By Pete McNae
Sarah Kitto is seven minutes older than 28-year-old twin sister Tania. And those 420-ish seconds mean plenty in a family where competition counts and trash talk is the official language.
Anyone with a passing knowledge of the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway will know the Kitto name. Mum Chrys serves on the club committee, Dad Graeme and son Daniel, along with Tania, all raced streetstocks with Tania also dabbling in production saloons while Sarah and older sister Nicola each have a demolition derby win under their belts. Dan’s wife Janelle is a talented photographer who supplied the shots for this story. Clearly, Kitto gatherings offer plenty of scope for beers and bulldust.
“Our family barbecues are always a hoot,” Sarah says. “There’s quite a lot of crap talked — but we are all pretty close and no one takes it seriously. I don’t think you would fit in very well if you were too sensitive, though.”
So, the best way to settle those scores isn’t over a sausage, it’s on the speedway track. And Saturday’s 30-Lap Street Car could be the ideal opportunity.
Graeme works for Stoke-based infrastructure company Donaldson Civil, where manager Ken Nell decided the street car race might be a good team bonding exercise. He’s sourced and purchased 10 cars, got the Donaldson Civil team to get them race ready and stickered up, and purchased day licences for his drivers, because one of the conditions of the street car race is that you cannot be a current holder of a Speedway New Zealand competition licence. Graeme and Sarah have a couple of the cars, as does another Nelson Speedway Association committee member and former Nelson Tiger, Wayne Russ, and his daughter Serina. Others were allocated by ballot among the staff.
Here’s where it gets interesting. Daniel works for another local company that works in a similar sphere to DC. While it’s not an official company versus company challenge, Dan dug out a bunch of derby quality cars and he will run one while Sarah’s twin, Tania, is in another from Daniel’s cluster and Nicola was given a car race ready as a birthday gift from her brother.
The street cars aren’t supposed to hit each other but it’s hard not to imagine some Kitto on Kitto crime if the opportunity presents itself.
The theory behind the race, which Nelson has run once before, is that cars are prepared along the lines of a demolition derby car. If they survive Saturday’s 30-lapper, they are trailered out again for the derby which is scheduled for December 28, alongside the Donaldson Civil South Island production saloon champs. The ability to run the same car twice will have a positive spinoff for the derby.
“There’s a lot of work to do to get a car ready for a derby and a bit of expense still, so getting the chance to use the same car twice makes it much more worthwhile,” Sarah says. “We’re not supposed to wreck them but, even if something goes wrong, there is still a month to get it sorted and then we can do the damage.”
While the street car race is designed to give people who aren’t regular racers some track time and a taste for clay, the derby will see a couple of the Donaldson Civil cars change hands with Nell’s sons Josh and Brayden, who both competed as recently as last season, stepping in for the wreckfest.
Sarah Kitto’s not giving up the seat in her Toyota Corsa though. “Lots of people think the derby is the scary one but I’m more nervous about the street cars thing. I just don’t want to throw up in my helmet.”
Questioned about which of the family is the most competitive, she says Daniel — a past Nelson Knights streetstock teams racer — wins that one but she won’t be drawn on the best driver in the group. She does let slip that she won a raffle for a derby car in Westport, then won the event, and she might also have beaten Tania’s lap time at ProKarts but Dan, Tania and Graeme are much more accustomed to the speedway clay. Nicola is the most recent winner, though, when Tania was ruled out of last season’s Nelson derby at the last minute and Nicola inherited the drive, winning the prize money.
While the street car race is a departure from the traditional speedway fare for the Nelson club, the likes of Ken Nell and Daniel Kitto have put in the extra effort to make the event work, DC’s blue and white cars versus the roadmarker yellow on Kitto’s group.
“I can’t say enough about how much Ken has done for our team … all the cost and the work is down to him,” Sarah says. “The cars are stored in the yard, their guys work on them — the little Corsa starts and runs better than my road car.
“It’s a pretty sweet thing for a boss to do for his staff and I’m just lucky that dad got me involved. How cool is it that I can race with my dad and Russo can do this with his daughter? We have four women in our team — it’s just such a great thing to do for your staff.”
As it stands, the only family member who won’t be strapping in on Saturday is Chrys, dubbed “the bogan mother of the nation”.
Sarah laughs. “Yeah, we are pretty bogan with the streeties and the black clothes and the odd drink and a ciggie. I can’t really deny that we fit the image but we have a lot of fun and get on great, even with the shit talking.
“The hardest part for me is that my work uniform is pink. Can you imagine how hard that is, dressing in pink each morning?”
- Other features at Saturday’s meeting include a revamped Stockcar Teams event. With Greymouth withdrawing, organisers attempted to create a third team to take on the Tasman Thunder and Canterbury Crushers but will instead pit the two teams against each other twice. The Thunder squad for this meeting is Michael Paynter (c), Dylan Clarke, Dylan Hall, Ben Smith, John Everett and Keightley Teece. The Thunder are supported by Dean’s Truck Services, Richmond Fibreglass Ltd, Nelson Speedway Assocation, Lab 17, Design By George, Nelson Automotive Solutions, SIS – South Island Screenprinters, Image Creators. The Thunder cars and drivers will be at Nelson Automotive Solutions on Main Rd, Hope on Saturday from 1-3pm. Meet the drivers, buy the team merchandise and snag a sausage courtesy of Dan Perrin at the Mad Butcher in Stoke. Representing the Crushers will be Alex Rondel, Colin Cameron, Hadleigh Smith, Troy Currie, Eb Young and Isaac Craig. Other promotions include midgets (seven cars entered), a round of the club champs for TQs and a practice teams race for the Nelson Knights streetstock team against the Bandits — a combination of Nelson, Blenheim and Coast drivers.
- After the rain fell — and continued to fall on November 16 — many Nelson speedway supporters might have thought the PTS Superstock Stampede was literally dead in the water. Not so. Despite the rain out wrecking the plans of the club, sponsors, drivers and fans, it looks likely the event will go ahead late in the season. Three dates were proposed and the Good Friday meeting on April 10 seems the most user-friendly. Organiser Kerry Hill said the core sponsors, led by Scotty and Vicki Miers at PTS Transport and Auto Logistics, were willing to remain onboard and many of the drivers — who were paid good travel money despite the rain out — said they would return, while others could be available. While the Stampede is a Nelson promotion, travelling drivers could also pick up extra action in the top of the south with Eastern States Speedway adding the Superstock Easter Slam to its programme on the Saturday. With a committee meeting set to rubber stamp the date last night, it seems Nelson will get its superstock feature, weather permitting.
Kitto family images, thanks to Janelle McKeown