THE POWER OF ONE

 

By Pete McNae

Allow me to introduce you to the Blenheim superstock class. Chris Baxter. That’s it, just the one, lone driver proud to run the Eastern States E on the flanks of his race car.

While it makes class meetings fairly straightforward, it does mean Baxter is having to find his way in a new class on his own, while putting in the kilometres to get competition. He’s been allowed to run off the back of the stockcar grid by his home club but, early in his first season in superstocks, Baxter has also travelled to Nelson’s Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, Woodford Glen and Palmerston North to try to get the seat time needed to iron the bugs out of his 88E Tank.

The car has a great history. Originally built as the fifth Tank out of twice-New Zealand superstock champion Dave Evans’ Foxton shed back in 1997, Baxter bought it from a Christchurch competitor around seven seasons ago. He liked the look of the car, which sits low to the track. It was a change of style from his previous V8-powered car which he had run out of Westport and Greymouth, where he and wife Sam were instrumental in building up the Grizzlies stockcar team. There was a nagging item on Baxter’s bucket list though — he wanted to race a superstock before he left it too late. Faced with three options; buying a current and proven car, building new or converting the Tank, he opted for the most challenging.

“It was the history, mostly,” he said. “For the cost involved, I could have picked up a running car and started winning races, or pieced together a new build, but the story of this car meant something to me. And there was that thing of doing it yourself  — pulling into the pits with a car that I had put so much of myself into.”

The conversion from stockcar to superstock isn’t as simple as whacking in a motor and slapping on a set of Hoosier tyres. The progress photos from Baxter’s lockdown months show the car was reduced to the basic coffin and steadily upgraded to superstock spec, front to back. Early ideas of configuring the car for the popular Classic and Historic grade were shelved when a Scott Miers (the Miers family are the main sponsors of the PTS Superstock Stampede in Nelson on Saturday) quad cam Ford V8 from one of his many Tanks became available.

Baxter had been researching how the car appeared on debut and realised that going the nostalgia path was problematic.

“We were going to go with a 221 Ford but parts and availability were a problem and Scott’s motor came up for sale, making bags of power, so that was the deciding factor.”

Final wiring and paint were done just in time to start the season and Baxter is learning on the job. Set up has been the snag — there is no shortage of oomph from the Ford but a couple of clutches have been sacrificed to the speedway gods while handling and drive through the rear end and suspension settings have taken time. Again, seat time has been the ingredient, although Baxter feels he is getting closer.

“I certainly couldn’t give it everything on our night in Nelson, because I was more concerned about making it round the corners with a car that wasn’t handling. We got rained out in Palmerston North and the club champs in Woodford Glen were on a fairly rutted track and we didn’t really get on top of it at all,” he said. “I feel like we are starting to make some headway, guys like Peter Rees have shared some advice that might stop us chewing up $1200 clutches and will allow us to focus on those four-link (suspension) changes that will stop the car dancing.”

Baxter is looking forward to the chance of meeting the original builder, Evans, who will be in Nelson on Saturday with his nippy (and revolutionary in its day) 6P Historic. “The General” is not a big talker but Baxter is pretty happy with the rebuild and hopes to be able to engage with Evans about some of the car’s finer points.

“I guess there’s not a lot that’s survived. With the conversion, there’s the motor for a start, rear end, suspension, brakes are a big part — it would have been much easier to buy off the shelf but the nostalgia aspect meant a lot to me and the chance to engineer the car ourselves.

“I like the fact that we have something that is 20-plus years old and we should have the ability, once it is sorted, to stay on the lead lap and run with $100,000 cars.”

Aside from the physical changes between stockcar and superstock, Baxter says there are differences in driving style that he is still absorbing.

“Basically with a stockcar, you have a lot less horsepower, brakes and grip. You can keep your foot down into most corners but with a superstock, if you carry that speed, it’s likely you will find the wall. I have to break some bad habits about throwing the car into corners because the grip and the responsiveness are a lot different.”

This weekend’s Stampede meeting reflects the Nelson Speedway Association’s commitment to the class, which has lost some of its strength in the past couple of seasons. Things are starting to trend back upwards and Baxter will do his bit by fielding a second car next season. The rain-out in Palmerston North wasn’t a total washout as he was able to buy another Gordge-Gill copy chassis that had been teams raced in recent seasons. Grahame Morrison at Blenheim’s Midwest Motors will build a Toyota V8 for it and the car will be run by Baxter and crew chief Foz Peak or Chris McKendrick in Nelson next year.

“We get lots of lookers at our home track but haven’t had anyone saying they want to join in just yet so we will get the two cars going and then hope the Nelson guys will come over to Eastern States some time to get that interest up,” Baxter said.

As it stands, it has been a decade, maybe more, since Matt Boulton had a superstock registered out of Blenheim so it has been a lonely vigil.

“I’m just finding my way this year,” Baxter said, “learning more and not pushing the budget or the expectations. I see Nelson going through one of those cycles but their superstock history means it will always be an important class in that club. We will do our bit from this side of the hill to keep that history going.”

And you might have gleaned, history counts for Baxter. “I could have bought new and gone well straight off the bat, but there is some satisfaction in taking the path we did. I just need to get its handling to behave and we might be on to something.”

Chris Baxter thanks wife Sam, Foz Peak, Chris McKendrick, Hayden Edwards and Murray Tapp and his sponsors; Pirtek Marlborough, CM Mechanical, SLT Company, Vinecraft and Total Lubricants.

  • Saturday’s PTS Logistics Superstock Stampede is presented by the Miers family from Manawatu and a host of supporting sponsors. The Nelson club has held ticket prices at the same level as a regular meeting for Saturday night’s show.
  • Supporting classes are super saloons, production saloons, sidecars, youth ministocks and Historic Stockcars featuring 2 x 1nz and champion teams racer Dave Evans and 1993-94 South Island champion Brian Winstanley. In a change to the programme, the first race will now be at the usual time of 6pm, due to the TQs coming out of the schedule. 
  • For those unable to attend the meeting, Jason Gutteridge and the team from The Pits Media have a full live stream available. The link to purchase the $30 stream is  https://iframe.dacast.com/live/36f563c6-b09c-4a58-bb5e-a89aacaee473/6c60800c-0008-d997-058a-b94dca814658

 

Images: Thanks to Nelson Speedway Association official photographer Rebecca Connor-Maling, BM Photography.