HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CLETUS

 

By Pete McNae

 

Sam O’Callaghan will be feeling pretty happy about his job security tonight. The Central Otago-based sprintcar driver has been Nelson car owner Kevin (Cletus) Freeman’s helmsman of choice in the past couple of seasons, the young man never afraid to take a risk to earn a reward — a philosophy heartily endorsed by Freeman.

So when O’Callaghan blitzed the 12-car feature field to win the Nelson round of the Hydraulink War of the Wings at Nelson’s Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway tonight — and won it on the boss’ 55th birthday — it is a safe bet that Cletus cracked a jar of moonshine to celebrate at some point late in the evening. The sprintcars had congregated in the top of the south for two rounds but Blenheim was unlucky to have its night cut short by rain on Friday after just the time trials and one heat race. That meant Nelson had 14 mobile cars for its meeting, presented by the Brightwater Fathers’ Group.

And the time trials suggested a three-car contest could be building between O’Callaghan, Connor Rangi and Jamie Duff, two more young drivers who have been near the head of this series in recent seasons. All three broke into the 11sec bracket on their hot laps with O’Callaghan third, behind Quick Time winner Rangi with Duff second. Blenheim’s Paddy North also had a good run but Steve Duff Jnr, who had dominated the abbreviated Eastern States meeting, was well back in ninth for the first heat.

And it was that heat that saw the 14 cars become the 12 which would go on to complete the meeting. First out was Jacob Brownlees, who ran out of brakes and climbed the turn three wall, then, after battling hard with Rangi all race, Jamie Duff headed infield on lap 8 of 12 when his car lost a cylinder and Duff wisely parked it before doing catastrophic damage. Rangi scored a 3s win over O’Callaghan with North third and Alicia Hill making up two places for fourth. Rangi also scorched out an 11.608s lap, the best of the meeting.

Race two was a Baughan family benefit, with a good grid draw the key as father Ray beat son Caleb on a track that was dusting up and starting to lose some of its early drive. Shaun Ashton was third, Hill fourth again with O’Callaghan and Rangi in close company.  Duff Jnr brought it all together in the third and final heat, scoring a win over Nelson’s Brett Sullivan as North again looked a threat in third.

The 25-lapper that saw the points and prizes handed out lined up with Rangi and O’Callaghan on row one. Sullivan and North made up the second row and Ray Baughan and Hill went from the third row. As the green lights flashed, O’Callaghan drove out of their lives. He jumped Rangi and had 20m on the chasers in short order as Sullivan also made his move, getting into second on lap 2. Then things came a little unglued for Nelson’s Sullivan, who has been racing in Australia in the past three years. He went wide off turn four, brushed the wall under the tower, then had a tangle with Baughan that saw the Canterbury car tipped up as Sullivan also retired with a flat tyre after the contact. After the yellow, O’Callaghan simply cleared out again while Hill made her move to second and looked to stay there, ahead of Rangi.

O’Callaghan had 100m on the field when Matt Honeywell’s car lost power and drifted to a halt, bringing on another yellow but, even with the extra chances to close the gap, it was the 75N car in control for all 25 laps. Hill had a great run for second on her home track, really chucking her 410 cubic inch car into the turns like never before and Rangi made it a Nelson 1-2-3 as he kept a charging Caleb Baughan on his tail tank.

O’Callaghan’s best lap in the final was 0.3s slicker than the next quickest driver, Sullivan, making the round winner’s night complete.

It was a big night for the open-wheel classes, despite the withdrawal of the midgets who simply can’t seem to entice Canterbury cars north to race here, even on a semi-regular basis. There were Canterbury cars present in the quarter midget ranks though and, again, the more established drivers from Ruapuna were too polished with Jacob Cunniffe, Malakai Webb, Jack Brownlees and Ethan Smith owning the podium. Who will be the first of the Nelson-registered drivers to bridge the gap? Maybe Kohen Thompson, maybe Bailey Bensemann.

With Hill focusing most of her energies on the sprintcar, she only had one brief outing in her three-quarter midget and that didn’t end well. Instead, the meeting became a three-car tussle between Nelson’s Jayden Corkill and Dylan Bensemann and Canterbury visitor Liam McCoubrey. After a heat win each, Corkill and McCoubrey went at it in the feature but McCoubrey picked a brave line in lapped traffic to take the lead on lap 9 of 15 and went on to win by 0.7s with Bensemann third. Raiden Hearne and Joe Keene had their own battles in mid-pack and will be pleased with their night’s work.

Club officials earned their post-meeting fizzy in the production saloon class with a couple of relegations and a few other incidents that must have had them scratching their red caps. In a sport where turning left is the norm, there is usually something up when the wheels point right as a competitor is within tapping range. Staying clear of any issue was Cam Lankshear, who grabbed two wins from three heats in his VW and Eddy Frans brought his last season’s car back out and earned a win. Jordan Gillespie and Fee Frans were always in contention while Lankshear came under all sorts of pressure from Geoff Watson in the opening heat. Kaylim McNabb couldn’t repeat last meeting’s results and was unluckily denied a win when a tyre went 40m from the flag and he dropped from first to fifth.

There was some symmetry — hundreds of kilometres apart — for the Burson family. As Ian was winning two heats and taking a third place as he cleaned up the Canterbury super saloon champs, son Jack won twice and took a third in Nelson’s youth ministock field. Dad got used to this many seasons ago but Jack looks like the big mover in just his second season, having to work really hard and pick great lines to beat the more experienced Riley Eathorne and race one winner Blake Hearne in heat two. In the final race, it was Burson over Luke Higgins, another youngster with a handy pedigree as Hearne got tied up in a lapping tangle. It was a good night, too, for Piper Blackbourn, consistently placing in the top five.

Two club championships completed the programme. The sidecars had a field of six with Canterbury’s Nic Case and Brendan (Mad Mumby) Mumberson joining the Nelson combinations. Nippy Ching-Shaun Solly weren’t entered and Sam Kingsbury rode the Adie Drake bike with regular swinger Kieran Satherley on the chair.  Case and Mumberson looked nippy (sorry, Nippy) and Paul Anderson/Scott Bowler also challenged but clear winners were the team of Brent Steer and swinger Wade Thorn. Steer is one of the more fearless riders in the class and, with Thorn slick on the chair, they took a couple of heat wins and the final to secure the club title.

Streetstocks and sprintcars sit at opposite ends of the speedway spectrum but they were the two classes who brought it tonight. After a couple of weeks of testing each other out, the streeties climbed into it in all three heats with a roll, exclusions and three highly entertaining races. The roller was Steve Soper, rollee was KC Rose, Soper getting caught wide in turn one and Rose gently helping push the 97N Ford up the wall and onto its side. Neville Soper went hunting for revenge and was eventually excluded, as were Rose and Anthony Gane. Stirrer of the night Greg (Spud) Taylor put his bumpers to good use, Ryan Musgrove hooked reverse to run Kieran Davies up the wall and Shannon Marr is everyone’s favourite target. At the end of it all, just three points separated first (Cody McCarrison, 38pt) from second (Matt Watson, 37) and Musgrove (third with 36).  A top night for the grubbies and plenty to keep the crash class fans happy with the stockcars and superstocks missing this meeting.

It’s all about superstocks in two weeks, though as, third time lucky, the Nelson Speedway Association presents the PTS Logistics Superstock Stampede on December 12. With entries filtering in, look for an update within the next day or two on the club page and website as the field nears 30 already. There is also a dedicated PTS Superstock Stampede page on Facebook which will carry meeting info and driver profiles.

 

Photos: Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography on Facebook