SPEEDWAY WINS BY A LANDSLIDE
By Pete McNae
Go hard and go early seems to be the way to ensure a satisfactory result these days. It worked, by a landslide, last Saturday and it worked again last night with the Nelson Speedway Association cranking through an opening meeting that was still one of the first in the country — despite a two-week weather delay. The October 10 rainout cost the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway a few visitors but they were still able to roll out strong fields in streetstocks, TQ midgets and youth ministocks, in particular, with helping hands from competitors from Blenheim, the Coast, Christchurch, a streetstock driver from Dunedin and a sidecar team from about 1000k away in Invercargill.
The race night featured the Coca-Cola fireworks display and then piggybacked the rained-out Trackman Trophy night, backed by the Accounts Department onto the original second meeting programme, presented by Polar Fishing Gear. One thing both club and competitors had been looking forward to was the first shots fired in anger on the new track surface, the big off-season project of a small team of club volunteers and supporting businesses. Practice days had suggested the clay was quick but would that still stack up in the middle of a race meeting when results were more relevant than records? The answer was yes, yes and hell, yes.
Brett Nicholls broke a lap record in heat two of the superstock contest for the Trackman Trophy only to see Ant McKenzie eke out a little quicker lap in heat three and Ben Smith’s 1NZ stockcar bagged the new mark for the class at 16.25s, a time that was plenty respectable for the supers on last season’s bony, stony surface. Add in a new three-quarter midget lap record for Jayden Corkill, who also won the Trackman Trophy and added the John Pomeroy Memorial for the driver of the opening meeting, only to see national champion Jeremy Webb snaffle the record from him in the feature and the clay passed with flying colours (brown).
Speaking of flying … the TQs were up to their usual tricks, with all three of the night’s rollovers coming from the big and bunched field. First to go was Greymouth’s Cameron McKenzie, who went a little wide into turn one and caught the wall for a decent rollover. Then, in the feature, two of the class newcomers got their first decent prang out of the way early when Cambell McManaway was bumped wide off three and into four after the cars in front of him bunched up and he speared back across the track into the path of Jonti Austin, who went on a domestic flight. A few laps later, Greymouth’s Rodney Thompson, who had a huge crash last season, had a more sedate roll on the back straight about the same time Corkill and Webb were carving through traffic on their last laps. Webb looked like he had done enough, zigging as Corkill zagged and getting the 1NZ’s nose cone in front but, with the race called, Corkill was awarded the feature win and ended the night as the top points scorer with 28, ahead of Webb (26), heat two winner Alicia Hill, heat one winner Ben Morgan and regular Nelson frontrunner Morgan Frost, all on 24. Three more drivers were within another couple of points, summing up how close and competitive the TQs are, and have been for at least five summers now.
The wee quarter midgets had their first outing as an official class on the Nelson roster with two races before 6pm and three in the race programme. There is a definite gap between the class “veterans” and the young ones at 8 years old so while Jacob Cunniffe and Malakai Webb were setting the pace, there was a lot to like about the step up from siblings Lakyn and Kohen Thompson, from the Coast but registered with Nelson, and the local kids who got a little taste last season; Bailey Bensemann, Conley Webley and Locky Martin.
The other youth class, ministocks, had the biggest visitor turnout and they proceeded to slam the door on the locals with Callum Russ the best Nelson finisher in sixth overall. A couple of relegations, including one for back-to-back Trackman Trophy winner Ashton Osborne, altered the outcome a little but it would be hard to argue against Coaster Cruiz McCreath anyway. In a big field, second, first and fourth placings were enough to earn McCreath 56 points, five clear of Ben McSweeney with Canterbury clubmate Cameron Sidaway in third. Osborne and former Nelson club member Riley Eathorne rounded out the top 5.
The full blown stockcars and superstocks had fewer numbers although the classes are apparently travelling in opposite directions. Stockcars feature the national champion in Smith and half a dozen other competitive cars with the prospect of two or three more to come but it’s looking like a lean season. Meanwhile, the superstocks added three drivers having their first Nelson meeting in the class in Josh Nell, James Nicholson and Blenheim Tank commander Chris Baxter. The stockcars were reduced a little further when Michael Paynter seemed to have trouble finding forward momentum in two heats won comfortably by Smith before Paynter got the third as Smith dropped out. Hamish Carter and Braden Russ tangled with Carter then backing across the track into the path of Dylan Clarke. With everyone else having at least one dud heat, John Everett came through for a well-earned Trackman Trophy ahead of Russ and Smith. The Everett car has been for sale — this win will either help it sell or convince him to stick around and win some more cups.
Alex Hill and Brett Nicholls continued to stand out among the superstocks although Nicholls had two troubled heats before bagging the third. Hill had no such issues, winning race one then chasing McKenzie and Nicholls in the other two for 22 points and the Trackman Trophy. McKenzie’s rocketship left with second overall and a 15.5467s lap record and Nicholson’s first night in a superstock after dabbling in TQs and midgets saw him finish third overall. Ian Clayworth had a great first heat but didn’t return while Trevor Lineham was out after tangling with Nicholls in heat two. Nell started his superstock career with a second placing but a heat three DNF narrowly cost him a podium placing.
The production saloon class was mostly a Nelson turnout although Eddie Frans managed to bring two cars. Cam Lankshear and team-mate Jordan Gillespie were prominent, so were Frans and Pam Nixon but Lankshear’s VW closed the door under pressure from Frans when it mattered for a vital win. He secured the trophy with 24 points with Nixon and Kaylim McNabb tied on 21. Abby Carter’s debut went better than her older brother, Hamish, managed in the stockcars.
Whoever wrote off streetstocks four or five seasons back (maybe that was me) can eat his words now. Opening night numbers were excellent with Benji Smaill coming from Beachlands in Dunedin to join 19 Nelson registered cars. Of course, about half that number made heat three, mostly through general streetstock wear and tear although there appeared to be a nasty injury for Thomas Macleod in heat one. Among the newcomers were KC Rose’s Nissan Skyline and a four-cylinder Silvia for Jamere Turner in a departure from the usual brands. Neville Soper cleaned up in heat one, Smaill showed his class in a 16-car field in heat two while new man Ryan Morrison scored a handy win when just 10 cars fronted for the last heat. Overall, the Trackman Trophy saw a win for Matt Watson who ran second, fourth and fourth for 53 points, two ahead of Smaill with Morrison in third. Ricky Rose made a return and mixed it up with the likes of Herb Pickering and the very rapid 4N car of Blenheim refugee Anthony Gane while Ryan Musgrove could probably win more — but chooses to hoon instead, to the delight of the appreciative audience.
The race card was completed by the sidecars, racing in two groups. An early mishap with the start tapes saw Knuckle Hill get a short back and sides when he launched the bike but the tape stayed stuck while long-distance traveller Aiden Thwaites from Invercargill looked like a threat to the best of the Nelson bikes. When a final four was found, Thwaites lined up with Paul Anderson on 28C/N with fill-in swinger Scott Bowler, alongside two Nelson combinations, Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley and Nippy Ching with Shaun Solly on the chair. Thwaites got the best start out of the gate, Drake went high and wide for the lead but Ching nosed the 8N past after lap two. Drake came back and there was contact a couple of times but Ching and Solly held their nerve for a big win in the final.
Somewhere in the schedule, before that race and the superstock final, the club let off a few thousand dollars worth of crackers in the annual Coca-Cola display. It remains the best show of its kind in town, as simple as that.
The next race night for the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway is set for November 7 when the features are the CanDo Cup for super saloons and the 30-lap street car race, from 6pm, presented by Trinder Engineers.