By Pete McNae


In a game in which lessons can be expensive — or painful — and are often both, the Tasman Thunder stockcar team have proved quick learners.

Just two weeks after copping a serve from the Canterbury Crushers at Woodford Glen, the Thunder hosted the Canterbury side on home turf, the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, and squared the ledger in emphatic fashion. What was meant to be a teams triples shifted when Greymouth could not field a team for either of the meetings. Instead the Thunder and Crushers went at it twice each meeting. Down there, it was all red and black but, clearly, there had been some serious head scratching in the Tasman camp in the last two weeks.

Race one last night saw captain Michael Paynter line up alongside Thunder teammates Dylan Clarke, Keightley Teece and Dylan Hall, who was making a welcome return to stockcar teams racing. Canterbury countered with Alex Rondel, Colin Cameron, Hadleigh Smith and Eb Young. Within 50m of the startline, the Thunder were down a car as Teece went wide and Cameron happily helped him into the wall and over. But, if the visitors thought that might signal another Thunder collapse, they had another think coming as Hall pinned Smith in turn three and rolled the online identity known as The Observer. Three cars each, less than two laps down. With Clarke placing his car handily to block for Paynter, the Thunder had clear air until Paynter made a slight error as he tried to blast through Young’s block while leading. He spun but cleverly grabbed reverse and rolled the 8N car backwards across the track to meet Rondel in the exact time and place he was using to get past for the lead. Paynter squeezed Rondel up and over, three rolls and not even three laps down.

The rest of the race was all Tasman, despite Hall being fired hard into the turn two wall and losing the steering, Clarke again showing teams racing intelligence to block for his captain, while Paynter also ended Young’s race by bending the wheelgate off the 994C car, so he was sent to the infield. First and second gave Tasman a 140-25 win.

Race two, John Everett came in for Teece, who got his car to the track but admitted both chassis and driver were bent, while former Thunder driver Troy Currie got the start when Rondel’s crew missed getting him to the grid by a minute or two. This race was slightly less brutal but ended the same way, this time Clarke showing the ability to run for the flag after Everett cleared Cameron out of the way. Everett also put a big shot on Smith and Cameron gained some revenge in a brutal but crucial lap from Everett, who recently marked a milestone birthday and put both car and that 50-year-old body on the line for the Thunder — but there was no catching Clarke, despite Currie’s best efforts. Thunder won 100-65 despite exclusions for Paynter and Everett, a pretty decent return to form in the best teams racing seen here since the Tigers were on top of their game.

To their huge credit, four of the five Crushers cars fronted for open racing where Ben Smith, clad in Thunder colours but not needed to teams race, had a strong night with close competition coming from Wade Sweeting and Hamish Carter.  Zak Baker and Canterbury’s Daniel Saunders had one hellacious prang in turn three that loosened fillings for fans in the front three rows while Currie and Braden Russ had their own little battle going in the feature. That ended one-all, with a watch this space shaping up.

Sharing top billing was the 30 lap street car race … a derby without the damage, and the sopping wet surface. The chance to run on a dry track tested the limits of the full field which ranged from the immaculate to the almost extinct. Donaldson Civil’s 10-car team were tidily turned out but suffered the first panel damage (Emma Nell) and the first DNF (Graeme Kitto), Jordan Gillespie doing a great job out front until he got caught up in the only rollover of the race when Seth Rasmussen flipped in front of the lapscorers. Gillespie’s damaged car got hotter — and sicker — and soon expired from its fever. Meanwhile twin sisters Tania and Sarah Kitto spent some time parallel parked and Andre Evans burned up his sponsor’s product, blowing the right rear tyre off his sinister Jack’s Tyres Commodore. Eventually, a former Nelson Tigers superstock driver from way back, Wayne Russ, took the win and $500 with Darryl Burn second and Ken Squire in third. Most of the cars will be good to go again in the demolition derby on December 28.

A round of the Southern Series for midgets drew seven starters — not great but better than the none Nelson has grown used to. Two heats and a pole shuffle set the grid for the feature with heat wins going to Jack Low and Glen Durie, while Durie got the better of Low in the pole shuffle and parlayed that into a feature win. Low chased hard without closing the gap while Dave Kerr had breathing space in third over Brian Barclay, who came on stronger as the race went on. Nelson’s next meeting is the Absolute Energy South Island midget championship and we can only hope a few more Canterbury cars make the trip.

If seven was a smallish field, something went seriously astray for the sidecars, who started the Mark Thorn Memorial with four but had just three bikes for the second and third heats. Brent Steer and swinger Wade Thorn (the late Mark’s nephew) won the first two heats and only needed a tidy finish to claim the trophy but went one better, hunting down Cookie and Tigger on the third lap of the third heat to sweep the series.

A big field turned up, as always, for the first round of the three-quarter midget club champs. The format has been tweaked this season — standing out in the heats, as Shane Robertson, who handled all sorts of pressure from the chasers for his win, Morgan Frost and Rodney Thompson did, earns you the right to start the feature from the back and work your way through the field. It made for a more entertaining 15-lapper though, with front marker and season rookie Raiden Hearne leading the chasing pack with an impressive performance until his car had a steering bolt failure, furtunately at low speed under a yellow flag. That gave Alicia Hill the opening she needed and the seasoned TQ pedaller got in front and stayed there despite pressure from Dylan Bensemann, Jayden Corkill and Frost. While it might seem there is some incentive to sandbag a little in the heats and earn a better feature grid, Nelson’s field — with help from Greymouth — is so good that no starting position guarantees a happy ending.

The production saloon feature was also a nip and tuck affair, Cam Lankshear getting tucked on the run to the flag after leading for all but the final 20m. Until then Eddy Frans had tried every angle and line to get past, the wily class veteran squeezing Lankshear higher and higher on the track until he had room to make his last lunge on the dash home winning by three-hundredths of a second. from the unlucky Lankshear. Pam Nixon pushed the front runners all the way and posted the quickest lap time in the class. Earlier wins had gone to Joseph Sutton and Dave Leitch while tyre tracks heading straight for the turn three wall spelled an abrupt end to the meeting for Nicole Carey.

Streetstock rep Zoe Goodwin pulled together a Bandits team from Nelson, Blenheim and Greymouth to give the Nelson Knights a tune-up before their teams racing schedule this season but that backfired a little when Thomas Macleod banked the win for the Bandits. The Knights, missing the Muz Motorsport Falcon which withdrew with gearbox issues before the meeting, spent too long running before Kyle (Hundy) Davies finally checked up to try to block Macleod. It’s all useful practice though and the likes of KC Rose and Neville Soper stood out later in the meeting, along with Steven Soper, who was making his fulltime return to the class.

Nelson’s next meeting is on December 14 when the midgets get centre stage and the super saloons make their first appearance for the season, featuring 3NZ Ian Burson and fellow Nelson club member Dave Manera in the ex-Mark Osborne 1NZ Hypermac.

Photos by Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography