FAST TRACK TO SUCCESS
By Pete McNae
Say M and M to a Nelson speedway fan and they might think crunchy sweeties or pasty rappers — or the fans who turned up at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway tonight could opt for ministocks and midgets.
The two classes from opposite ends of the speedway spectrum were the major drawcards for the first meeting of 2021 at the Nelson club track, a meeting that lacked a big crowd-pulling promotion, which was a shame with a portion of the gate take going to the local branch of the Child Cancer Foundation — a worthy cause if ever there was one. The Racing for the Kids meeting is one way the Nelson club reaches out to its local community and repays some of the support it gets through the season but a small turnout on the terraces might force a rethink for next season. With the demolition derby that couldn’t be held when the Boxing Day meeting was rained out unable to be squeezed in, and superstocks, super saloons, sprintcars and streetstocks all in the middle of their national title window, the club had to get creative.
Midgets don’t come to Nelson often but 10 turned up for round two of their Southern Series. How good? Soooo good. While there was a little bit of position juggling done by the referees, who drew their line in the clay pretty early in 2021, the heat races, pole shuffle and feature all provided great entertainment without tearing up any expensive gear. A group of three; Jeremy Webb, Dave Kerr and Glen Durie, were where the podium was going to be decided but there was close, clean and competitive racing from the entire class. A relegation in the pole shuffle saw Webb, the three-time and defending national TQ champion who got married last month before heading to Western Springs to race a midget car, on the front row with Kerr — a longtime Nelson favourite with eight South Island titles (six in a row) to his name and Durie off row two. Webb got out of the gate first and was never headed but Kerr kept charging and was just four-tenths of a second behind at the line with Durie third, Jay Chadwick fourth and Mitchell Hill rounding out the first five.
The Youth Ministock Mania, presented by Tasman Heavy Diesel, the meeting sponsor, drew a field of 18 starters, the local drivers supplemented by two from Greymouth, three from Blenheim and one apiece travelling from Wellington, Christchurch and Cromwell. As always, the promotion was split into Experienced and Novice divisions with Deegan Broker taking out the Novice honours from Leilah Jefcoate. Things were all on in the senior ranks with three relegations and three DNFs in heat one, Nelson’s Luke Higgins showing great composure for the first win of his ministock career, ahead of Christchurch entrant Cameron Sidaway. The refs kept the yellow cards in the pocket in race two, won by Sidaway, with Jack Burson credited with the race three win after another nip and tuck tussle with Riley Eathorne. Add all of that up and Sidaway became the Ministock Mania champion with 64 points, Blake Hearne was second on 57 and a coin toss went Higgins’ way over Jacob Skurr for third. Eathorne completed the top five.
Rules are rules but they robbed the stockcar triples of a bit of extra icing. Another healthy visitor turnout included Westport brothers Sean and Daniel Martin, who have registered with Greymouth this season. A half-dozen years ago, the Martins were part of a no-holds-barred bunch who made Westport’s Sunset Slayers a tough stockcar team to beat, especially on their half-wall, half-sand dunes oval at home. They are back teams racing for the Grizzlies further down the Coast this summer and Sean Martin came out on a mission in heat one. I had him noted down for separate assaults on at least five other cars as he got stuck in with the bumpers. It all turned to custard in heat two though — buoyed by his opening efforts, Martin and Blenheim’s Chris McKendrick got tied up and kept going after a red light stoppage for Tayler Forbes in turn 2. Both were sent infield and copped a long stand-down and a fine, just as the rule book requires. Disappointing for the crowd though — after they were gone, Michael Paynter’s walling of Daniel Martin was the only other notable contact. Top triple was the combination of Wade Sweeting, who did the heavy lifting with three wins in three heats, Dylan Clarke and McKendrick.
There were four other classes jammed into the programme, along with the kids’ bike race, which also lacked some of the fizz and fun of previous years (unless you were the parents of the little fella at the back who did his one lap and lined up to go again). The quarter midgets got the most grid starts, although they do fewer laps than any other car class. Again, the Canterbury drivers monopolised the victories with Jacob Cunniffe and Ethan Smith prominent but Nelson’s Bailey Bensemann is catching up fast and was an impressive third overall. Special mention to Meneka Rawson and Braith Pelling who had their own duels and managed to make clean passes on each other.
The three-quarter midgets saw the emergence of three drivers from the youth classes. Last season Canterbury’s Dyllan Forsey was here in a quarter midget, tonight he led race two for a long time before Dylan Bensemann found a way past. Jonti Austin and Cambell McManaway are in their first seasons out of youth ministocks and Austin was sitting tidily in second in the feature before spinning his chances away while McManaway notched up two thirds and was right on the pace of the more experienced drivers. Alicia Hill took heat one and picked her way through the pack to take out the feature.
Sidecars have had a patchy season, disappointing with the New Zealand Grand Prix just over the horizon in Nelson. Fields have been down in numbers and consistency, with the top combinations not always at the track. Tonight, for the club champs, six teams fronted although two were out after round one. Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley had missed round one earlier in the season so started the night with zero points. Although three wins and a second earned them 19 for the meeting, they remain well in arrears of Brent Steer and Wade Thorn, who came in with 14 and added another 17 tonight. Steer and Thorn even pulled off a heat three win in a very tight race that had the crowd revved up. Sitting third was the dad and lad team of Rob and Harly Martin.
The production saloons also ran their club champs. The class started the meeting with a salute to fellow racer Pam Nixon who is fighting to restore her health. A couple of slow formation laps were a fitting tribute to a popular club member and competitor who has the club’s support and best wishes. Once the action got underway, there were heat wins for Eddie Frans and Kaylim McNabb before the class gridded up for the feature. Off the start, there was a nudge, then a spin and heavy contact that took out the cars of Nicole Carey, Zoe Connolly and McNabb with the first two decidedly second-hand. Jordan Gillespie held off Frans for the feature win but prominent placings across the evening saw Cam Lankshear take the club crown on 25 points, with Frans second with 23 and Gillespie one point back in third.
It wouldn’t be a Nelson club night these days without unofficial lap records … Frans was clocked at 16.1346s in heat one while Sweeting was able to drop the stockcar mark into the twilight zone getting around in 15.9415s. That was superstock territory last season, which shows how much difference the new track surface has made this summer.
Speed won’t be the deciding factor at Nelson’s next meeting though, when close to 40 streetstocks, hopefully including 1NZ Darrell (Hoon) Richards, trundle into town for the Capelli Hair Salon New Zealand Streetstock Grand Prix on January 23.
Photos: Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography
forgot the results for Production Club Champs. 1st 11n Cam Lankshear 25 points, 2nd 51N Eddy Frans 23 points and 3rd 77N Jordan Gillespie 22 Points