Written by Pete McNae

So, that’s it for the first part of the Nelson Speedway Association’s 50th anniversary season, a low-key knockabout between the turkey and trifle and the awkward midnight kiss at the Church Steps as speedway punctuated the holiday season tonight.

The meeting was always going to be a hard sell; no superstocks (officially) or super saloons or sprintcars or midgets. Instead there were club championships for a couple of classes and the continuation of title races in a couple more. The corresponding meeting last season didn’t even cover its running costs. But, tonight, the sun came out, a half-decent crowd rolled up and the meeting turned out to be half-decent too. The star turn at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway came from the TQ midgets but there was a bit going on in a small stockcar class and the sidecars enjoyed the smooth, fast track.

It would be sugarcoating matters to pavlova proportions to say it was one of the season’s best. Instead it was a nice night out in the weather, with some speedway as a bonus.

Those TQs turned it on, though. With visitors from Greymouth and former Nelson club member Tim Yellowlees, up from Christchurch, adding to a good roll-up of local cars (Darkie Armstrong’s return from a wreck was a welcome one, while Jayden Corkill climbed back into his former 66N, which had also been upside down earlier in the year), the second round of the club championships looked promising.  The little open wheelers delivered three of the better races of the night. Heat one went to Dylan Stone-Cuthbert who went flag to flag, holding off young Coaster Cameron McKenzie with Armstrong posting the fastest lap. The reverse grid in heat two saw Morgan Frost leading most of the way before Alicia Mclauchlan timed her run and her pass perfectly to take the victory, with Corkill the quickest.

In the feature, Frost held the advantage for seven laps, Mclauchlan again found a way past to lead for five, before Stone-Cuthbert had the right setup and car speed to take over with two laps to run. He banked the maximum points from Mclauchlan and Armstrong (quickest lap). Earlier action saw Graeme Porter have a gentle roll in turn three, Armstrong bicycle the car on two wheels without rolling and Corkill’s car’s engine smoke, burn and expire.

Production saloons also ran a round of their club champs and also lost a frontrunner to an engine detonation, Matt Sherlock dropping out in heat one with a fire in the engine bay of the 3NZ Mitsubishi from Christchurch. That helped open the door for one of the competitors of the night, Kaylim McNabb, who had a top run for two wins and a third. McNabb wasn’t afraid to try an outside line and, with his car consistently setting the best lap times, only Jarod Fisher and Cam Lankshear looked like capable challengers. With the national title meeting — just the second since the class became Speedway NZ-official — coming up in Gisborne, McNabb has hit his best form at the right time and if he’s entered as rumoured, he could take the long, long journey with some confidence.

On the subject of national titles, the sidecar class will hold their big meeting of the summer at Moore Park in Canterbury a fortnight from now. With preparation time short, it was no surprise to see 11 bikes turn up for Nelson’s club championship, although conspicuous by its absence was the 47N Green Machine of Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley, who have been competing in the North Island. With that opportunity opened a fraction, former club champ Nippy Ching pounced on another sash, this time with Shaun Solly on the chair. There was quite a spread of speed across the field but Ching, Brent Steer, Lester Schroder and Rob Martin each had legitimate title claims. Ching and Solly slammed that door shut though, with three wins from three starts including a strong ride in round three to shoulder past Steer/Wayde Thorn in turn one, then hold off the rapidly improving father and son team of Rob and Harly Martin.

It’s always a good idea to check the official results before giving any youth ministock drivers a pat on the head or a kick up the seat. What you see going past the chequered flag is not always what you get with the referees trying hard to keep overly aggressive driving in check. That was evident in race two last night when Riley-Jay Eathorne and Riley Keen copped relegations, allowing Raiden Hearne to lock in a three-race sweep. Hearne did his work from a variety of grid start positions, too, making the three wins more creditable. Brayden Skurr, in his last meeting with the borrowed Rangi Motorsport car before bringing out his own new car, was second each time. An accidental squeeze in turn three saw Aleisha Oakly park Blenheim’s Gemma Hodgson high on the wall in heat two but both cars were back for race three.

Another three-race winner came from the streetstock class which was clearly licking some wounds after the recent South Island champs. Down on numbers, nobody was getting in Bradley Evans’ way as he took over the 5N panel van again to dominate proceedings from Nathan Thomas and the class stirrer, Neville Soper.

Wrapping the meeting were the stockcars, who also seemed to be suffering from the same holiday fatigue with injury and absences cutting the field. Troy Currie and Harley Robb in Canterbury cars, along with Blenheim’s Wade Sweeting, fronted with just eight local cars for the closed club championships. Heat one was a comfortable win for Ben Smith over Hamish Carter,  while Keightley Teece headed Robb in race two to go into the decider locked on points with Smith. Carter’s race was finished early, stuck on the turn two concrete by Currie and, although Shane Brooks took the flag, the final sums saw Teece a champion again, a point ahead of Smith with Robb third and Brooks fourth. A final race of the night saw Teece, Carter and Currie all emerge with the roof of their cars naked, having taken off their expensive wings in anticipation of a bit of a ruckus. While there was plenty of push and shove, the biggest hit came after the flag when race winner Dylan Clarke wound off Zak Baker and was promptly disqualified, handing Sweeting the win.

Four superstocks were allowed a couple of runs with the national title meeting in Christchurch less than a week away. The highlight was seeing Nick Fowler at the wheel of the 66R Hampton tri-rail with the former Boote Chev engine still sounding angry. Nelson’s next meeting will feature a field of 40-plus superstocks at the Westmeat New Zealand Superstock Grand Prix from 5pm on January 12. The two-day meeting has been reduced to one night only with an earlier start and four qualifying heats building to a three-heat 26-car final series.

Race photos, Tom Laney,