FRESH AIR AND RACE FUEL
By Pete McNae
We have heard it over and over in the past six months, these are unprecedented times. And, while the South Island has been largely insulated from the direct impacts of the Covid-19 coronavirus since the early weeks of infection spreading, speedway was not immune.
The last two meetings of the 2019-20 season at Nelson’s Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway were cancelled — including the scheduled re-run of the PTS Superstock Stampede — and, right through winter, there was doubt about the shape and form of the new season, which starts at 6pm this Saturday. We caught up with Nelson Speedway Association president Wayne Martin to fill in the gaps since March 2020.
Martin said the off-season had been a case of plan and hope. While the country was in lockdown and then bouncing between alert levels, the club had to plan for a speedway season this summer. A calendar was put together, track maintenance and improvements were done when gathering limits allowed and a new committee was installed. Then it was — and still is — a case of cross your fingers and wait.
“We had to prepare as if it was business as usual,” he said. “It could still turn to custard as this thing hasn’t gone away, it’s lingering around like a bad smell and another outbreak sees all plans out the window.”
Speedway can’t go on, even under a level 2 situation with gathering limits of 100. Once the volunteers are counted, there would be a handful of spots left for competitors and crew. But at level 1, as we are now, Nelson has held its two practices and last season’s long-delayed prizegiving and is ready for a start on Saturday.
“I used to say the only thing we couldn’t control was the weather,” Martin said. “Now it is two things, the weather and a pandemic. But here we are, we’re pretty lucky to have got away largely scot-free apart from two meetings at the end of the last season and there’s a feeling that everyone is keen to get started again.”
The biggest improvement at the Lansdowne Rd-Lower Queen St facility has happened on the track itself. The racing surface was well overdue for attention and there was a risk of exposed stones being hurled around by race cars in the last couple of seasons. “We were probably five years overdue to sort it,” Martin said.
The answer came in a new source of clay at a good price, then a massive effort from a small bunch of volunteers to excavate out the old surface and shift many cubic metres of Moutere over to Richmond. Martin thanks the likes of Donaldson Civil, Edridge Contracting, Nelson Civil Construction and a band of operators for doing great work at cut rates to lay a new track. It’s paid off too with unofficial lap records set in both practices. The clay looks to be of vastly better quality, more even and less stony.
Other changes to the facility include a general tidy-up with painting and a less cluttered entrance inside the spectator gate and new software that competitors can use to enter meetings and upload profile and sponsor information.
With two-day meetings still a goal but currently off the table (more on that later), the summer schedule features the third attempt at running the Superstock Stampede, a new promotion for modifieds that should see a strong field including national podium placegetters, a sprintcar feature to close the season and a couple of New Zealand Grand Prix level events, for sidecars and streetstocks. The sidecar meeting, in particular, could see a field of 40 bikes and earlier qualifying races needed.
There’s still the family-friendly fireworks night, a derby to follow a 30-lap street car race and the annual Racing for the Kids Child Cancer Foundation fundraiser. The full calendar is on the club’s Facebook page, Nelson Speedway Association Inc. and will be available on the website soon, with some tweaks still happening.
The ongoing issues involved in securing a resource consent hearing are …. ongoing. The club is looking to have a hearing before an independent commissioner, who will assess submissions for (many) and against (a few) and evidence presented. The old document was out of date and has been an issue for the association and some neighbours in recent seasons. A hearing date later this month seems likely with an outcome two to three weeks later.
“We have always felt like we have a good case,” Martin said. “It’s a hugely expensive process but one we didn’t have much choice about entering. The ruling has the potential to change a few things going forward but it’s another of those unknowns.
“Like Covid, you make a plan and then prepare to think on your feet if the plan gets up-ended.”
A new class joins the ranks with the quarter midgets in the roster and boasting six Nelson registered cars already. Drivers can get started at 8 where youth ministocks require competitors to be 12. They will race a couple of times before each 6pm start and then might get one or two races in the full programme, depending on timing and fit. “It just means kids can come to our sport instead of being turned away until they are older,” Martin said.
Streetstocks have had a strong bounce back in the last couple of years, that class and the TQ midgets are Nelson’s most well-supported with at least three new teenage drivers getting into TQs. Production saloons are solid, there are three new drivers in youth ministocks and steady numbers across the remaining classes. Superstocks have added a couple of cars, with the chance of the first car from Blenheim in a decade also racing here, but stockcars have taken a hit.
“We try to bolster the classes that need it,” Martin said. “The blue ribbon classes tend to be expensive cars and money has taken a hit through Covid but we will actively approach clubs and drivers where we can.”
Opening night is always for the Trackman Trophies across all classes. On stand down (not racing this week) are production saloons, sprintcars and midgets but everyone else will compete for trophies named in memory of the late Murray Teece. Racing starts at 6pm, although the quarter midgets will see track time before then. Gate prices have been held at previous levels. No alcohol is permitted and, as a smoke-free venue, smoking and vaping are prohibited in public seating areas. Food outlets and coffee carts will be operating. Please respect other patrons when placing your seats. Let’s go racing!
Aerial image: 41 Digital, visit their Facebook page at 41digitalofficial