EVER-DECREASING CIRCLES

Written by Pete McNae

That green 18 has been around the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway for so long, it is almost part of the furniture.

But it’s fast drawing to a close for former national superstock champion Shane Harwood as a second extended break from speedway looms less than a month away. It’s not a retirement, but Harwood is certainly going off-grid for the forseeable future once he’s wrapped his last three meetings. There’s the Sturgeon’s Superstock Stampede and club championships this Saturday from 6pm on his home track, the rescheduled Battle of the Stocks at Woodford Glen and then, if a field can be mustered, Nelson’s Easter meeting on Good Friday – job done.

Harwood, the 1NZ in 2015-16, a three-time South Island champion and a past winner at the superstock teams champs in Palmerston North, simply has bigger fish to fry. He’s planning to step away from competing to devote time, energy and whatever is left in his wallet to his business and his family, while he’d like to buy a boat some day to chase a few of those fish.

“I guess if I am honest, the passion has run out a bit after 15 seasons and quite a few running a superstock that’s up there near the front of the field most nights,” Harwood says. “When I stepped back last time after we had done the 1NZ season, I was basically content with that decision at the time. But there was a couple of engineering things Ant (Anthony McKenzie) had added to his new car that we thought would make mine better, too.

“A big part of coming back late last season was just to see if we had improved the car and could get it right back on the pace.”

The car has always been on the pace. Harwood and Brad Neiman (who bought McKenzie’s car when he got hurt, then suffered an injury of his own that’s seen the car again listed for sale) swapped lap records on an earlier race night in Nelson this season, Neiman holding the mark for around an hour before Harwood reclaimed it. That’s despite the 2012 chassis being relatively aged now.

“You look at what Pete’s (Peter Rees) cars are doing straight out of the workshop, with Nissan motors, with Toyotas, with all the different drivers and they go great,” Harwood says. “We have been sneaking inches with the changes we make and then they move the goalposts a mile.”

Harwood isn’t keen to pump up his own tyres as he contemplates a halt to a career that started with a Honda CRX production saloon in 2003-04, before his first stockcar arrived the following season, then a move to superstocks in 2005-06 and his first Toyota V8 in 2007-08.

“It’s been many years of family and friends. Number one would be Dad, who put massive hours into his work to give me the best gear for 10 years and he’s one of my best friends because of the things we did together … I owe him and Mum that same commitment to Hi-Reach now.

“Then there’s guys like my brother (Carey) and Hig (Brendon Higgins). Before I started teams racing, I wanted to be as good as those boys. I can guarantee that I would have blown a fuse and walked away a dozen times if I didn’t have people like those two just keeping it all in focus.

“And I have a family of my own. Max has just turned three and I love every minute with him so there are going to be more of those minutes available now.”

There has been plenty spoken about the downturn in superstock racing in Nelson, a disappointment coming in February when the Tigers were unable to compete in the teams championships in Palmerston North. Harwood sees the current situation as a phase, the low ebb of a rotation that’s not been helped by injuries (McKenzie and Neiman), retirements and the loss to the class locally of potential young blood in the likes of Trey Kelling, Luke Dilworth and Tim Ross.

“I’d like to say there was one specific thing – guys have just found other things to do. If you get your hands on $150,000, do you put that into a house or do you race a superstock? But you don’t have to come in with all the bells and whistles and Phil (Krammer) is the prime example. He’s done bloody well already by listening, working hard, making smart changes.

“You can do laps on a budget. There’s a chassis that’s been at Ant’s for the last 18 months and enough parts around town to have a good car running out here in two weeks. I can’t fathom why some young fella doesn’t want to make that happen.”

There’s no judgment when it comes to teams racing, though. The Tigers were dragged together in 11 days last season, this year the time frame was shorter and, ultimately, unworkable. A couple of last-minute combinations were considered but neither would have had the massive backroom effort that usually marks the Tigers with their merchandising, sponsorship and fan engagement.

“When I was coming through, watching Carey and Hig, and trying to fight my way into the Tigers, that was kind of my All Blacks. We need to find that competition for spots and passion again to rebuild the team. Just fronting up to save face isn’t enough.”

Once this season is wrapped, the current 18N car will be parked with the trailer already sold to an offroad racer. Shane’s dad, Charlie, owns the Toyota V8 which is competitive, if not the latest nor most powerful version from Midwest Motors, while the remainder of the car will be a museum piece, a tribute to that 1NZ season.

Harwood will be around – he’s happy to help in the pits if asked and young Max loves the racing but one role he’s unlikely to take on will be on the Nelson Speedway Association’s committee. He’s full of respect for those who do.

“There’s any number of people you could put on a pedestal out there,” he says. “They have been dealt a tough hand with the current issues and restrictions and I think it has affected the morale of the club but you can’t fault how hard Wog (president Wayne Martin) and his people have worked through mountains of shit.

“These days it’s much easier to stand on the sidelines and sling it but how they have kept things going through these last two seasons deserves some kudos.”

  • Shane Harwood thanks his sponsors ITM, Rapid Roofing, Mr Moss, Jeff Hulme (Summit), NVD Logistics, Heslops Engineering, Power Signs, Hi Reach Access Solutions, Charlie Harwood Builders, TT Industries, Brad’s Smash Repairs, Waimea Engineering, Total Oils and Motorsport Warehouse, along with mum, dad, and crew Ants, Jayden and Bryce.
  • The superstock open club championships and Sturgeon’s Stampede for $2000 (with travel assistance from Hi Reach and Kerry and Jo Hill) are part of a full programme from 6pm that also includes the Rick’s Tyres and Auto South Island Sidecar Championship. There are 20 cars entered in the Nelson Marlborough Waste Youth Ministock Mania, while the meeting also features round three of the club production saloon championship, a streetstock hit to pass and open races for the TQs. The meeting will close with the always-popular demolition derby which has drawn a healthy entry list.
  • Due to the quality and quantity the club has drawn together, gate charges will be changed for this meeting only. Adult entry is $25, members and pensioners are $12 with children aged 5-15 $10. The under fives are free while a family pass for two adults and up to three children will be $50.

Photos, Tom Laney, www.imagepress.co.nz