By Pete McNae


Which came first, the chicken or the (Easter) egg? Did Nathan (Nippy) Ching and Shaun Solly crack the start tapes in heat one of the Thelin Construction New Zealand Sidecar Grand Prix, earning a disqualification? Or did the tapes do as they have often done and fail, meaning three bikes got tangled, although only one team was disqualified? Officials said the former and sent 8N to the infield — Ching’s animated chat outside the referee’s box after he and Solly watched from the middle suggests that he had a different picture of how things played out.

All it meant is that two of the title favourites had a lot more work to do to qualify for one of the more unusual New Zealand title meetings of this speedway summer, at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, or anywhere. Only seven bikes fronted for well-documented reasons including Covid, ferry travel spots and costs and injuries; four N combinations, two Cs and one V of the former national champion John (Handbag) Hannan and swinger Rob Miller on a unique BMW sidecar. The lack of entries might have undercut the spectacle but Speedway New Zealand records don’t come with an asterisk or an explanation —  Ching and Solly are the 2020-21 GP champions and worked hard for their title.

The field was initially split into two groups for qualifying heats. Ching and Solly scored nothing in heat one while the N-registered combo of Paul Anderson and Brendan Mumberson got a DNF in race two when they drifted into a wet spot on the track, spun and rolled, without significant injury. The fact that there was just one wet area on the track was a testament to the significant work put in by Sam Satherley and Brendan Higgins on Friday and race day to prepare a top racing surface after a week of rain. With meetings cancelled around the country — including the unfortunate scrapping of the two-nighter in Blenheim — Nelson’s volunteers and some timely sunshine saved the day.

Going into the second round of group heats, Handbag and Miller looked strong, as did Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley, but Ching and Solly were on a mission. A heat win put them in a runoff for the top four to contest the title and they also won that to advance. Up against Drake-Satherley, Hannan-Miller and Ben Morris-Geoff Roper in the top four, it was two from two more for the 8N Ching-Solly team and then they used quick reactions out of the gate to dominate the feature for the overall GP win. Second, in probably their best ride of the night, were Nelson’s Drake and Satherley, with Morris-Roper completing the podium. Handbag and Miller were visibly disappointed to miss out some 25 years after Hannan won his first New Zealand championship and 16 years after taking a GP win in Nelson.

The rest of the Easter Saturday programme was taken up by the Nelson Tow and Salvage Easter Extravaganza, featuring the Interprovincial Saloon Series in memory of Nelson competitor Basil Jones. The three-track, three-round series was contested by teams of four with Dunedin’s Beachlands Speedway holding a handy lead over Woodford Glen (Christchurch) with Nelson trailing before tonight’s meeting. Christchurch were at a disadvantage straight away when Malcolm Ngatai couldn’t front, leaving them with three cars against the four from the remaining teams. And when Nelson’s Ian Burson spun out of second place in heat one, Canterbury’s Mark (Fluffy) Grocott hit the wall and his C team-mate Rob Flood tangled with Dunedin’s Alister Lister and retired infield, Dunedin pretty much wrapped it up and chucked an Easter bow on it. Ricky Boulton had done a flawless job of holding off Burson before the Nelson driver’s spin and was impressive again in running second to Grocott in race two. Burson and Dave Manera picked up points for Nelson but the Dunedin team of Ricky and Josh Boulton, Lister and Luke Keegan built an uncatchable lead.

In race three for the class, Nelson’s Isaac Russ rode out a huge crash, clipping the wall coming off turn 2, with the car running up onto its side and then digging in for an end-over-end roll shedding parts and fluids as it flew. The crowd were relieved to see Russ get out and take a bow but the low budget team have a very bent race car to contemplate over the off-season. Burson took the last win of the night, although Grocott never gave him a moment’s peace as the Dunedin team were content to cruise home with the series win in the bank.

Easter championships were contested across four other classes while the youth ministocks held their club title. Visiting drivers contributed to a field of 16 starters with race wins for Callum Russ, Christchurch’s Cam Sidaway and Blake Hearne, who celebrated his 16th birthday this week. With an exclusion skewing the final points, the title was taken out by Hearne, to add icing to his cake, with Jack Burson second and Jacob Skurr third in a runoff with Luke Higgins. Sidaway, in fifth, was the best-placed of the visitors.

The out-of-towners nicked off with a few of the other championships, though, in the TQ midgets, the streetstocks and the big and boisterous stockcar field. Nelson’s own stockcar resources are stretched thin but with travellers from Palmerston North, Blenheim, Westport, Greymouth, Christchurch and Peter Young, the sole brave soul from Invercargill, there was a field of 23 for the first heat. Among that big grid was Nelson’s Morgan Dumelow, who had family reunion commitments but stayed here to race against all those visitors instead.

The stockcars were into it from heat one, Brad Rosewarne and Riley Keen squaring off, Troy Cleveland in the wall and out of the meeting early and Westport’s Martin brothers looking for other targets before picking on each other. Current South Island champion Braydon Lennon won race one but then had to park the car for the night, with Wade Sweeting, Roydon Winstanley and Dave Houston Jr chasing. Heat two saw Young fired up the well and over by Palmerston North’s Byron Rowlands as Nelson’s Dylan Clarke pounced on Houston, who repaid the visit a lap later. A win for Winstanley saw a tie for the top between Sweeting and himself with Blenheim’s Jack Rarity staying out of strife in third. Sweeting had a tough draw in the deciding heat but as Rosewarne and Keen swapped paint and Sean Martin evened a couple of scores, Sweeting swept through the field to take second, one place behind heat winner Gavin Marshall but, crucially, one ahead of Winstanley. Final calculations saw Sweeting on 65 with Winstanley close on 64 and Marshall having a good night for third. Dumelow’s choice paid off with 6th overall as the first Nelson car home.

With the streetstocks being called into the programme relatively late in the piece, a field of 10 wasn’t too bad. Past 1NZ Dave McSherry had too many guns for the Nelson field and was a comfortable winner of the Easter championship with first-season driver Harry Moffatt-Schwass in second and Josh Atkinson pretty pleased with his third placing. Stirrer of the night was Kyle (Hundy) Davies who waited to block in a couple of heats and managed to get a few more scars on his rather rippled Falcon panel van.

It wouldn’t be a Nelson race meeting without some upside-down action in the three-quarter midget class. In fact, being a holiday weekend, the fans got time and a half with one really big wreck and another on a slightly smaller scale. The truly unfortunate pilot was Greymouth-registered Nigel Pawsey, who clipped wheels with a competitor in turn one and went on a rough ride into the wall before rolling. Although he exited the car under his own power,  Pawsey left the track in an ambulance. In a later heat, Canterbury’s Mark Morris had to ride out a rollover in turn two after another mid-race contact.

As is usually the case in the TQs, two heats set the grid for the feature with Jayden Corkill, on his birthday, looking sharp in race one and Canterbury’s Kyle Glover taking a 1.5sec win in race two over Joe Keene. In the feature, Glover got away on the green and built a big lead with Corkill the closest of the chasers. A couple of yellow light stoppages gave the field the chance to close up but Glover wasn’t letting go and secured the Easter championship ahead of Corkill with Greymouth’s Rodney Thompson getting home ahead of Alicia Hill and Cambell McManaway for third.

That left one class, eight starters including three visitors, and finally, a Nelson win. The local superstocks were supported by Canterbury’s Malcolm Read and the Berry brothers, Mitchell and Jake, while Michael Paynter made an appearance in the Ben Taylor car that is being prepared for sale. A rare superstock roll saw Josh Nell hung on the wall in a three-car squeeze off turn four, Nell’s car tipping on its side when Read reversed out, but the star turn was still Nelson’s Brett Nicholl’s in the 48N Gordge-Toyota. While Alex Hill finally managed to crack Nicholls’ long win streak in the last race, Nicholls banked 23 points for the title, ahead of Hill on 21 and Mitchell Berry with 16.

The end of another disrupted season (alert levels and a couple of rainouts) is just around the corner with Nelson’s shiny new resource consent finally permitting a two-day meeting on April 17-18. Sprintcars get their moment in the wishy-washy autumn sun with the Dirtworks Nelson South Island Sprintcar Championship programmed for Saturday, April 17 and the Mike Rollo Harcourts Sunshine Classic, a cash meeting for the class with some flash trophies at stake too, on Sunday, April 18.

Photos: Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography