By Pete McNae

For decades, Ladas have been the butt of car jokes. You know the sort. What do you call a convertible Lada? A skip. Or man goes into a car dealership and says, “Can I have a hub cap for my Lada?” And the dealer says, “Seems a fair swap.”

So, who’s laughing now, Lada-loathers? Clint Paris, the master of The Hits 89.6FM demolition derby added another win to a growing list last night at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway driving, of all things, a Lada. The little green Russian saloon was the last car mobile after Karen Sim’s car No 420 expired, appropriately, blazing. Paris didn’t have as much competition this  time with just 16 starters but he knows what works in a derby and wasn’t shy to head in head-on once the sheriffs in their stockcars had closed off the straight for the final countdown. Those sheriffs, Jared Prestidge and Troy Currie, had been called on earlier to remove James Scoltock’s Ford but the Mondeo didn’t go without a fight while Joe Burgess had a strong run in the Jack’s Tyres raffled Toyota, after inheriting the drive when prize winner Grace Clark had other commitments.

The raffle car, along with other donated prize packs, a percentage of the gate takings and a bucket whipround were all part of the Nelson Speedway Association’s Racing for the Kids meeting, a commitment to supporting the Child Cancer Foundation and, in particular, the kids who came along with families and supporters last night to sample speedway hospitality. Final tallies won’t be in for a while but the derby car raffle alone raised $900 in ticket sales.

The Nelson club missed on a big meeting a fortnight ago when round 6 of the Hydraulink Sprintcar War of the Wings was washed out but the sun was back in a big way last night. Supporting the derby were a final tune-up for the Walkers Engineering New Zealand TQ Midget Championships on February 9-10, best pairs racing for stockcars, production saloons, superstocks and big field of sidecars and the youth ministock club championship.

The concept of a title for the 12- to 16-year-olds in the youth class has been debated for as long as those Lada jibes have been around. It’s meant to be an introduction to speedway and track manners and a prize at the end doesn’t always see the youth drivers on their best behaviour. The meeting referees were all over it last night though, with handicaps, a relegation, an exclusion and a black flag stoppage showing they meant what they said in the drivers’ briefing. Race winners were Brayden Skurr, Max Baker and Blenheim’s Hadley Boyce with the club title going to the steady hand and clean slate of Raiden Hearne, by a point over fast-improving newcomer Riley Eathorne, perhaps reflecting the value of recent travel and extra track time for both drivers. Baker and Boyce went into a runoff for third with the Blenheim driver maintaining strong recent form for the win. The third heat was marred by the culmination of a fair bit of recent pit chat when Blenheim’s Wade Sweeting slowed to block Skurr, who was rapidly losing his cool when the red came on and Sweeting was sent to the infield.

Sometimes, it seems, drivers have just done their time in the youth class and that’s when the likes of Keightley Teece, Troy Currie, Dylan Clarke, George Watson, Britty Carpenter and first-night driver Hamish Carter get a stockcar and go and rub rails for real. Carter’s been busting to get out there and had to wait a little longer when the car wouldn’t perform in heat one but a subsequent 10th, then an eighth in a field of 18 prompted a request for more power for his next meeting. Teece, who last weekend defended his South Island championship in Blenheim, was paired in a dream team with Kurtis Bandy, the duo winning two out of the three heats and taking the pairs title by a clear 17 points from Clarke and Scott Alexander, with heat three winner Michael Paynter and Carter buddying up for third overall.

The production saloon pairs also drew a healthy field of 15 (Gillian McDougall was a one-woman pair) with racing much cleaner than it’s been at recent meetings. Tony Diedrichs returned after a wreck destroyed his Nissan but lost a lot of oil and went out in flames this time while Dave Leitch also had an abbreviated meeting. A win and two second placings by Jarod Fisher saw he and drawn partner Kaylim McNabb take the overall victory narrowly ahead of Eddie Frans and Pam Nixon with Vaughan Cornelius and Geoff Watson in third.

The superstock class was meant to be tiptoeing with teams champs for the four Tigers drivers in action just a week away. That left Ben Taylor and Luke Ewing to get into it with the pair mixing it up twice in heat one before Taylor picked Ewing up halfway round turn one and biffed him into the wall in their last race. Dale McKenzie and pairs partner Alex Hill dominated proceedings winning all three races between them before stockcar driver Brad Neiman climbed into Trevor Lineham’s Nissan V8 for a few handy laps to prepare for his role as the Tigers’ sixth driver in Palmerston North.

It’s been a long while since Nelson has hosted 13 sidecars with visitors from Blenheim, Christchurch and the long-distance Invercargill duo of Dallas Kelman and Chay McWilliam, racing as 99N with Kelman a former club champion here for the Outdoor Store best pairs. On a track that suited them down to the clay, they raced three rounds of three heats each with few incidents and only the occasional close-your-eyes pass. Adie Drake and passenger Kieran Satherley are hard to beat at home and so it proved again with the A final and a forceful pass in turn three on Lionel Green and Shane Breach (Christchurch) making the difference. Drake-Satherley and their drawn partners, Shaun Solly and Roger Delany on 88N ended the meeting with 19 points, a tally shared by the Canterbury combos of Mike Warwood-Stefan Burrows and Pete Stephens-Dylan Fox. One point back in third were Green-Breach and Neil Hill-Neil Bruce. Nice work from the class to race clean through so many heats and particular praise to Milly Steer for adding nine bikes to the regular Nelson field.

Last class on the card was the TQs who have a field of around 40 lined up for the NZ champs in less than two weeks. Most of the runners last night were Nelson-based but things will change once Western Springs, Meeanee and Ruapuna start sniffing around. It was a very good night for Morgan Frost (starting races like he was RocketLab’s latest test pilot), Shane Robertson who’d found a whole lot of extra speed in the feature and pushed Frost all the way, and Mark Bezett, who finally got to finish three races and wrung the neck of his ageing car. Not so flash for George Crosbie with a big slam into the turn three wall and Jason Jones who had a right rear come adrift, although in a real stroke of good fortune, the bouncing wheel hit a light pole and fell back trackside, rather than entering the spectator area.

The Walkers of Richmond Engineering national TQ title meeting is the next on the calendar for the Nelson club, with qualifying from 7pm on Friday, February 9 and the finals on Saturday from 6pm.

Photos by Devon Stove for