Written by Pete McNae

It’s on! After weeks, months, of speculation and resignation, the Challenge Cup superstock teams race has been confirmed as the lead promotion for the next meeting at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway.

The Palmerston North Panthers will be in town on December 2 to take on our Nelson Tigers for the Challenge Cup, a trophy that has provided some classic clashes in the past. Last year, it was scrapped when the Panthers couldn’t make it as a result of travel disruptions due to the November quakes. This year, it had appeared as though it might fall over due to the lack of drivers ready to race for the Tigers.

That’s now changed with the Nelson Speedway Association confirming an exciting team to face the Panthers on Saturday week. Leading the way are Trevor Lineham and Alex Bright, who had stated from the start of the season that they were keen to represent the Tigers. Anthony McKenzie has now also put his new car forward, although it might be prudent to keep McKenzie in reserve next Saturday while welcoming him back to the Tigers fold. That is possible thanks to the club securing the one-off services of Peter and Ethan Rees to face the Panthers.

The Rees name is whispered in hushed tones in speedway circles. Dad, Peter, has five national stockcar crowns and a 1NZ plus a couple of podiums in superstocks. Ethan is a brutal but clever teams racer who has been a key component in the emergence of the Gisborne Giants in the past two seasons.  Together, the Himatangi-based race car builders are responsible for scores of superstock and stockcar chassis at the front of fields around New Zealand.

The Rees family will help the Nelson team thanks to the efforts of the most well-known and respected driver in Tigers history. Brendan Higgins made the approach and managed to convince not just Ethan, who has ties to Nelson through girlfriend Brittany Carpenter, but also Peter to race next Saturday. Pete’s mum, Jennifer, also deserves credit for giving him a leave pass from a family function he shouldn’t be skipping. After countless races for his beloved Tigers, this might count as one of Hig’s best performances yet.

The fact the Tigers are racing Palmerston North has extra spice due to a dislocation that saw the Rees family (elder son Asher was injured racing superstocks and now competes in a super saloon as 126P) take their club allegiances to Gisborne, where they have formed a potent teams racing unit. Those issues are largely history now, but Peter Rees racing against the Panthers, rather than for them where he won so many national titles, is a mouth watering prospect.

Make no mistake, this race almost fell over and probably would have, if not for the effort of Higgins and a couple of others working behind the scenes. Lineham, Bright and McKenzie could form the backbone of a Tigers team for the future – or it could all fall apart after December 2. They are to be thanked for making the commitment and the hope is that the likes of young talents Dale McKenzie and Ben Taylor might be encouraged by what they see and can consider racing for the Tigers in future. Palmerston North in February is the unmissable meeting of the year and a culture change plus some sponsor support (call manager Kirsty Nicholls to get onboard) could still see a Nelson-based Tigers team enter the ENZED championships.

In the short term, for Nelson speedway fans, there couldn’t be a much better outcome under the current circumstances, than a keen and competitive team rolling out in orange and black in 10 days’ time.

All photos by Tom Laney, www.imagepress.co.nz