By Pete McNae

Each year, about this time, a little club-run speedway in Nelson, New Zealand, decides to do its bit for history and commemorate the failed political plans of an English activist, who attempted to use a shipload of gunpowder to blow up the House of Lords back in the very early 1600s. We don’t really know now who Guy Fawkes was — or care — as long as the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway gets to fire off a few thousand dollars of explosives in his honour once each season

Tonight was the annual Coca-Cola fireworks display, presented in conjunction with Brooks Auto Painters and, as it is every year, it was one of the season’s major crowd-pullers. And it’s a different crowd. More kids just hanging in til 9.15 for the lighting of the big boom box. Maybe less emphasis on the track action than when speedway is the sole drawcard. It felt that way tonight — the meeting wasn’t a fizzer but it did feel like it was marking time until dark for many in the terraces.

The fireworks show was consistently good and everyone seemed happy to watch half a year’s wages blown into the atmosphere in 15 minutes but, if the sparklers were simply the sideshow for the hard core race fans, maybe they were a little underwhelmed. Not that the numbers were poor; streetstocks and stockcars started with big fields although they were greatly diminished by the end of the meeting while the TQ midgets and youth ministocks also turned up in healthy numbers. It’s just that a number of races became processions on a very good track surface when the programme had promised more.

There was a trophy at stake for superstocks and hit to pass rules in place for the streetstocks and  stockcars, who also had teams to be selected for coming events. The sidecars were racing for a memorial trophy too and the TQs and youth ministocks were there because they bring good fields and can be relied upon to entertain. But hit to pass works best when there is hitting — and passing — and, with a couple of clear exceptions, there just wasn’t that much going on.

Clan McSherry from Canterbury dominated the streetstock field, which began with a healthy 15 starters. Ryan Musgrove expected his car to break and it did, very early in heat one, but Brayden Skurr also had a major parts failure and was out for the meeting. By the end of the night, 15 cars had become six, with Dave and Tom McSherry running two of them.  Two early wins went to son Tom, while dad and former 1NZ Dave won the hit to pass title by a point from Blenheim’s Anthony Gane, who also collected a chequered flag. The Nelson Knights team named late in the meeting included Musgrove, KC Rose (third overall in the hit to pass), Neville Soper and the Davies brothers, Kyle (Hundy) and Kieran (Fiddy) with Fiddy and Rose making a staunch effort to swap paint with the visitors.

With Wade Sweeting from Blenheim, Greymouth-registered Britty Carpenter and Troy Currie, who races with a C on his car, listed as stockcar visitors, the odds were a little better in the home track’s favour in the stockcar class. Currie shook the stands with an early shot on Cody Teece, driving brother Keightley’s car and also collected Morgan Dumelow and Zak Baker, but the action out front saw Michael Paynter win twice in lap record-setting time then have his hands full in the third heat, won by Ben Smith. Paynter was held up early by Adam Hall but, with the hit of the night, Dylan Hall ran his brother along the wall and onto his side late in the last heat. Once race and hit points were tallied, Smith was named the hit to pass champion narrowly from Carpenter with Paynter still coming in third. John Everett’s set-to with Shane Brooks saw him earn a spot in the Tasman Thunder alongside captain Paynter, Adam Hall, Keightley Teece and Dylan Clarke with a couple of handy drivers hanging around in reserve.

The sidecars were initially down to race for the Mark Thorn Memorial but Thorn family commitments saw that meeting delayed until later in the season, nine bikes fronting instead for the Brett Lusty Memorial. Early heats were marked by a spectacular dismount for swinger Scott Bowler off the 6N bike. At first, he looked to be seriously hurt. Then he sat up. Then he walked from the track. Then he and rider Darren Cook made it back for the second round of heats. By heat three, the usual suspects; Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley, along with Nathan Ching and passenger Shaun Solly, had two wins apiece but Ching reversed the script a little by getting the better of the start in heat three and holding off Drake to take the trophy on their immaculate 8N bike. In third were Brent Steer and Wade Thorn with just a single point separating first from second and second from third.

The St John crew were busy again in the youth ministock class when new driver Toby Walker had a heavy shunt into the wall coming off turn two in the final heat. The young driver managed to guide the car safely to the infield but was banged around and was taken from the infield to be attended to. There isn’t much between the top half a dozen Nelson cars, drivers who have all raced a season or two, but it is clear that the rookies are learning fast and will bridge that experience gap by the end of the season.  Impressing out front are Cambell McManaway, Callum Russ, Jonti Austin, Blake Hearne and Max Baker but the likes of Jack Burson and Luke Higgins are whittling away at their lap times as they gain confidence and get better at finding gaps in the good fields. Also notable are the absence of relegations and exclusions so far this season with driver behaviour vastly better than it’s been the past two summers.

Three-quarter midgets keep appearing from sheds, with Jayden Corkill returning to the class tonight and marching towards the front of the field. Heat wins for Greymouth’s Rodney Thompson and Nelson driver Morgan Frost set the grid for the feature, Thompson caught up in a big roll over with Christian Fish and Kyla Blackbourn in heat two but still able to take his place in the feature. Frost was beaten away from the green but took command on lap two to lead all the way to the flag, the action happening directly behind him as Corkill reeled in third-placed Cameron McKenzie then slipped past Alicia Hill for second on the run home. Overall, Frost tallied 50 points in an outstanding effort, 10 clear of Hill and McKenzie with the top five rounded out by Nelson’s Dylan Bensemann and Coaster James Thompson.

Unfortunately, the superstocks — who had eight cars for opening night — fielded just six tonight for the Dave Scott Memorial Trophy and that soon became five with Paul Perkins parked up early. Brett Nicholls and Alex Hill continue to set the pace but it’s all pace — no contact and not even many laps with the field bunched on Nelson’s tight track. That should all change in a fortnight’s time though.

On November 16, the Nelson Speedway Association presents the the PTS Superstock Stampede, a 30-plus car meeting for better than $20,000 in cash and prizes. Drivers from Otago to the upper end of the North Island have entered, multiple former national champions among them. Barclay Engravers will help host the meeting which also includes a round of the Hydraulink War of the Wings for sprintcars. The meeting will be livestreamed globally by The Pits Media while the Nelson facility should be groaning at the seams with superstock fans travelling from around the country. Check or follow our Facebook pages, Nelson Speedway Association Inc and PTS Superstock Stampede – Nelson for updates as we draw closer to a big race night.


Photos by Rebecca Connor Maling, visit BM Photography on Facebook