By Pete McNae
For about five minutes tonight, Callum Russ was having the best birthday — ever.
The Nelson youth ministock driver, son of former Tigers superstock teams racer Wayne Russ, turned 14 today, the same day as the Donaldson Civil (Wayne’s employer) Ministock Mania was the feature promotion at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway. And Russo Jnr was the featured driver in the race programme for the night with a colour pull out poster and a driver profile. His biggest disappointment? Not winning a race yet.
And then it happened. In race 7 on the programme, Russ worked his way to the front of the pack and crossed the line first. The fist pumps started just off turn four as he headed for the start-finish line. They continued around the slow down lap. And Russo Jnr chucked in a pretty quick victory lap with the flag, his first. On his 14th birthday. Until he got called to the tower and relegated back to third position for a bit of inappropriate contact. Talk about sticking a pin in your birthday balloon. But Russ’s time will come as one of the improvers in the big Nelson class, which was bolstered tonight by drivers from Blenheim, Christchurch and Wellington.
The field was split into four groups with each of the four races involving three of those groups with the fourth sitting out. That gave every driver three races to accumulate points for trophies in either the experienced or novice sections. The heat winners were Max Baker, Blake Hearne (in the race in which Russ was relegated), Hearne again and Cambell McManaway for a Nelson sweep with Blenheim’s Marcos Marshall consistently near the front as the best of the visitors. A little bit of addition in the tower saw Hearne tally 44 points to become the 2019-20 Donaldson Civil Youth Ministock Mania champion, going some way to make up for his club championship disappointment, with McManaway second on 42 and Baker scoring 39 points for third. Marshall was fourth with Russ completing the top 5.
In the first-season division, Luke Higgins took home a trophy ahead of Jacob Skurr with Toby Walker in third place.
Tonight’s meeting was the Nelson Speedway Association Racing for the Kids promotion with the youth ministocks, quarter midgets and kiddies’ bike race lowering the average age on the track — especially in the absence of Sam Satherley and Dave Leitch. Conflicting entertainment (Opera in the Park, racing at Eastern States) decimated Nelson’s crowd — it was one of those nights when it would have been easier for announcers Jody Scott and Gabe Bowen to introduce the patrons to the drivers instead of the other way around — but the Nelson club was still committed to making a contribution to the Child Cancer Foundation, their partner charity in Racing for the Kids.
And like last year, the bike race was a bit of fun and might have planted a speedway seed in one of the three-year-olds on balance bikes or the slightly older ones (not you, Andre Evans) on a full sized pushbike.
But despite the pint-sized pedallers and a couple of completed club championships, it was a low key night, the Nelson club’s version of tofu — you couldn’t dislike it, but it was instantly forgettable.
Best entertainment of the night came from the streetstocks and the three-quarter midgets. With Nelson Knights selections to be made and a few little rivalries festering away, the streetstocks delivered three entertaining heats. No one was safe, no one dominated and a handy looking Knights team emerged at the end with Ryan Musgrove captaining a lineup that also includes KC Rose, Brayden Skurr, Steve Soper, Neville Soper, reserve Kyle (Hundy) Davies and a handy sort of a ringin in Canterbury’s Dave McSherry, a past national champion. Race winners were Steve Soper (x 2) and Davies with Hundy’s win his first. Class rep and Hundy’s partner, Zoe Goodwin, was bouncing off the walls more than her boyfriend had been. Top pointscorer for the evening was Bradley Evans, just ahead of Davies and Skurr on a night where the class proved that there’s plenty of entertainment value in the tap and spin.
Tonight was also round three of the TQ club championship. Rather than a one-night deal, the class races across three meetings, two heats and a feature, adding passing points to find their champion. Morgan Frost limited his chances by clipping the turn one wall in heat one and changing cars for the feature leaving him fourth overall despite winning one of the heat races. That opened the door a crack for Alicia Hill, who never misses a meeting, never misses a race, despite juggling two cars in different classes. She didn’t get a win tonight but fourth, second, fifth and five passing points saw her again crowned the club champion ahead of Dylan Bensemann and Greymouth driver James Thompson. Quickest on the night, taking the feature and the 10-lap dash was Jayden Corkill, who had a great run at the South Island champs last week for second. Tonight’s 19 points, plus a remarkable 10 passing points hoisted him to fifth overall, while Mark Bezett also had an impressive night with 18 points, just being pipped by Corkill for what would have been a rare feature win.
The TQs also provided the night’s only roll when Joe Keene spun in turn four and Tasman Webley slid in and fell over.
A younger Webley sibling, Conley, competed in the 10-car quarter midget field as they got a handful of four-lap races. Results across all their outings had a familiar look with Jacob Cunniffe taking three from three with Ethan Smith his closest competitor and Dyllan Forsey close in third overall.
Brett Nicholls has been around a lot longer than Cunniffe but winning never gets boring. While the closed superstock championships attracted seven starters (Canterbury’s Andrew Good joined six locals) Nicholls had too much experience, too much pace … too much car for his opposition. His closest race was the third heat when Phil Krammer ran hard for 11 and three-quarter laps until Nicholls just squeezed the throttle a little harder off turn four to pinch the flag. Second was Alex Hill, who might have been expected to push Nicholls a little closer with Krammer third.
If the superstock racing was a little processional, it was simply three races of follow the leader in the stockcar best pairs. Cars have been sold, cars have broken, teams racing looms two weeks away for some and others shook the money tree and nothing fell out. The result? Nine cars and three tame races. Wade Sweeting was competing as 151E/N, the Blenheim driver joining the Nelson club so he can teams race for the Thunder in Stratford at the end of the month and his pairing with the immaculate 964GM car of Melissa Gifford came out on top with 32 points. Michael Paynter and John Everett each had their share of problems but finished second while 1NZ Ben Smith ran solo without a paired partner for third. From a promising start this season, the stockcar class is limping its way to the end of the season with more cars on the market.
After what was effectively a mid-season pause for the club, there’s better to come at the next Nelson meeting. The Hi Reach Access Solutions South Island Superstock Championship on February 29 could have been a damp squib until Speedway New Zealand relaxed its rules to allow drivers to compete in either island title meeting. With half-a-dozen North Island entries expected and between 15 and 18 on the grid, it will be a handy tune-up for the PTS Superstock Stampede at Easter.
Photos by Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography