Open wheels all the way
Webb gets best of both worlds
Written by: Pete McNae
Dick Webb was in the US when great friend and racing rival Leigh Marquet passed away during the off-season. The pair had duelled in TQs and midgets over many seasons at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway and around the South Island and built a massive respect for each other that became a long-term friendship. When Marquet died suddenly, Webb came to the conclusion that life was too short not to push your boundaries.
It was from that decision that son, Jeremy Webb, found himself with a midget parked adjacent to the well-known and wildly successful 8C TQ he’d raced over six seasons. This summer, Jeremy is juggling both cars as time, budget and schedules allow. He’s in Nelson this Saturday for the third round of the South Island Midget Series, brought to Nelson by the Oxford Court Motel in Richmond. With a fair chunk of the season already gone and the class running a national title here later this month, the first appearance of the midgets is well overdue. Previous attempts to get a field together had foundered but it looks like Saturday’s meeting will have a minimum of 14 cars, with a possibility of 16 on the grid.
Jeremy has been in Auckland since Christmas, racing the TQ at Western Springs. He’s mixed the good – a runner-up finish in the King of the Springs – with the not-so-flash – a big tumble on Boxing Day that bent the car, while the brutal Springs surface has chewed through a chunk of the team’s rubber. Reverting to Nelson’s smooth and predictable surface in the midget this weekend will be like comparing a highway to a ploughed paddock. But the Springs is still the place to race if you love open wheelers.
“We go pretty good in the South Island and can usually hope to feature in the results if we get a decent run, but up here, there are a dozen TQs or more who can run ahead of us,” Webb said. “Generally, I can be competitive but winning races against the quality and quantity of cars that race in Auckland is another story.”
Webb took the TQ north as he can at least run near the front. He conceded that the midgets, with an international series under way, were on another plane. “Nevil [Nelson’s Nevil Basalaj] goes good in the South Island but Michael Pickens lapped him twice here the other night. Nevil had a few issues which he will have sorted at home this weekend but Pickens and those boys are out of our league. The championship meeting in Nelson will be sensational.”
Webb has made a reasonable fist of his first season in the midget, though. He’s only run the car for three meetings and is rationing its appearances in the hopes of getting to the off-season before his team does a rebuild. His meetings so far have been marred by rain, a couple of spins and a helmet that kept slipping over his eyes – hardly ideal in a 450 horsepower wingless race car. He’s targeting a better round in Nelson to climb closer to his goal of a top 3 series finish, although he concedes he is running out of time.
“The South Island has gone down the sprintcar path but we love the midgets and TQs, I don’t really get off on the wings on the narrow tracks. Guys like Dave Kerr and Nevil Basalaj are drivers I look up to, that’s where we aim to be with the midget but we are just going through the process, trying to nurse it through 10 meetings and then see where we go.”
Webb hasn’t entered the midget nationals, choosing instead to give the TQ champs a fair crack. He has four wins and two runner-up finishes in the South Islands in his six seasons and says he probably should have had more to show for it at the nationals. “I’ve had some things that didn’t go my way, I will happily say that it’s a goal to do well at a NZs in the TQ … the car is good enough while the midget isn’t going to win a national title. So, I’ll give the TQ meeting a good go and reassess after that. I’ve put a lot of time and money in to the TQ, more than I would get back, so I doubt we will let that car go either.”
Webb likes the Nelson track and has done well here in the TQ although he admits to having his eyes opened as he raced Dion Rochford’s midget here last summer. “We were travelling all right high on the track and then Davey [Kerr] went blasting past with about a coat of paint between him and the wall. That’s how you have to drive them … midgets love that high line, if you’re brave enough.”
Webb thanks sponsors K&T Drainage (who have been with the team since Dick drove), Concut, Royce Clive Engineering, Nixon Building, RB Kustoms, Nicholson Contracting, Harris Race Cars, QuickTime Products and Blair Print along with his crew; Dick, Mags, Graeme and Rod.
Saturday’s meeting also features a guest appearance by the modified sprint class from Ruapuna. While the North Island runs four-cylinder car engined minisprints, the south favours hopped-up motorcycle engines for the little winged tearaways. The wing should help them lap around the same time as the midgets and quicker than the TQs.
- Racing at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway starts at 6pm with the Nelson club staging its Racing for the Kids night to support the Child Cancer Foundation. More details will follow on this website.