21 GUNS

 

By Pete McNae

 

No one is surprised when an orange and black 21N wins a race at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway. Ian Burson has been doing just that for as many years as he has fingers and toes (being a logger, that can sometimes change in a hurry). But there is a new sun rising on the horizon — Burson’s son, Jack.

The young man, who has just completed his schooling at Waimea Intermediate and is headed to Waimea College when school resumes this year, is rapidly gaining ground on his speedway classmates. This Saturday’s Ministock Mania promotion, presented by meeting sponsor Tasman Heavy Diesel, will be the latest step on his learning curve. He’s even chosen to race here on Saturday over heading to Auckland with the family as Ian takes another crack at the New Zealand super saloon title.

“This was my favourite meeting last season, so many good drivers,” Burson Jnr said. “In my career, it’s the one I’ve liked the best.”

The asterisk on that remark is that Burson’s career is just past one season old. He made his debut at the Easter meeting in 2019, as soon as he was allowed to get on track in a youth ministock. He campaigned his first car through last season before the virus cut things short at one end and has returned with a different car this summer and moved towards the front of the field, recording his first race wins, a rollover in Blenheim and an eight-day stand-down.

“Stuff happens,” he said, referring to the brief, enforced holiday last month for close and competitive racing with Riley Eathorne in the 71E car at Eastern States. “We were right side-by-side for lap after lap and got out of the cars congratulating each other and pretty excited but got called up and got the stand-down.

“It’s teaching us a lesson about where the line is and I think that’s okay, it’s up to the drivers to make the adjustment.”

For a young driver with ambitions to go open-wheel racing in a sprintcar, staying clean and avoiding contact are good lessons to absorb now.

Burson’s rapid move up the ranks has a lot to do with the car change prior to this season. His first car was based on a Toyota donor car and, in youth ministock racing, the drivetrain and suspension must match the motor. The Toyota comes with leaf springs — good when the track is smooth but not so flash when it gets (or starts) bumpy. That car was sold to Christchurch and Team Burson purchased a Nissan-powered car, with the Nissan suspension bits, from Stratford. Ian and Jack stripped it back, Jared (Boris) Gray gave the bumpers and siderails a makeover through his company, Broad Engineering, Ian added some paint and it went to Christchurch to be signwritten in the familiar 21N livery.

The improvement that normally comes gradually in youth ministocks as drivers learn their craft has been accelerated.

“As soon as I got the Nissan, I felt a lot more competitive,” Burson said. “It was meant to be quite a good car coming out of Stratford but it really is a lot easier to drive and that means I am starting to get the confidence to push it harder because I know the car will take it.”

His first win on his home track was a big moment. Burson said he had run second and third a couple of times last season in the Toyota but the breakthrough has come this year, at home and in Blenheim.

“Oh, just the best feeling. I got quite close last year but couldn’t hold on. This time when I managed to get up the front … yeah, one of the best feelings ever.”

There was also that rollover, during a race in Blenheim. It wasn’t the first, Burson had tipped up the first car in Westport. The second one came as he was duelling with other drivers and, when a car spun in front of him, there was contact, a shock absorber folded under and the 21N fell over. Burson said it was “quite a slow roll” and “I did it to myself, no one to blame”.

So how does he get on when Ian is away with the super saloon and Jack wants to run a Nelson meeting with his youth ministock? Mum, Julie, usually gets to tow the ministock to the track then it’s all down to Jack and any helpers he can rope in on the night. He admits that a significant breakage will be beyond him but is grateful for the huge efforts of Harlyn Moreton, who has carried out a lot of the car maintenance. “Harlyn is working in Rai Valley these days so I really miss him. Some times, I’d turn up and the car would be just perfect because of the time he put in.”

Like most youth ministock competitors, though, Burson is learning to tinker with a few bits, learning alongside Dad, who learned alongside Terry, Rex and the Westley crew on the 21N super saloon. Jack grew up tagging along with Ian, Julie and little sister, Aimee. There was never any doubt he’d get started in speedway while he’s also into the usual country kid pastimes, rugby and a bit of outdoors stuff.

It’s beginning to look like a long stint in the youth class, where Burson can stay till he turns 17 — although he can opt out earlier and move to an adult grade sooner.

“I don’t think it’s going to be superstocks, eh. Granddad Terry loves the super saloons and gave dad the chance to get into them but I like the open-wheel classes, TQs or even a sprintcar.

“I’m really loving the class I’m in now,” he said. “There are good people on the track and in the club and I have a lot of things I want to learn and try to do. That Ministocks in Paradise meeting is a goal and travelling a bit more.

“I just want to get cleaner and quicker as I get more meetings. No more stand-downs.”

The Nelson Speedway Association’s Racing for the Kids meeting supports the local branch of the Child Cancer Foundation with a portion of the gate take going to the charity while there are raffles and other fundraising opportunities involved.

With the focus on the youngsters, the quarter midget class will also get a run and the ever-popular kids’ pushbike race will happen mid-meeting.

  • Jack Burson is grateful for the help and support of dad Ian, for “keeping the car up to standard”, mum Julie “who tows me everywhere” and Harlyn Moreton, along with the others who pop up to help on race nights. The 21N Nissan is sponsored by Debbie the Webster, Stihl Shop Richmond, The Loggers Shop, Outdoor Store, Southfuels Spring Grove, Cable Price, Terry Westley Drainlayer, DesignArt, AT Electrical, Forest Safety Management and Burson Logging and Bulldozer Hire.
  • Saturday’s Tasman Heavy Diesel-backed meeting also features the first appearance for the season of the midget class. It is hard to bring a field to Nelson when it has just two registered cars of its own but Ruapuna racers and Dunedin’s Nathan Wilkie will help make sure there are around 10 on the grid.

 

Photos, thanks to the Nelson Speedway Association club photographer, Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography