CALL ME LOYAL
By Pete McNae
Eat, race, repair, repeat. That’s pretty much how half the year goes in the AHill household — the home of Nelson superstock driver Alex Hill and his wife and TQ midget and sprintcar competitor Alicia Hill.
The couple met at Nelson’s Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, squeezed in a race meeting on Good Friday of last year, then got married the next afternoon. And, approaching their first anniversary, they spend many of their weekends apart with both thoroughly committed to the class(es) of their choosing.
“Sometimes [Alicia] is in Christchurch and I’m in Rotorua or she gets a Nelson meeting but we have gone to Christchurch or whatever,” Alex, 24, says. Much of their quality time is spent waterblasting racecars on Sunday or bolt checking on a Thursday.
“I guess we don’t wine and dine as much as some couples. We are pretty fortunate with the family support we have around us that we have been able to get married and build the house and still be able to race,” Alex says. “We could have the social life but mostly it’s a few beers in the clubrooms and that’s it, for us.”
Hill, who is into his seventh season in a superstock, doesn’t come across as the party boy. He’s quiet, hardworking and focused on his goals. Hill did his time in ministocks but, even then, was helping out the likes of Shane Harwood and Brendan Higgins with the goal of moving straight to the top division in mind. His first superstock was based on an older chassis that had served both Higgins and Harwood and his current 95N car is still Higgins-built, although almost two decades newer.
“It’s just something I always wanted, to race a superstock out of Nelson and have some success with it.”
And this season has been Hill’s best. He qualified for the New Zealand Superstock GP in Palmerston North and again at the national championships in Whanganui, eventually placing ninth in a field of more than 100 cars. He missed the top group — and breathed a small sigh of relief when he saw what went down among the 26 qualifiers — at the world 240s in Rotorua but still put up a strong showing in the Superstocks in Paradise promotion, finishing fourth. He’s booked in to go to Gisborne in April, races often in Christchurch and is back home this Saturday for one of two big superstock meetings on the Nelson calendar, the Hi Reach Access Solutions South Island Championship.
“We will get 25 meetings this season, close to 30 race nights in all and that’s with Nelson only running supers about 6 or 7 times,” Hill says. “The only way to get better — and I want to get better — is to go where the cars are. The car I have is a good package but there are cars we come up against that are just next level fast and the challenge is to find ways to qualify against them and then put some good heats together for a decent result at the end of the night.”
When Hill came into the class in Nelson, he stepped up with fellow ministockers like Dale McKenzie and Alex Bright. Brad Neiman and Luke Ewing jumped in later, along with the likes of Ant McKenzie and Dwayne Whitfield. Among the more experienced guys, Dale Ewers, Blair Cunningham, Jared Gray and Harwood were pushing the tempo at the front. None of those men are still competing, leaving a field of a half-dozen regulars keeping the home fires burning. Life might be easier if he sided with Mrs Hill and went sprintcar racing, but don’t hold your breath.
“I couldn’t walk away from superstocks right now,” Hill says. “The class has been such a big part of the Nelson club since day one and it would be pretty bad if it died because none of us could be bothered.
“I know Ian [Clayworth] and Trevor [Lineham] are talking about moving on but we are a tight little group and help each other out a lot — just to keep those cars on the track.”
Hill believes the class will grow again, slowly and sometimes awkwardly, some of the growth perhaps coming from drivers aligning themselves with Nelson rather than their current clubs. With a modest number of race dates, Nelson-registered drivers like Hill and Brett Nicholls are usually released to attend big field, big dollar meetings around the country. Gisborne and Kihikihi are examples of tracks that have grown a superstock class simply by not tying their drivers to weekly or fortnightly club nights.
But the Nelson club are also eager to keep superstocks viable here, Saturday’s South Island championship one example, while the PTS Transport and Logistics Superstock Stampede on Good Friday is the other. With the island championship now open slather, regardless of which side of the strait you call home, there could be as many as eight North Island entries and a field approaching 20 this weekend. Those visitors will be looking for set-up clues for the Stampede at Easter, along with the lure of a South Island title.
Hill, for one, is keen to see Saturday’s championship stay south-side, in Nelson if at all possible, but is well aware of the threat the out of town cars pose.
“Home track advantage lasts for a few warm-up laps. Those guys are so good and their cars are so good, they are quick wherever they go,” he said. “Someone like Will [Humphries] needs four laps and he is fully dialled in and a threat to win it.”
The 95N will be, as always, right in the hunt though. Hill hasn’t got offside with any competitors, as has been the case for a few in the class this season, and he’s started to earn the respect of his peers. He said, in his early days of travelling to the North Island to compete, he was “kind of a nobody”.
“Guys know my name now, which is nice.”
The easygoing engineer says it can be a lonely exercise, racing in fields of 100 in the North Island, often with Nicholls as the only other Nelson traveller. With that in mind, he makes an effort to get along with everyone and enjoys the chance to blend in and race with a group. The obvious gap in the conversation there involves the Nelson Tigers, now absent from the teams champs in Palmy the last two years. With the Palmerston North promotion thought to be considering a hard cap of 12 teams, qualification might be needed, if the Tigers can ever get back together.
“[Nicholls] and me could have considered it but it was left too late and nobody really seemed ready to commit,” Hill said. “We probably could have dragged a Tigers team together but it’s not a meeting you can go to unprepared. It’s still the top of the tree, something you either are terrified of or can’t stay away, so I hope we can have a team again before I finish up.”
- Alex Hill thanks his supporters and sponsors; Alicia Hill, Mum and Dad (Kerry and Jo Hill), Brendan Higgins, Trinders/Waimea Engineering, Jack’s Tyres and Racer’s Edge, Ryco 24/7, Lift N Shift, Midwest Motors, Brooks Auto Painters, Discover NZ Motorhomes, Brian FM, Kelly Logging and Dowie Contracting.
- Saturday’s Hi Reach Access Solutions South Island Superstock Championship will be run on the traditional contact class format of three heats to find a champion on aggregate points. Other promotions from 6pm include the Stockcar Closed Club Champs, Production Best Pairs and round three of the Sidecar Club Champs.
Photos, Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography