THIRD TIME’S THE CHARM

 

By Pete McNae

 

Guess we can call this daylight Robb-ery. The Nelson Speedway Association’s third attempt at running the first PTS Logistics Superstock Stampede was such a slickly run meeting that patrons were filing towards the exit gates, doing the speedway dust shuffle, before it was even fully dark.

Why so speedy? Again, the Nelson club proved it can run a tight meeting, a fact shared with the world via a live stream presented by The Pits Media. With a decision pending on the club’s resource consent hearing due before Christmas, officials, volunteers, competitors and spectators can again dream of the day when the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway can host national championship events over two nights. Add in a smaller than anticipated entry for the main promotion — the PTS Superstock Stampede and no major accidents to clear up (apart from a Minties moment for the infield tractor in turn 2) and it was all done and dusted as the track lights were just kicking up to maximum lux.

The Stampede was originally meant to be run for the first time late last year but was rained out. A second race date was erased by the first Covid lockdown with tonight’s meeting the third attempt to promote a superstock feature, supported by the PTS Transport and Logistics business owned by the Miers family of Manawatū.

The entry list was thinner than hoped but, as sponsor spokesman Scott Miers said, this was the first event and his business will be back to help build it into a regular feature on the Nelson and national calendar. If quantity was compromised, there was still quality with three past national champions, teams racing champions and the eventual winner, Canterbury’s Harley Robb, who had just bagged the South Island title in a strong field on his home track at Woodford Glen. There’s no escaping Robb’s current rich run of form but tonight’s title wasn’t dished up to him. In the feature, Robb had to get by the early leader, former 1NZ William Humphries, the South Island champ from last season, Alex Hill, and then hold off a precocious 16-year-old superstock talent in Feilding’s Cody Hodge, still in just his first few meetings in the class.

Only 12 cars made it to the 15-lapper from an initial field of 18. Peter Field’s Tank copped front end damage in lap one of heat one and Mike Hyslop, also from Canterbury, was another to suffer early issues. Cody Hodge also failed to finish the first race, won by Humphries over Jack Miers, making his final place on the podium more worthy.

Race two spelled the end for Jayden Ward and local rookie Josh Nell, Ward’s car not moving after a restart with Nell left with nowhere to go but squarely into the rear of the 971C car. Paul Perkins made his first appearance of the season in a repowered Ford 6 22N but was also out after heat two, won by Hill, with Robb joining the catalogue of lap record holders this season. Just nine cars fronted for the top 10 shootout, based on points from the heats, Humphries again taking the win with Hill regaining the lap record for Nelson.

That left just the feature in the twilight, Humphries getting the edge on Hill before being spun back into the pack with Robb and Hill tussling for the lead. Jared Wade decided to play spoiler and took a crack at Hill, then Miers and Humphries, while Hodge delivered a stunning drive from the rear of the grid. Robb wasn’t mucking around though, pocketing the lap record again in winning by three seconds from Hodge with Hill third. Ten cars were registered as finishers, Cody’s twin Seth Hodge having a rough run and dropping out after 11 laps as past 1NZ Malcolm Ngatai barely got started before he was parked up in turn four.

The Stampede was typical of modern-day championship superstock racing, super-quick and clean for the most part… although another two laps might have seen some Miers-Wade mayhem.

Five other classes shared the live stream on the interwebs with Historic Stockcars getting a rare run here. Three North Island cars made the trip, taking two of the three wins, one apiece to the separate 6P cars of Dave Evans and Charlie Harper. Race three was perhaps the best of the bunch, Nelson’s Brian Winstanley barely getting home over Harper. The 10 cars on the grid turned on a popular show, none more so than Brent Goulding in the 1P Tank. With plenty of power and less than sophisticated handling, Goulding drove further than anybody else in the class as the Tank waltzed around the Nelson oval. The Historics were an inspired addition to the programme and the presence of Evans, Harper and an unlucky Dave Bartholomew was appreciated.

The super saloons are a far more polished piece of kit and also had a field of 10 for their club championships. The big tyre, big horsepower saloons churned up the dust, in fact in the third heat, you only knew the cars were out in the middle because you could hear them because there was no seeing through the clay storm. It was also the slowest of the three races for the class as the grip went away and drivers chose a “to finish first, first, you must finish” approach. Finishing first was pre-meeting favourite Ian Burson, who did the grunt work in heat one, winning going away from Trevor Elliot and half a second a lap quicker than any other driver. Mark Osborne turned a good grid draw into a heat two win with Hayden McKay the winner of heat three, Burson just in behind both times. Overall, Burson tallied 28 points for the club crown with Osborne and McKay making up the podium. Shane Carey had a trouble-free run for fourth overall, ahead of some heavy hitters.

Travelling teams made up the majority of the sidecar field although the only unbeaten unit ended up second overall. How come? Because it was a best pairs promotion and consistency across the combinations was the key. Take nothing away from the 97P bike of Mike Zachan and swinger Ben Franklin though, they were flawless with three dominating wins on a track that wasn’t easy for the bikes. Overall, however, it was a victory for two Invercargill teams; Jason Harpur/James Dawson and Paul Humphrey/Craig Chatfield. The latter had a rough first race, the bike looking to have had a minor fire through a backfiring carb but that was soon repaired and they chipped in 17 points to go with 24 from Harpur and Dawson to win by a clear 10 points. However you look at it, 1000km each way is a long haul for three four-lap races but a trophy makes it worthwhile.

Best pairs were also the order of the day for the youth ministocks who fronted with 18 cars. A couple of relegations for contact might have changed the overall mix, but the single most significant individual contribution, 54 points for Ashton Osborne (unbeaten through three races and the first youth ministock driver to turn a 16sec lap in Nelson), also saw him in the winning team when a very solid 37 points from Luke Higgins saw the pair tally 91 points in total. Second, with 72, was the Canterbury/Blenheim pairing of Ben McSweeney and Aaron Marshall with third going to the Blenheim-Manawatū duo of Sam Croft and Daniel Adie. McSweeney was the closest to Osborne on individual points while Harlen Brunt had a hectic night, in the middle of the action in every heat.

Wrapping the meeting were the production saloons, who opened up with the Nelson leg of the Mike Inwood Trophy, pitting five Nelson cars against five from Eastern States in Blenheim. Nelson took the win through Kaylim McNabb but a relegation for the second-placed driver saw Blenheim’s Dave and Brett Allen in the minor placings.  Nelson lead by three points after the race. More relegations followed in the open races with wins credited to Jordan Gillespie and Brett Allen with Eddie Frans staying on the right side of the referees in the feature.

Nelson has one more meeting in December with the Jacks Tyres demolition derby sure to draw a ham-heavy, sherry-soaked crowd from 6pm on Boxing Day, Saturday, December 26.

 

Race images, Rebecca Connor Maling and Jason Green, BM Photography