact the TQ isn’t our first priority these days makes it even more special.”

Webb is far from content, though. Another win this Saturday in Nelson would complete a remarkable run of form. Last summer he aced all three Speedway NZ titles; the nationals, the GP and the South Island champs. He’s got two of those, the New Zealand championship and the South Islands, in the bag again this season and is a victory this weekend away from a remarkable triple-double.

While uncertainty around the Tasman fires has possibly compromised the entry list, there are still drivers coming from Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Christchurch and Greymouth, alongside the strong Nelson contingent. Both Dylan Stone-Cuthbert and Dylan Bensemann suffered damage in rolls last weekend, with Nelson club champion Stone-Cuthbert facing a very bent chassis.

Webb must be a short odds favourite again, though. By his team’s reckoning, he hasn’t been beaten in Nelson since 2014, a run of 26 meetings. Sometimes he has not been the first to the flag after starting off the rear of a grid, but no one has made more passes nor won more meetings.

“I love it, love Nelson. The fires have been upsetting … If I could have been there to hold a hose, I would have and I’m grateful for the lengths people have gone to up there to fight these things, especially all the speedway people. It’s when it sinks in just how many good people there are.”

While the midget is the team’s first focus now, opportunities to race it in the South Island are limited while the TQ can generally be slotted into any empty weekends. And there’s no way this particular car will leave the shed.

“I’ve had offers,” Webb said. “But it doesn’t have a price now, it’s family. Dad has his championship car from 1991 and I think this one will eventually be retired next to it. The midget would just eat up whatever money I got for it so I just have to keep saying ‘no deal’.

  • Jeremy Webb’s 1NZ TQ races with support from K&T Drainage (who have backed the Webb team for 25 seasons), Canterbury Demolition, Current Generation, House of Travel Albany, RB Kustoms, Gabb Associates, Royce Clive Engineering, Furniture Express, Nicholson Contracting, Kevin Stephens Motors, Jemmetts Powertoll Service, Concrete Cutting Collective and Harris Race Cars.
  • The Waimea Vehicle Testing Station New Zealand TQ Grand Prix will see the field split into four groups who race crossover qualifying heats to set a grid for the feature race. Support classes are quarter midgets, streetstocks, sidecars and production saloons. Racing starts at 6pm with a streetstock teams race. The Nelson Knights are racing in the State of Origin series the following weekend and streetstock rep Zoe Goodwin has worked hard to pull together a Nelson Bandits lineup at short notice to give the Knights a race in preparation.  The teams (subject to change) are Knights: 9N Ryan Musgrove, 19N KC Rose, 73N Shannon Marr, 79N Rob Skurr, 98N Neville Soper.  Bandits: 7N Thomas MacLeod, 23N Kyle Davies, 26N Kieran Davies, 88N Aaran Findlay, 721N Daniel Honey. Saturday’s 50/50 raffle will be raising money for Nelson Diabetes Youth.

Nelson race image: Tom Laney, www.imagepress.co.nz

Ruapuna images: Nick Marquet.