Keeping it in the Family


By Pete McNae

The Todds of Hawke’s Bay are the royal family of three-quarter midget racing (without the corgis and with better hair). No one has dominated one class in New Zealand speedway quite like patriarch Steve, his son Duane and Duane’s cousin, Craig. Counting off their Speedway New Zealand achievements is like trying to keep score in T20 cricket.

How about this list? Six New Zealand titles. Seven runnerup finishes and another 11 third placings. Six New Zealand Grand Prix titles with seven seconds and seven thirds. Six North Island championships with seven second placings and four thirds. That’s a rough count – the letters T.O.D.D. were starting to blur on the screen after a while.

The lineage started around 50 years ago when Stephen Todd first raced a TQ. This weekend at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway only Duane remains, the last link (for now) in the sport’s most remarkable string of family success. Duane (39 but turning 40 as this story goes live) is in Nelson for the Walkers Engineering Three-Quarter Midget Nationals, part of an entered list of 45 drivers from Auckland, Hawke’s Bay, Christchurch, Greymouth and the home club.  He’s the current 3NZ and a top podium prospect again for a meeting that starts at the later than usual time of 7pm tomorrow with a return to a 6pm start for the deciding races on Saturday.

Duane is tied with his dad and his cousin on two national championships apiece and is keen to go one clear with a 1NZ by the close of play on Saturday night, but he’s well aware of the task ahead.

A fortnight ago, on his home track (Meeanee in Napier) he had a shocker in the North Island champs, getting tipped over in his first heat – Todd restarted to finish eighth – then cleaned up by another competitor in the second heat. With no chance of a decent finish, he parked the Efficient Moving CP3-Suzuki for the third heat, preferring to save the equipment for Nelson and the nationals.

“I just hope we got all the shit out on that night,” Todd says. “We were hoping to go well for the home club but it really wasn’t my night. You get those and you leave them where they belong, in the past.”

While Meeanee might be where Todd is registered, he currently does most of his racing out of Western Springs in Auckland. The home of open wheel racing for 75 years-plus, it’s where you need to be for the best competition against the quickest cars, in the biggest fields. The Springs swept the North Island meeting with brothers Ryan and Scott Baker finishing 1-2 with Ryan Barry third. That’s a little glimpse into the likely future here this weekend.

“The Bakers have won seven out of eight features in Auckland, then you have Barry, Jayden Busch, Kaleb [Currie] who is 2NZ … I’d say if you want to do well in Nelson, you’re going to have to get to the podium through those guys.

“Having said that, I love Nelson. That’s not just because I’m talking to the press, it’s my favourite track and a fantastic club. That is an absolute driver’s track, you are on the throttle the whole time and it’s got enough shape to it that you can never relax. Because it can slick off and because it has its technical challenges, everyone can be competitive – it certainly levels out the peaks and troughs in the field.”

Todd – with the family’s 50 years of experience behind him – might have some extra insights here this weekend. The last time Nelson hosted the TQ nationals, in the summer of 2010-11, cousin Craig won the meeting with Duane second.

“We were all racing for second that year, Craig was about eight points clear – he was miles ahead. I was more surprised to get second than anything. I didn’t think we were contenders but we got through the field and I was really pleased to come away with a 2NZ that I honestly didn’t expect.”

Hallmarks of the Todd clan cars over the years have been their presentation and consistency. Although the current CP3 chassis is modern, Duane says the approach has always been to look after gear, make the best of used bits and keep the car near the front to represent the sponsors, led by family firm Efficient Moving.

“Roger Young has been with us for donkey’s years – and he will work on the cars five nights a week and has done so for 30 years. I’m pretty spoiled to have someone as loyal and talented on the crew and he’s a master at getting slightly bent bits to work again. We don’t often go out and buy brand new and that’s down to Roger and to dad and to Tony Cooper who has also been in the crew a long time.”

Todd’s rationale behind the family sticking in the one class for more than 50 seasons is simple. Meeanee runs TQs, it doesn’t contract midgets or sprintcars. The bigger cousins appeal but, with business and family commitments, for many years it made more sense to race closer to home and that meant sticking with the TQs.

“They are a fun car to drive, they are demanding and they can be hard to get a handle on. To be quick, you have to have a lot of elements lined up, you can’t just mash the pedal and get away with driving poorly,” he says. “And sometimes, you do what you can afford to do. You can spend a small fortune or you can buy a genuinely competitive car for 20 thousand and that car will get around Western Springs quick enough to be able to qualify well up the field.

“Hawke’s Bay has cycled up and down and we have nine cars on the books now but, like Nelson, all those nine are capable of getting amongst it – it’s just that this year there is the opportunity to race out of Auckland more often and you can’t put a value on how much you gain from taking on the best in a big field, week after week.”

Todd is grateful for the support of his crew; Roger Young, Steve Todd and Tony Cooper, while Efficient Moving and Storage dominates the flanks of the 3NZ, although there is plenty of support from the Hawke’s Bay business community.

“There’s give and take … we will get the car painted and signwritten by the same guys who do our work trucks and have for many years. It’s old school loyalty but I guess the family is a bit that way.”

  • Walkers Engineering TQ Midget Nationals, practice Friday 3-4pm, qualifying Friday from 7pm, finals Saturday from 6pm.
  • The field will be split into five groups and the groups will meet each other in heat races over 12 laps. The top 20 will go straight to Saturday’s 30-lap A Main. The remainder of the field will come from a B Main and a C Main (if required). The top 8 point scorers will compete in a six-lap dash for grids in the final, where the 2017-18 champion will be decided.
  • Souvenir T shirts, along with other speedway merchandise, will be available from Track Shack 2 in turn one.
  • Saturday’s meeting will also see the staging of the Jack’s Tyres and Performance South Island Midget Championships, with 11 entries, two from Nelson and nine from Ruapuna.
  • Following on from their appearance at the ENZED superstock teams champs in Palmerston North last weekend, the five Tigers drivers; captain Dale McKenzie, Ant McKenzie, Trevor Lineham, Alex Bright and Alex Hill, will run their team bodies for Saturday’s club championships to thank the sponsors who got them to the event. There was a window of less than two weeks to raise the funds needed and the goal was reached, allowing the five Nelson cars, plus sixth driver Brad Neiman to attend. Team gear, including shirts, hoodies, caps and bucket hats, will be on sale in the pits at the McKenzie trailer before the meeting on Saturday.

Action image by James Selwyn (James Selwyn Photos on Facebook)