By Pete McNae

It is acceptable to roll out a tired sporting cliche for the final speedway meeting of the season, so here goes …. “It is better to be lucky than good”. Of course, if you are lucky AND good, that’s a happy combination, one worth 3000 bucks in the case of Kihikihi sprintcar driver Daniel Thomas.

That’s how much the 30-year-old pocketed for the Freeman Motorsports team with his win tonight in the first Collision Centre Sunshine Classic, presented by Mike Rollo of Harcourts. The Classic was the feature of the final night of the season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, the first double-header meeting in recent seasons and the culmination of a summer of watching the most entertaining traffic jams in the Nelson-Tasman region.  A cash race with prizes totalling around $10,000, the Classic was a strong way to close out another season and, as guest commentator AJ Batt proposed, a date worth circling in future seasons.

Most of the field which had fronted for Saturday’s South Island championship was back again, apart from the 19C driven by Cali-Kiwi Jonathan Allard, who had a prior commitment. Joining the field though was talented Nelson driver Greg Teece in the Rangi Motorsports 57N while massive rebuild efforts overnight and through most of today had the heavily damaged cars of John Sievwright and Matthew Leversedge back on the grid. Leversedge’s car, especially, was a collection of loosely connected parts fewer than 24 hours earlier and the work put in by his crew and local helpers to get it back and near its best was staggering.

The format for the Classic was similar to Saturday’s championship meeting, with the addition of a 6-car x 6-lap dash to sort out the front three rows of the feature grid. Heat wins were shared around between Thomas, Wellington’s Stephen Taylor in a Sullivan Motorsports-owned car and Leversedge with Taylor looking the most imposing of the three. While each of the three heat winners has strong credentials, Taylor’s racing style is all his own — mash the throttle and take risks in exchange for rewards. On Saturday night, the 9N car was pulling massive wheelstands but tonight they were tamed and the car went forward, fast, often getting among lapped traffic within four laps of the green.

When Taylor added the dash win to his weekend, ahead of a resurgent Daniel Anderson from the deepest south and Nelson’s Alicia Hill and secured pole position for the feature, the Collision Centre cash was Taylor’s for the taking. Leversedge was threatening, and Anderson right back at his best while Thomas and team-mate Sam O’Callaghan were struggling to replicate the form that had earned them 1-2 finishes in the South Island title.

Taylor bolted straight out of the gate in the feature 25-lapper, with Leversedge the only driver to keep the 9N’s tail tank in sight. A spin prompted a restart and Thomas immediately lost a spot after a glancing contact with the wall but a spin by Cromwell-registered Paul Horrell brought the field back together again. O’Callaghan’s battles continued when he was deemed to be the cause of a spin by 55T Dean Miller and he was sent, muttering darkly, to the back of the field for the restart. When Horrell, Miller and Sievwright tangled, Leversedge’s huge comeback run was over, the car suffering a brake lockup, compounded when it was pushed into an infield ute. Like O’Callaghan, Leversedge’s mood meter swung to “avoid at all costs”. Out front Taylor still had the race in his grasp, Anderson had climbed to second and Thomas was on the charge, somehow surviving a full 360-degree spin without crashing, stalling or even losing a place.

And that’s probably how it should have ended until with 50m left on lap 24 and the chequered flag hovering, the unlucky Taylor collected a spinning car and flipped with Anderson trying to squeeze through the melee but puncturing a tyre. Suddenly, first and second were out, Thomas had the lead, Hill had kept motoring on and was in second while Teece had bumped into third ahead of O’Callaghan and Paddy North. And, while that was the way they crossed the line, Teece was then relegated two spots for failing to stay in single file on a restart. Considerably later in the evening, his third placing was reinstated. As one of the event sponsors through GTR Developments, Teece was disappointed to miss a start on Saturday due to a lack of recent meetings but showed his skills with the podium place tonight.

Thomas was thankful, if slightly sheepish about the luck that went his way tonight after dominating on Saturday. He said that he struggled with the car and was able to capitalise on the misfortune of others ahead of him. Taylor, in particular, who managed to claim the OEM Audio incentive for the quickest lap of the night, was awfully unlucky as Leversedge and his crew deserved more after putting in the hours to rebuild a fractured race car.

With the sprintcars in the spotlight, there was a tighter support programme for the final meeting of the season with streetstocks competing for the Muz Motorsport Trophy and an Easter championship at stake in the youth ministock class. Relegations played a part in the ministocks with a couple of drivers having to cop the loss of placings . Wins went to Jack Burson in heat one (who then couldn’t get the car to run in heat two, won by Blake Hearne) while Jacob Skurr took the third race. A tally of points saw Hearne crowned Easter champ with 31 points, two clear of Skurr with Callum Russ taking third. Aside from a relegation, Harlen Brunt would have been happy to put his car’s handling issues behind him, making decent progress in the last Nelson outing of the season.

The streetstocks featured Skurr’s older brother, Brayden, in the heart of the action, in a class where it is certainly better to give than receive. Race wins went to Steven Soper with two and the stirrer of the evening, Dale Johnston, making a rare appearance in the 253N Holden but carryover points from night one on Saturday saw the Muz silverware go to Dave McSherry (93 points) ahead of Harry Moffat-Schwass and Cody McCarrison. Muz himself, Ryan Musgrove, had a whale of a time in a tiny 4-cylinder Nissan on both nights. While it wasn’t outclassed for speed, Musgrove lacked the bulk to turn cars around when he got into their back corner.

The stockcar class got a shot in the arm, and up the back bumper, with the arrival of Harley Robb for one night only. The top teams racer for Canterbury’s Glen Eagles (superstocks) and Crushers (stockcars) made it his mission to decide who won races and was happy to rub rails with the likes of Wade Sweeting and Roydon Winstanley. Sweeting and Robb had a win apiece while it was an all-Nelson quinella in the last race as Morgan Dumelow and Piper Blackbourn steered clear of the boys and their toys for first and second. Robb managed to hang new driver Kohu Whalon on the wall before heading back to the pole line to wait for his mates to come round.

The last couple of classes on the card were the smaller and smallest version of the open-wheel feature class, the TQ midgets and the quarter midgets for the youngest speedway competitors. Quarters have just had their first season as an official class on the Nelson roster with huge improvement shown by the local kids; Locky Martin scored another race win and drove through contact in the feature, finishing close behind Bailey Bensemann while Conley Webley and Meneka Rawson are much more polished and competitive than when they started the season. Jack Brownlees capped off a strong weekend with a feature win over Ethan Smith.

The TQs managed to complete a night without a rollover … with 11 in the books for the season that means it was the exception, rather than the rule. Four Canterbury competitors hung around to help out the local numbers with 2NZ Liam McCoubrey getting one up — this time — over clubmate Kyle Glover. Mark Bezett finally got a run this season, in the Joe Keene 11N while son Kynan took a turn in Jayden Corkill’s 66N as things wound down towards winter.

Next season’s promotions at the Nelson Speedway are beginning to line up with the PTS Superstock Stampede set to become a two-night meeting and another double-header planned at Easter. The Rees Tour will bring superstocks, stockcars and historics to town and there are four South Island championships booked in. Racing will resume at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway in October, pandemics, vaccines, economies and weather willing.


Photos: Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography