By Pete McNae

Ahhh, summer. Speedway, sizzling snags and sunburn. Okay, traditionally the thermometer would be in double figures — but once the first green light goes on at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, you know barbies and boardies aren’t far away.

Tonight’s 2019-20 season opener, presented by MTF Finance Nelson,  was similar to the last few seasons, since the Teece family first initiated the Trackman Trophy awards for the first meeting of the season … competitors have used practices to sort out their off-season issues and have arrived for night one primed and ready. There wasn’t a lot of visitor interest last night, with the fields mostly made up of local competitors but, led by the ever-entertaining TQ midgets, it was a solid start to the new season. After a sombre beginning as the Skurr family led a tribute to 6-year-old Nekko Howarth with a minute’s silence and a balloon release, the new season was underway.

With the healthiest numbers of locally-registered cars and new drivers entering the class, there was always a decent chance the TQs would turn it on. Throw current national champ and four-time defending Trackman Trophy holder Jeremy Webb into the blender and the little open-wheelers promised plenty of action. They didn’t disappoint with half-a-dozen rollovers, ranging from the mild to the wild, two hometown heat winners and a Webb masterclass in the feature for his fifth trophy.

First to go downside up was Raiden Hearne, moving over from youth ministocks. He got sideways coming off turn 2 (they should have been $23 seats there tonight with most of the action on that corner) and the car dug in and tipped over. Cameron McKenzie did the same in turn three while Alicia Hill did a great job of frontrunning through the yellow flag periods to hold off a measured drive from Webb. In heat two, Morgan Frost banked the win with the remainder of the field staying upright but, in the 20-lap feature, James Nicholson and Christiaan Fish had a big pileup, Hill dumped fuel across the track, newcomer Tasman Webley had a gentle roll and restarted, then Hearne and Mark Bezett got into it off turn two with Hearne tipping over again and needing medical attention for a sore neck.

Webb started from mid pack but had the 1NZ car’s nose cone in front by lap 4 and was polished as he headed off Coaster Rodney Thompson, Frost, Dylan Bensemann and Shane Robertson. Bang for buck, the TQs have been hard to top for the past five seasons. That seems unlikely to change.

The John Pomeroy Memorial Trophy winner came from the stockcar class … the one in which the former president and life member made his name. And it wasn’t Trackman Trophy winner and programme poster boy Michael Paynter who won it. Nor was it heat one winner and second placegetter overall, Ben Smith. The new holder, by judges’ vote is Brittany Carpenter who, not so long ago, was a timid 12-year-old ministock driver. Carpenter is now right on the pace in her Rees Tank and isn’t afraid to throw the bumpers. While heat wins went to Smith, Paynter and Paynter again, Carpenter was there or thereabouts in all three heats and was third overall in the Trackman series.  Completing the top five were Dylan Clarke and Morgan Dumelow, who would have been close to the podium if not for a bumpy third heat.

Talk bumpy and you’re talking the production saloons. Never was that illustrated more clearly than in the last race of the meeting, a four-lap runoff for first between Nelson’s Eddie Frans and a regular visitor from Christchurch, former 3NZ Matt Sherlock. Heat action saw Frans on the board first, Sherlock first home in the second race and Kaylim McNabb the winner of heat three. With 30 points apiece, Frans and Sherlock rolled out to decide the Trackman Trophy. Sherlock was away early and had a big lead but Frans reeled him in quickly and then the cars came together in turn three. Rather than disqualify anyone, the referee ordered a restart, with Sherlock again getting the jump. This time Frans hit turn two hot and went straight ahead into the wall, crumpling the front right and ripping the exhaust out of the car. Sherlock took home the trophy with Frans second and the top five being completed by Vaughan Cornelius, Pam Nixon and Cam Lankshear.

The sidecar class drew entries from Blenheim and Christchurch in a nine-bike field but it was an all-Nelson podium by 9pm. To no one’s surprise at all, Adie Drake and swinger Kieran Satherley went unbeaten through three heats to collect their umpteenth club cup and also, predictably, Nippy Ching and Shaun Solly were their closest challengers, two points behind. The surprise package in third and a single point behind Ching/Solly were class veteran Darren Cook and passenger Scott Bowler, who had taken a bit of a tumble at the club’s last practice. Undaunted, the pair took a very popular heat win, Bowler not holding back on the celebrations, and ran the frontrunners close in their other races. Cantabs James Wood and Peter Rintoul  were the best of the visiting pairs in fourth with Lester Schroder and Sean Nolan taking fifth back to Blenheim.

The streetstock ranks had to wave a forlorn farewell to their class trophy. Corey Schumacher the sole visiting driver and the overall winner of the Trackman Trophy.  Schumacher had his vision full of the ass-end of Aaran Findlay’s 88N who spent heat three blocking but was good enough to get up by two points over Harry Moffatt-Schwass, who looked very comfortable in the Musgrove 9N Falcon. Nathan Thomas, Brayden Skurr and Neville Soper made up the first five with Skurr, fresh out of ministocks, having some panel-punching fun with KC Rose.

There was a visitor from the Glen in the superstocks, too, with Glen Eagles teams racing champion Lloyd Jennings joining seven local cars. It’s fair to say his night didn’t go as well as it had in Palmerston North in February with a fourth his beat heat finish and fifth placing overall. Brett Nicholls took heat one but Alex Hill’s upward trajectory continues with consistently quick lap times, two heat wins and an overall trophy victory by four points from Phil Krammer. Nicholls was third with Trevor Lineham in fourth while Warrick Steer shrugged off four years of rust and cobwebs in Ian Clayworth’s BMW-powered car. Nelson has lost a bunch of top class cars in the past two seasons but has seven drivers determined to ride out the low ebb and see the class cycle up again.

Maybe the next wave will come from the youth ministock ranks where an impressive six drivers arrived to begin their speedway careers, joining local veterans like Jonti Austin, Max Baker and Aleisha Oakley.  It was apparent early on, though, that the Trackman winner would come from one or other of two out of towners, Ashton Osborne in the Rotorua-registered 16R or the beautifully presented 55C of Jordan Anderson. Osborne claimed round one by a second, heat two was closer, Osborne getting the nod by four-tenths, then Anderson pulled one back by the narrowest of margins in heat three. Osborne’s 30 points secured the silver from Anderson on 28, Austin with 25, a rapidly improving Cambell McManaway in a much faster car this season also on 25 and Callum Russ and Blake Hearne  making up the top five (21 points).  Twelve-year-old Luke Higgins cracked the top 10 in his first race meeting.

Looking ahead two weeks to the Coca-Cola fireworks display on October 26, there’s talk of a rare appearance by the midget class. If that doesn’t light your fuse, you are probably watching the wrong sport.

 Photos by Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography (Facebook)