By Pete McNae
How do you get a quality nine-car field of sprintcars on the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway dirt track oval? Start with 21 cars and then let them do what they do.
Last night’s Dirtworx Nelson South Island Sprintcar Championship drew an impressive entry list; the current 3NZ, former national champions including 2NZ Jonathan Allard (a local legend in Northern Californian sprintcar circles), War of the Wings series winners and feature race victors in both islands. By night’s end — 21 laps into a scheduled 25-lap feature — nine cars were listed as finishers. And the top two of those were the similarly prepared Freeman Motorsport machines of current 3NZ Daniel Thomas from the Waikato and Central Otago resident Sam O’Callaghan. While O’Callaghan regularly wheels the 75N car, Thomas was flown in yesterday morning for the event and had his first laps in the car he was down to drive in warmups and then the time trials when his 11.1629sec lap demolished the track lap record.
The feature couldn’t have gone much better for the temporary team-mates. Thomas lined up on the front row with Cantabrian Matthew Leversedge while O’Callaghan went from row two. Off the start, Thomas was gone in a cloud of dust, O’Callaghan following him through as they both got a jump on the chasers. Seven laps in, and with a curfew approaching, things started to come unstuck.
Leversedge took a punt at passing O’Callaghan for second down the spectator straight into a wet and rutted patch just ahead of turn three and made solid contact with the wall. While Leversedge was good enough to save the car then, half a lap later either the damage caused or the fact the car was unsettled saw him climb the wall in turn one, bending one of the beefy railway irons that hold up the fence. The 78C was a mess, Leversedge was unhappy and both were parked on the infield, the first of the 18 cars out of the feature race.
Soon after, 44T Daniel Anderson rode the wall and flattened a front tyre (withdrawn), then Stephen Taylor in a Sullivan Motorsports car from Nelson came in hot on Alicia Hill and was sent to the back of the pack for spinning out the Nelson driver (who was doing double duty in both sprintcar and TQ midget). Things got rather hectic in midpack among drivers making a first visit to Nelson and James Robinson and Joshua Cumming (Baypark) came together, Cumming retiring infield (withdrawn). Hill’s car lost power off the restart (withdrawn) while the next to go was an unlucky John Sievwright, who was nudged into the turn 2 wall and suffered front end damage (withdrawn). Taylor’s run was over when he and Caleb Baughan made contact, Taylor out with a flat tyre and Baughan’s car, which had major repairs at the start of the meeting but was up to third in the feature, also slowly gave up the ghost and was listed as a non-finisher.
With Robinson also parking a damaged car, that left nine legitimate runners, Thomas and O’Callaghan first and second while the talented Allard climbed from 18th on the grid, and was hauling in the leaders when the race ran out of time and was called four laps early. The American’s charge was made all the more remarkable due to the fact that his car, on loan from Jamie Duff, had electrical issues all night and hadn’t completed a lap under full power until the feature. Allard makes a living from sprintcars and his ability through traffic on an unfamiliar track and in a borrowed car was a little bit special.
Fourth was Blenheim’s Paddy North running a personal tribute to the late John Lovelady while veteran Jason Scott rounded out the top five.
Earlier, Baughan had heavily bent the rear of the 59C car when he skated through the turn three puddle and into the wall, Thomas cleaned up the OEM Audio prize for the quickest lap of the night as he shaved 0.2sec off the lap record and Taylor wowed the crowd with wheelstands that went almost the full length of the pit straight under power. Heat wins went to Taylor, Cumming in his newly purchased Team Sullivan sprintcar and O’Callaghan.
A number of teams were already into their work immediately after last night’s meeting because survivors can grid up again from 5pm this evening for the inaugural Mike Rollo (Harcourts) and Collison Centre Sunshine Classic, a cash meeting for sprintcars with $3000 for the first driver home. Unfortunately, Allard has a prior engagement but the likes of Thomas, Taylor, Baughan, O’Callaghan and Hill will hope to make it back. Leversedge, maybe not so much.
Although today is the last race date of the season, a couple of classes have already finished their summer. Superstocks won’t run today, with just four making it to the end last night, that was a wise call by the club. Notable last night was the return for a one-off engagement by former national champion Brendan Higgins, who picked up a couple of wins in the Alex Hill Higgins-Toyota and a race win for Josh Nell, who has made a solid start to his superstock career. Ian Clayworth had a good night in the Trevor Lineham car while at least three more cars will be added to the Nelson ranks for next season as the rebuild slowly gathers momentum.
The production saloons also wrapped their Nelson summer with the staging of their Easter Club Championships (yes, we know it’s not Easter but bear with us). A couple of Blenheim drivers attempted to chuck a spanner in the works with longtime visitor David Allan winning heat one before young Sam Martin did a great job to keep his heavy rear-wheel-drive Falcon ahead of the more nimble front-wheelers in race two. The feature saw perhaps the closest finish of the season with Cam Lankshear leading all the way until Kaylim McNabb nosed in front in the last lap. Coming off the final turn, Lankshear opened up the taps on his VW Golf and snared the win by a ridiculous 0.0006s. The margin of victory, about an eyelash. Overall, McNabb who also ran under the class lap record ended on 32 points, tied with Eddy Frans but separated by that quick lap time, with Vaughan Cornelius in third. Frans’ daughter, Fee, saw her season finish in smoke and flames as her Mitsubishi’s motor gave up the fight.
As always, the three-quarter midget class raced their club championship over three rounds, putting a punctuation mark on it last night. The presence of a healthy helping of good quality Canterbury cars saw 14 starters in race one, taken out by 16C Kyle Glover while the second heat was won by Nelson teen Cambell McManaway in his first season out of the youth ministock class. With the fastest off the back in the feature, Glover carved through cleanly as McManaway and 2NZ Liam McCoubrey staged a mighty battle for second with the young local driver getting the second place sash. Dylan Bensemann, meanwhile, did all the hard yards for fourth behind McCoubrey then rolled 50m past the flag, throwing the car upside down into the turn 2 wall. Once all three rounds were tallied, Alicia Hill had yet another club title with Bensemann and McManaway making up the top three.
The 8-to 15-year-olds from the quarter midget class were back at the Richmond raceway, Locky Martin scoring a popular first win on his home track. The driver of the 48N car had won once before in Greymouth, but had a good grid draw in race one and followed dad (club president Wayne Martin’s) instructions to the letter, getting his foot down and going for it. The class also staged its first club title here with Canterbury sweeping the podium, Ethan Smith narrowly heading off Brooke Clark and Jack Brownlees. As the best-placed Nelson driver, Martin was chuffed to find out he’d be on the club’s promotional poster next season.
Stockcars and streetstocks wrapped last night’s race card, reflecting two classes moving in opposite directions. The stockcar numbers have taken a huge hit with the Hamish Carter 85N car the latest to leave town as Jay Holtham had it lettered up as 317C and in winning form last night. Roydon Winstanley scored a couple of flags, Piper Blackbourn doubled the number of Nelson women in the class and Tayler Forbes had a handy night as he tries to sell the 79N but there are signs the class will struggle unless rumours of a couple of streetstock competitors jumping classes pan out.
There are still good numbers among the streeties, even after a season in which the New Zealand Grand Prix in January was probably the meeting of the summer and there have been many fenders bent. Visitors Levi van Lieshout (3NZ), Simon Bland (31V) and Dave McSherry (an honorary local in 62C) grabbed the wins, but Shannon Marr, Kieran Davies and Cody McCarrison were solid for Nelson while Blenheim rally driver Richard Bateman, running as 115N, looks a good addition in a V8 Toyota.
Tonight’s meeting wraps a season in which the club’s biggest win was probably in the planning hearing which secured the racing future for years to come. There’s still work to do on the track though so the Collision Centre Sunshine Classic for sprintcars gets underway at 5pm with support racing from quarter midgets, streetstocks, stockcars, TQ midgets and youth ministocks. Associate sponsors include Mike Rollo (Harcourts), OEM Audio Christchurch, Discovery Motorhomes and GTR Developments.