By Pete McNae

Pull up a (side)chair while we look into what has happened to one of the major promotions for the 2020-21 season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, the Thelin Construction New Zealand Sidecar Grand Prix.

The event is going ahead this Saturday from 5pm but the Nelson club actually sought approval to have it held over until next summer. The original early March meeting date was compromised by the level 2 Covid-19 restrictions. Without a crowd being possible, the meeting was postponed. Since that postponement, the national champs took a big bite out of the entry list with a number of teams suffering injuries to riders and swingers and sometimes both.

Add in complications with ferry travel (few vacant spots, high prices) due to the new date falling on Easter Saturday and the Nelson Speedway Association and many competitors felt the best option was to hold over the Grand Prix this season and race it early in the 2021-22 season. Not so fast, said Speedway NZ. Pointing out that Nelson still had three race dates (April 3, April 17 and April 18) available, they requested the meeting be completed this campaign.

Nelson Speedway Association president Wayne Martin said the club’s hands were effectively tied. There was no way Nelson was going to hand back the title so another club could host it, given the local track’s ambition to get back into championship rotations now it has a fresh resource consent. And racing on April 17-18 when sprintcars have two big promotions planned was also not a runner. That leaves Saturday, despite the issues with injuries and travel, plus a clash with another big bike meeting a bit further south.

“It’s not how we wanted this to work out at all,” Martin said, “but we will hold the Grand Prix on Saturday from 5pm and meet our commitment to host it.

“It wouldn’t have been a good look to hand back a title meeting when we want to start putting our hand up to host those big events so there was only one option — to run the GP and make it as good as we can for any teams who turn up.”

A small, mostly local field will front up with Martin saying that while it was a setback for bike fans, the club had worked hard to add other attractions.

Streetstocks have been called into the programme after being one of the success stories of the summer, there are good visiting numbers in youth ministocks and TQ midgets and the stockcars are getting close to a full field, with drivers travelling from Palmerston North, Invercargill, Blenheim, Westport, Greymouth and Christchurch to rub rails with the handful of locals. Canterbury competitors, who wrapped up their season at Woodford Glen last weekend, are also coming to pump up Nelson’s superstock numbers.

And super saloon followers are in for a bonus with Nelson finally hosting their round of the interprovincial teams challenge. It’s a three-track series that has already seen rounds in Dunedin and Christchurch. Saturday’s Nelson leg will see the class pay tribute to longtime Nelson super saloon competitor and former champion Basil Jones, who died recently after a period of ill health.

The interprovincial teams trophy was first contested in 1987 (won by Nelson) and last awarded in 2008, when Nelson were again the champions, before the challenge was overtaken by the Super Cup, taking in more tracks and bigger fields. The trophy was tucked away in the back of the Nelson clubrooms, where Nelson class rep Karen Carey found it, polished it up and the challenge was revived this season, with four-car teams representing Nelson, Beachlands (Dunedin) and Woodford Glen (Christchurch).

“Because of schedule issues, we couldn’t run a round of the Super Cup here and Dunedin missed out too so we were looking for a way to put on a decent meeting locally,” Carey said. “We dusted off the old cup and we have had a lot of fun in the two meetings so far.

“It’s been pretty relaxed racing — the guys all carry their team flags and pit together as a team and help each other out, but we aren’t getting too serious about it.”

Nelson are third after the rounds in Dunedin and Christchurch with the local lineup of Shane Carey, Dave Manera, Isaac Russ and Ian Burson looking to bridge the gap this weekend. There are three heats with the host team getting pole position for heat one, outside pole in heat two and off grid three in the third 12-lap heat. It’s 12 points for a win, one for 12th and teams can arrange their cars as they fancy — fastest usually gets the prime grid position.

Campbell McManaway has run with Nelson previously but has a commitment this weekend with the stag roar, so Burson makes a handy replacement for his first appearance in the challenge this season.

“It’s been really good for us as a club,” Karen Carey said. “When we asked (first-season super saloon racer) Isaac (Russ) to run in the team, he came away saying it was the best thing he’d done — that he really enjoyed being included and part of the scene. We don’t have a lot of cars but we have stuck together and it has worked pretty well.”

Otago, behind a couple of Boultons, have been the pacesetters with Canterbury, led by Richie Taylor, second in both previous rounds. Extra cars were added at the Glen with Nelson picking up Malcolm Ngatai and Luke Keegan. This weekend, Ngatai is set to run for Canterbury while Keegan, driving a Boulton team car, picks up Terry Soper’s spot in the Dunedin squad.

“We’ve tried to pick from our clubs as much as possible but if you have three cars available, then no one gets too stressed about a driver filling that fourth spot to keep the numbers consistent.”

Carey is also glad the Nelson club will get a chance to pay tribute to Jones, who raced from the late 1980s until just over a decade ago. His best-known car was the “Scud” 8N Corvette, named after the missile used widely in the Gulf War.  Jones’ car was never the quickest, nor the prettiest — but it was one of the hardest to pass and the Scud occasionally became a weapon of mass destruction for those trying to push through.

“Basil was a character — he liked to call himself an honest car dealer and he would call Shane’s dad and talk his ear off about speedway and super saloons,” Karen Carey said. “When Mick (Carey) died, Basil phoned Shane on a Sunday for that yak, we miss him and this weekend we want to honour what Basil did with the Nelson club.”

  • This weekend’s meeting differs from the original club calendar. It is now on Saturday, from 5pm. Classes competing include the Thelin Construction New Zealand Grand Prix for sidecars, super saloons (interprovincial challenge), plus superstocks, stockcars, youth ministocks, TQ midgets and streetstocks. All classes have attracted visiting competitors. Easter Bunny will also be roaming round the venue with a basket of chocolatey treats.

Sidecar and super saloon photos: Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography

Basil Jones 8N photo supplied