Written by Pete McNae

It’s just as well Palmerston North track manager Bryan Puklowski was given a gentle reminder to pack the Challenge Cup for the trip across Cook Strait as it turns out it’s staying on this side for the coming summer.  The cup is the symbol of superstock teams racing supremacy between Nelson’s Tigers and the Palmerston North Panthers. And, while recent holders, the Panthers would like to add an asterisk to this year’s contest, the engraving will show that only one car was classified as a finisher – and that was Nelson’s Alex Bright.

Sure, the Tigers fronted with three locally-registered cars and two from Himatangi, via Gisborne, in Peter and Ethan Rees. And, for the 12-lap lead promotion at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway last night, half of the team that took the track against the Panthers were there as a favour to the Nelson club, fronting for the Tigers on a one-off basis so the Challenge Cup could go ahead. But, after 12 pretty rugged laps, the 85N car took the chequer, Nelson regained the trophy for the 2017-18 season – and that’s all that matters right now.

As a confidence builder for a young and inexperienced Tigers team – at this stage only Bright, Trevor Lineham and Ants McKenzie have been persuaded to teams race and their total outings could be counted on the fingers of a clumsy butcher – tonight’s race went a long way. Lineham and Bright made mistakes, learned lessons and came out in credit while McKenzie, who sat out the teams race as reserve, was able to show out in a strong open race field of 18 superstocks. Credit to the dad and lad Rees pairing for a lot of that morale boosting. While initially Lineham and latterly Bright ran for the win, Peter and Ethan did their darnedest to cripple as many Panthers cars as they could. The visitors stood down their two most accomplished team members, Peter Bengston remaining in the pits as Wayne Hemi was cast as the reserve. The first significant hit – disregarding Lineham’s brush with the wall that wrecked his right front suspension, came when Peter Rees shovelled his way under Bryn Liddell’s car, causing some of the damage that saw the 661P out for the night. William Humphries was stopped in turn one, Jordan Dare made five laps before being halted and Shane Mellsop led for five of the 12 laps before a Peter Rees block opened the door for Bright.  Mellsop had the only mobile black car and, in a race allowed to run a couple of laps beyond Bright’s win, nearly made it to the finish before getting “Reesed”, Ethan being excluded from the results.

Hemi had the quickest car in three cash races although the wins went to Mellsop, then Bengston, before Ethan Rees beat the old man with a fantastic drive in the feature. The Palmerston North domination of the open racing was testament to the quantity and quality of cars and drivers in the Heartland, although Nelson’s Alex Hill showed he could foot it with the frontrunners, especially in the feature.

For superstock-starved locals, it was a treat to see the grid full again and for that, thanks go to the Manawatu promoters and the Panthers, to Ethan and Peter Rees for stepping forward to help another club, to Malcolm Ngatai from Christchurch, to Brendan Higgins, Shane Harwood, Kyle Heibner and the Nelson Speedway Association, Challenge Cup backer MD Freighting and the drivers who are hoping to keep alive the Nelson Tigers’ legacy. The orange and black is not quite back but it’s a hell of a lot healthier than it was two weeks ago.

Support racing on a sunbaked Saturday came from stockcars, sidecars, TQ midgets, production saloons and youth ministocks. The stockcars had been given a rev-up after a stirrer’s bonus was left on the table at the last meeting when there simply wasn’t enough action for anyone to cash in. When lined up alongside the hit to pass promotion last night, and in a reasonable field of 19 with visiting drivers from Greymouth and Blenheim, there was no chance the money was going to go untouched again.  Keightley Teece and Michael Paynter (two) were the race winners, Paul Perkins and Shaun Mahon probably copped the biggest shots and Teece was crowned hit to pass champion with Levi Collier claiming the stirrers’ money ahead of Brad Neiman.

The hit to pass ethos made its way across the pits to the production saloons, youth ministocks and even the sidecars, and it doesn’t belong in any of those places. Tony Diedrichs has a radically customised Nissan Pulsar to repair although his two-part crash was pure accident. Other contact in the productions was more calculated and it is probably time to start waving a black flag or two. Despite not winning any of the three heats, Jarod Fisher was a worthy meeting winner with 57 points towards the club championship from three second placings. Fisher was the one driver willing to try multiple lines to make clean passes and earned his haul. At opposite ends of the age scale, Geoff Watson and Kaylim McNabb were also right in the mix.

The youth class were on a warning, with handicapped starts penalising drivers deemed guilty of contact. Despite the sanction, there were heavy crashes for Blake Hearne and Eden Eaves although they were more the result of exuberance than any bad behaviour. Race winners were Brayden Skurr with two and Max Baker, who got by Cameron Thompson with one lap to run.

Just four sidecars fronted for the Mark Thorn Memorial Trophy with two reaching the end of heat three. The 88N bike of Shaun Solly and Rosie Taylor came off worst in a startline squeeze that saw rider and swinger go flying. Taylor suffered an injured shoulder in the harrowing crash. Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley were beaten once but still had enough points in the bank to head off Brent Steer and Kyle Ball for the trophy.

Club championship points were at stake for a big field of three-quarter midgets, who raced round two of a three-meeting series. Wins went to Dylan Stone-Cuthbert, Morgan Frost and Jayden Corkill (again the master of the feature) but, as was the case in the production saloons, the meeting points were headed by other drivers; both Darkie Armstrong and Alicia Mclauchlan banking 53 points on the night through quickness and consistency. Frost was third with Christiaan Fish making a major leap forward to sit in a tie for fourth on the night with George Crosbie.

That’s it for the Milestone Homes Top of the South speedway until after Christmas, the southern midget series and The Hits 30-lap streetcar race rounding out 2017 on December 30.

All photos by Tom Laney,