By Pete McNae

You know when you want something, want it r-e-a-l-l-y badly, but you hold off, hold back until you can do it properly and not be disappointed? No, me either, but Josh Nell does.

The 20-year-old apprentice diesel mechanic with Donaldson Civil loved the sound and spectacle of the superstock class from his first visits to the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway as a youngster. That passion was only reinforced during a successful stint in youth ministocks … but the class was out of his reach when he “aged out” at 17.

Nell was prepared to step back from speedway until he was earning and had built the knowledge to return on his terms. He wasn’t gone for good, a part-season in streetstocks courtesy of car owner Graeme Kitto kept his hand in, but those were divisive days in the class and the car was targeted, bent and sold.

Things took a step in his direction the following off-season, though, when Nell bought a stockcar that needed some TLC.

The good cars were out of my reach so I got one I could do the work on myself,” he said. “I always understood it was a matter of running with what I had, something pretty basic and a bit bent although Russo (Wayne Russ) and the guys helped straighten it, while I learned how to drive it.”

In his second season in the car, it was treated to a new front end and a freshened engine and was competitive while still running on a teenager’s budget. But a concussion and a realisation that there were an awful lot of hours in the shed in exchange for a few minutes on the track saw the car parked as Nell figured he’d had a gutsful. When he listed the car and it sold within a week to a Palmerston North buyer, there was a fair chance he was done with speedway.

I did a bit of crewing for Roydon (Winstanley) and Hamish (Carter) and really enjoyed that and I guess that’s when the itchy feet arrived and I started to think about a saloon or some kind of way to get back into it.”

Of course, in the back of Nell’s mind was his first passion – superstocks. Browsing the online sites for cars within his price range was disheartening, though.

I didn’t want to park the idea of buying a house, spend all I had earned and end up with a car that was going be at the tail end or midfield on a good night,” he said.

But Tony Phyn of Mean Machine and Nelson superstock owners Brett Nicholls and Jared Gray were enjoying a round of golf when the topic of Nell’s ambition came up.

I got a text from Jared, saying ‘give me a call’. His car was still for sale but I had never considered it because it was out of my bracket. I went out to have a look the week before lockdown and we did a deal.”

Nell bought 60 per cent of the well-known 186N Toyota-Topolino with the rest of the car currently still owned by Gray. It’s Nell’s responsibility to keep the car up to Gray’s “very particular” standards and freshen the motor. If all goes well, he will buy the remaining stake in the car.

Phyn has been a massive help, as Nell gave the engine his attention (under supervision) while Gray’s own firm, Broad Engineering, has weighed in with steelwork. “Boris” Gray has offered his services on the crew for the superstock newcomer.

He’s had two practice outings and is rapt with the experience, so far. The car lapped in the 15sec bracket on Nelson’s new track surface and it is a dream to drive when compared with the streetie, stockcar and dad Ken’s 22N classic stockcar.

I back myself as a decent driver but I know there is a lot to learn and, again, I need to do things on my terms and in my budget,” Nell said. “I don’t want to be a three-meeting wonder. This is what I have always wanted to drive and I plan to find my way in the class and be competitive out there.”

Like all of us, Nell was hyped for the Accounts Department-backed opening night in Nelson but has had to cool his heels until this Saturday’s Coca-Cola fireworks meeting, presented by Polar Fishing Gear. Superstocks are part of a busy programme which starts at 6pm and runs through until after the fireworks display by around 9.30pm.

I was pretty calm last week but now I’ve had another couple of weeks to think about it,” he said. “I know the car is on the pace and I believe I can drive but I’ve only had a handful of practice laps so I’m not going to start promising anything special.

What I do know is that the guys who will be on the track with me all respect each other and the gear and the expense so I can be confident that we will turn on some good, close racing.”

In keeping with his steady-as-she-goes approach to moving up a class, teams racing isn’t really on the radar yet. Despite “80 per cent of the questions I get” being about the Tigers, Nell wants to run a season, feel safe and confident in the car, and add up the bills at the end first. He’s not planning much outside of Nelson and Woodford Glen meetings this season, although a Battle of the Stocks invitation and a respectable showing in a big field at Nelson’s PTS Superstock Stampede on December 12 are first-season targets.

I’m proud of the fact that I’m doing this pretty much by myself and learning what it takes and what it costs,” Nell said. “Jared and Tony have been a massive help – I simply wouldn’t be here without them, but I want to work on the car and understand it and try to get better at my own pace.

I’ve wanted this, oh, I’d say from the first time I saw superstocks and I don’t want to get ahead of myself and screw it up. I feel like I belong and I’ll be bloody happy here.”

Josh Nell thanks his supporters and sponsors: Donaldson Civil, Broad Engineering, Mean Machine, DR Britton Ltd, Lift n Shift, The Sign Shop and Tyre General.

Saturday’s programme will pick up the Trackman Trophy promotion from the rainout on opening night while the Coca-Cola fireworks are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Spectator gates open at 5pm at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway on the corner of Lower Queen St and Lansdowne Rd in Richmond. 

Saturday’s classes: Superstocks, stockcars, streetstocks, production saloons, sidecars, TQ midgets, youth ministocks and quarter midgets. The quarter midgets will get two four-lap races before the Grand Parade (5.50pm) and two more as part of the race programme.

Track image, fireworks photos by official photographer Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography