Written by Pete McNae

Rob Anglesey has made thousands of laps of the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway — a significant percentage of them at a very leisurely pace.

The 47-year-old fifth-generation farmer from Tadmor (think Tapawera, but over a bit and down a bit) is preparing to make the 120km round trip again this weekend for a special occasion, the 50th anniversary celebrations of Nelson Speedway. Back in 1968, the Tasman Scramble Car club formed so young men with Beatle haircuts and early afros could wreck coupes and sedans you’d cut your right one off for today. Five decades on, the Nelson Speedway Association Inc is opening its milestone season on Saturday with a tip of the hat to those early days.

The classic stockcar class is a welcome addition to this weekend’s programme (which includes a meet and greet on Friday night, a car show at the track between 11am and 3pm on Saturday, race night Saturday from 5.40pm and a formal dinner on Sunday evening — tickets still available) and the most recognisable classic stockcar in the district, Anglesey’s sidevalve Dodge 6-powered 32N coupe, should be on the grid.

“I have to get the motor in it, there’s a new one ready, but it has to go in the hole,” Anglesey said. The “new one” will be a little more powerful than the one that broke when Anglesey was racing at Palmerston North’s Legends meeting at the tail end of last season. He’d done the Greymouth and Woodford Glen meetings with the classic/historic class and took the car north for a run in Manawatu.

“I heard this rattle and thought, ‘hello, someone has got some problems’. I revved mine but a noisy car went past and I couldn’t hear much. I gave it a bit of a rev again and realised the guy with the problem was me.”

The replacement donk would have been in the hole ages ago, if not for another little chore Rob and older brother Peter had on the go. Back in about 1994, Peter bought the ex-Tony Frost A grade stockcar (now called superstocks) and it sat, in the weeds, along with around 100 other cars, on the Anglesey farm property. With the anniversary approaching, the brothers decided to revive the 66N, hauled it out of the weeds and set about getting it rolling. After 24 years of ownership, it’s coming down to the wire to get the car mobile for this weekend, looking “about 80 per cent identical” to how Frost ran it in the early 1990s. “We had to change the firewall and we ran out of steel to do the siderails exactly how Tony had it, but this is our version of his car, not a carbon copy of his car.”

There are around 12-15 of the classics coming to Nelson this weekend, driven by famous names┬ásuch as Frank (Dutchy) van Vroonhoven, Paul Urlich and Bill Peat. There’s an original Dave Evans Tank, an ex-Kim Lace car and Urlich’s 41S has an exhaust note that rolls the calendars back 35 years. The racing is run along ministock rules and isn’t meant to be about winning although, as Anglesey says, “once the visor comes down, some guys forget how old the cars are and how old they are”.

The 32N isn’t a race winner but it’s been part of the family for most of Anglesey’s life. The photo at the top of this story shows him with the car on the day he brought it back to the farm. Rob is 12 and he’s paid the princely sum of $175 for it and he is going to hoon in the paddock in it for a while until he takes up real racing. The family had never been much into speedway, a trip to the track was a special treat, but that didn’t stop a young Rob setting up his own track in the sandpit and then selling his parents tickets to watch him crash his toys together. Another rural family that has left a large imprint on the Nelson club, the Pomeroys, guided their teenaged mate into actual racing. “I started in a streetstock, a Falcon stationwagon and ran that for a season and a half then had a big wreck. I bought an ex-Sam Woodford stockcar and Peter raced the streetstock. After a while, we both went stockcar racing together, although what we did was more stockcar than racing.”

Rob had the Woodford car and then really caught the eye in an ex-Pooh Bear (Peter Ross) Ford V8, while the brothers put together Peter’s 33N Rover V8 which looked like it weighed the same as an aircraft carrier with its hefty siderails for Anglesey-style action.

“It was actually legal weight,” Rob said. “The car ran the Rover which was light and the steel wasn’t that thick. They suited us because we both liked to turn in front of cars if the chance came up.”

That’s what led to one of the wildest prangs seen in 50 years at Nelson Speedway. During the 1993-94 season, Nelson hosted the South Island stockcar teams championship and the Vipers were created as Nelson’s second team. In a race against the Tigers, Robert decided to turn on Ian Clayworth. The impact rolled Clayworth, fired Anglesey’s car in the air vertically and, as it came down, Dean Paynter ran into Anglesey’s rollcage, which crumpled. It looked serious but Anglesey was prised from the car with a sore thumb, although he’d been knocked out for around 10 minutes. “I came to as they were about to put the jaws of life through the cage and told them I’d get out the side because I didn’t want to have to fix the cage. Of course, when I saw it, it was just scrap. Three weeks later, car and driver were back out with not a second thought about racing again … although there was a couple of opportunities, with Craig Boote and Dave Evans, when I could have turned in front of them and thought better of it!”

Politics and personalities eventually drove the Anglesey brothers away, Rob’s 32N was sold and wrecked, Peter’s 33N is still in family ownership and that was it until the club’s 40th anniversary, 10 seasons ago. That’s when Rob rebuilt the car he’d bought as a 12-year-old and brought it out as a display piece, eventually doing the next eight seasons as the club’s official start car. He didn’t get the role last season and says he has done his time towing the car to and from Tadmor out of his own pocket, but there’s no hard feelings.

“I put a new cage in it before we held the NZ stockcar champs. When I first did the start car, I might not have even had a helmet or belts on … but like all things, when it’s not fun any more, you don’t sulk about it, you move on. I’m president of the VMX club (vintage motocross) and there’s still three more stockcar chassis and about 100 other cars on the property. I hate to see things wrecked because once history is gone, you can’t get it back. Maybe I will never rebuild them either, but while I have them, they aren’t going┬áto be scrapped by anyone.”

Images courtesy of Rob Anglesey