By Pete McNae

For the past four years, Capitol Hill in Washington DC has been the source of chaos and confusion, misdirection and mayhem. Then, along came the Capelli Hair Salon New Zealand Streetstock Grand Prix and said: “Pfffft, hold my beer …”

Last night’s feature at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway was always going to be hectic with a field of near-on 50 streetstocks including a handful of national and island champions and visitors from as far afield as Gisborne and Dunedin. What we got were lap scoring ructions, lost wheels, cars dog-knotted together by their bumpers, an exclusion, a runoff that happened and another that should have and a podium placing decided by the flip of a coin after safety crews had left the facility. Even the past President of the US of A would have struggled to fit all that drama into four and a half hours.

The format for the championship saw two groups run two heats on a reverse grid with the top 26 cars advancing to three 12-lap heats. Early movers and shakers included Canterbury’s Paul Leslie, who won both his heats and then pulled out another superb drive for a win in the first finals race, Nelson class stalwart Ryan Musgrove with a heat win and a former New Zealand champion, Don Garthley, who had won his title all the way back in the 2002-03 season. Unlucky? Nelson’s Shannon Marr who appeared to have done enough to qualify comfortably but was awarded last place in a heat after having no readings from his lapscoring transmitter, 2008-09 1NZ Simon Bland whose car threw a shoe and pitched him into the non-qualifying group and Gisborne’s Brenden Gooch (another ex-1NZ 2017-18) who got bumpers locked with Greymouth’s Brad Kahui right off the start of qualifying heat one and ground over seven slow laps tied together in unholy matrimony. Blenheim’s Ricky Gavegan was another early casualty, his 31E hit so hard on the back straight the oil filter flew off his car.

The second round of qualifying heats was notable for a tidy blocking job on current 1NZ Darrell (Hoon) Richards by Canterbury’s Kahu Epiha-Netana and a spin that saw Dunedin Ford driver Benji Smaill limp home in 11th, although comfortably through in his group while Cody McCarrison and KC Rose had an unfortunate Nelson class meeting of their own at high speed.

When Leslie continued his streak in the first finals heat, he looked like the man to beat but also the man to beat up.  That happened pretty promptly in heat two as he was attacked from all sides, a DNF ruining his GP prospects, Smaill came from well back on the grid to take the win which, combined with his fifth in the first heat, saw him lead into the last heat. 3NZ Levi van Lieshout, Gisborne’s Sean Gooch and Dunedin’s Lachlan Maclean joined Leslie as non-finishers while Brad Evans, Peter Arnesen and Rose hadn’t even made it out after frantic first heats.

Smaill’s nearest chaser for the deciding heat was Nelson’s Steven Soper, three points behind with Musgrove and Richards right there but Soper and Musgrove were spun up early in heat three. The big mover was Canterbury’s Mike Jones who had a brutal first heat but backed that up with a fifth then a win to charge up the ladder. Smaill, meanwhile, sat in behind Jones and Leslie, third place all he needed to become the Capelli Hair Salon NZGP champion. Steve Soper and McCarrison went into block mode for Nelson clubmates Musgrove and Neville Soper as Richards was spun late in the race.

Patrons, who had dodged a few raindrops to stay to the end were informed that Smaill, on 72 points was the new champion but there was a runoff for second between 1NZ Richards and Canterbury’s Jones, who had come on strongly. In the runoff, it was all over in turn 2 when Jones cleanly spun the national champ and raced away to finish his four laps. Sorted. Or so we thought. A post-race technical infraction (a minor bumper shape issue) saw Nelson’s Matt Watson excluded from the points in the third heat. Once all the calculations were done and redone, Richards was promoted to second and an unlucky Jones dropped back into a runoff for third with Musgrove. By then, the ambulance and infield crew had left, meaning the drivers were unable to sort it out on the track. Nelson’s Musgrove offered the third place to Jones, who refused and said it should go to a coin toss and he won the placing on the flip.

Rounding out the top five behind Smaill, Richards and Jones were the local duo of Musgrove and Steven Soper with McCarrison 8th and Leslie still in the top 10 despite the heat two DNF. Cody Gooch in 12th was the best of three family members from Gisborne (all three qualified), Daniel Honey was Blenheim’s only finalist and ran 16th while Arnesen created plenty of havoc as the lone Greymouth qualifier despite finishing without a point in the finals. A non-qualifiers series was swept by Buddy Finch, who looked to have the car and the class to have made a mark in the championship if he had more luck earlier in the meeting.

It was a lot more cut and dried in the Nelson club open championships for the stockcar class. The last meeting, Wade Sweeting went three for three and he actually surpassed that last night with four wins in four races, sweeping the championship and a dash for cash. Only John Everett had the pace to hang with Sweeting, but a couple of spins undid him while the normally placid Zak Baker was in attack mode all evening and managed to roll Braden Russ in turn two. Russ’ rough night wasn’t over as Riley Keen launched a big shot that saw the driver of the 44N taken from the track for first aid attention. Crew member Dean Wratt had a spin in Michael Paynter’s 8N, which is for sale, and had a fine time, even managing a wall ride early on before taking a third placing later. Awa Johns was consistently the next best finisher behind Sweeting as Max Baker had his 81N humming around nicely.

Contact is largely frowned on in the classic/historic stockcar class but you can’t teach old dogs new tricks — and expect them to remember them. Foxton’s Charlie Harper made his second appearance in Nelson this season and had the best of the results but he had a great time tussling with Paul Dowell in the Herbie VW, who also rubbed rails with Pete Anglesey in 66N. Dowell looks the big improver with Rob Anglesey also stepping up his pace this season.

Those contact expectations also extend to the youth ministocks where anything deemed excessive can result in relegation. That happened just twice this meeting with Riley Eathorne and Reuben Brown being penalised placings. Eathorne still had a great meeting with three wins, the other falling to his closest competitor, Callum Russ. Race four was marred by a meaty crash when Jacob Skurr got sideways off turn two and was collected by three following cars. Russ got out of it, Toby Walker, Harlen Brunt and Skurr were not as fortunate.

The other class on the card was the sidecars and again, a disappointingly poor turnout, particularly as the Mark Thorn Memorial was at stake. All three heats plus the final provided close and competitive racing but three bikes for a tribute trophy meeting wasn’t flash. For the record, Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley hold the trophy again although they had to battle hard against Brent Steer and Wade Thorn. The 14N bike of Rob and Harly Martin were third in each race but have closed the gap greatly and weren’t outclassed at all.

Nelson’s next meeting features another championship, but for a class that couldn’t be further from the streetstocks when the club hosts the Dirtworks Nelson South Island Sprintcar title on February 13.


Photos: Becca Connor Maling, BM Photography