NELSON’S MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
By Pete McNae
It’s a special photograph. The only known shot of Nelson’s current superstock class in captivity. It’s missing Ian Clayworth but includes rent-a-racer Warrick Steer and a stray Glen Eagle, Lloyd Jennings, who came up from Christchurch to help open the season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway.
Yes, those heady days of national superstock champions and Tigers teams are behind us for now, but the men in the main image are doing their best to keep the class viable until it cycles out of its current low ebb and back to better numbers. The drop-off has been sharp — long time drivers including Dale Ewers, Jared Gray, Blair Cunningham and Shane Harwood have either sold up or parked up while the next group, the likes of Dale and Anthony McKenzie, Alex Bright, Brad Neiman and Dwayne Whitfield have either moved on or been forced out by injury. That leaves seven drivers out there doing it. And one of them, who is just starting his second season in superstocks, believes brighter days are coming.
“Once you’ve driven one, you see what the attraction is,” says Phil Krammer, owner of the 32N Ewing Poultry Toyota V8. “There’s this stigma that superstocks are too expensive and out of reach but I think our car is showing that you can compete on a budget. So far, it’s proving more affordable than having a stockcar at the front of the field.”
Krammer should know. He’s into his seventh season at the Nelson speedway, starting out with a very bent stockcar that was cannibalised by Krammer Mechanical as a donor car for a new homebuilt machine, taking him to a couple of club championships, an Easter title and some impressive teams races with the Tasman Thunder. While everyone else was running Ford and Holden power, he persevered with the Rover V8 that came with the original car despite being told it was “obsolete, under-powered and expensive”.
“They were probably right but the male pride took over and I wanted to prove a point,” Krammer says. “Just before the car sold, I had a new Rover ready that I thought was going to really stir things up. There was an astronomical amount of money and time spent on the new engine, but the offer for the car was too good to ignore and I never got to run it.”
With speedway cravings lingering, Krammer started hoarding parts for a superstock build and also bought the former 96N Nick Brunning stockcar. Work, family and finances forced a series of plan changes with the stockcar recently sold to Matt Evans and most of the superstock parts moved on. That’s because — again — Krammer had an offer too good to turn down. The Ewing family had been running a superstock built by Brendan Higgins in 2002 and formerly raced by Higgins, Shane Harwood and Alex Hill. They wanted to step back from racing and Paul Ewing chatted to Harwood and Kerry Hill about who they felt might be able to drive the car until it sold. Krammer’s name was one of a couple put forward and he turned up with the car in Ewing livery early last season.
“Initially there was talk of a lease but the Ewings basically allowed me to run the car on the basis that I freshened the engine and it came back in good condition at the end of the season. They wanted to sell it and the best way to do that was to race it.”
Krammer went way beyond that. With assistance and advice from Harwood, Higgins and Hill and substantial setup work and tweaking on what was an old chassis with a healthy motor, he had the car lapping Nelson in 16.0s, as quick as all but the absolute hot rods. Shelving plans to go to a new chassis for this season, Krammer bought the car over the past winter and launched into a number of changes. While the drill pipe chassis is largely intact, there is a dry sumped Toyota up front and out the back there have been major suspension, brake and shock changes to help the handling. On night one at Nelson, Krammer said the car felt great right from his pre-meeting warm-up laps and was “the easiest car I’ve ever driven”.
The drill pipe is starting to age though and lose some of its ability to flex without breaking so a new chassis is still in the plans but, for now, that male pride thing has Krammer wanting to see how far and fast he can go on a car that has done a lifetime of work. Among his immediate goals is a strong showing at the PTS Superstock Stampede, Nelson’s feature meeting for the class this season when it is run on November 16. The event, backed by Scott and Vicki Miers of PTS Transport and Logistics and promoted by Hill, Harwood and the Nelson club, will have a field of 39 racing for $20,000 in prizes and incentives.
With class numbers low, the Nelson club falls outside the Speedway New Zealand criteria to apply for the national championships so the Stampede was created to bring a top line field to Nelson for the fans, and to send a message to drivers that superstocks remain relevant here. Krammer is unsure who will be the next driver to follow his path and join the class but he doesn’t think it will stay down for too long.
“It might take a couple of years, maybe all it needs is for someone to give a guy who is sniffing round the chance to run one because when you do, you’ll understand why they are a premier class,” he says. “A few of our guys have some money tied up in really nice stockcars and they will win races with them but you can actually find superstocks of decent calibre out there for about the same amount and they aren’t that dear to run unless something goes catastrophically wrong.
“With the value of the cars, it’s not that easy to have a skid in one and see if you like it, but that’s all it took for me. Once I had driven one, I was in boots and all.”
Krammer was a talented teams racer in his Thunder days and would love to see the Tigers kit on his car but admits that might not be this season. While he is unable to speak for the rest of the class, he said teams racing requires plenty of planning and full commitment from more than a bare minimum of five guys. The Tigers brand might be better served by another season of consolidation although, if something could be drawn together, he’d be in. “You never say never, do you?” he said.
“As a small class now, we have a lot to be thankful to the Nelson club for — putting this big meeting on and allowing us to run with the numbers we have plus the odd visitor like Lloyd coming up. It can still be a crowd-pleaser but we know we need to show up every night and make some noise and throw some clay, even just with a few of us,” Krammer says. “It’s on us to show guys it’s a good class to race in and you don’t need to rob a bank to compete.”
- Phil Krammer’s 32N superstock is crewed by dad Selwyn, partner Natalie, brother in law Rhys and former Harwood crew member Bryce. He’s grateful for continued support from the Ewing family and Ewing Poultry Ltd, along with his other sponsors; Krammer Mechanical, Mean Machine, Roeske’s Mulch n Digg, Endurance Spraying, Jack’s Tyres, Lubricants New Zealand, Rapid Refinishers, Gazza’s Signart and Fry Contracting.
- The PTS Nelson Superstock Stampede is a one-night only meeting on November 16. The field will be split into three groups of 39 for crossover races with the top 26 advancing to a feature.
- The next meeting at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway is on November 2 when the club, in conjunction with Brooks Auto Painters, hosts the southern midget series alongside the Coca-Cola fireworks display. Check back next week at www.nelsonspeedway.co.nz and on the official Facebook page Nelson Speedway Association Inc for a meeting preview.
All photos, Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography