FULL THROTTLE

By Pete McNae

Here’s a lesson in how to turn a possible negative into a huge positive. Just a little over five months out from race night and the field for the Nelson Speedway Association’s Superstock Stampede is already fully subscribed.

The meeting, set down for November 16 at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, has a total competitor payout, including travel and prizemoney, of $20,000 and was a massive gamble for the Nelson club which looks set to have, at most, six registered superstock competitors. But history and hard work seem set to make the meeting a winner. The field of 36 is set and association president Wayne Martin is already having to put potential entrants on a standby list.

“To be honest, I thought we might be filling out the field right up until the event but it’s captured everyone’s interest. It’s gone way better than we thought,” Martin said.

Nelson’s superstock history is impressive. Craig Boote won the club’s first national superstock title in 1996-97, then added two more while Brendan Higgins, Dale Ewers and Shane Harwood have all worn the 1NZ. Higgins and Ewers each had minor placings, Dale McKenzie and Tom Stanaway stood on the podium on their home track in 2012-13. Throughout the club’s 50-year history, stockcars and superstocks have often been the backbone but retirements and injuries whittled away at that strength. Faced with the possibility of the class dying here, a couple of saviours stepped forward.

“I talk speedway to Kerry Hill most days at work and, like us, he’s a superstock tragic. He raced a bit but Kerry is more one of those quiet guys who just gets things done … and it’s never about Kerry. Obviously he’s got (son) Alex out there and performing but most people wouldn’t have any idea how much he’s done for the class over the years,” Martin said. “And the other guy who falls into that category is Shane Harwood. Once he retired, he didn’t just walk away from the club — he’s used his connections and respect earned in the sport to make the contacts.

“We started talking about what we could do to keep superstocks relevant through a low patch a couple of months ago and this Stampede meeting was what came out of it.”

The payout pool — a lot of it is travel money to bring drivers from tracks all across the country — was a gamble for a club operating on tight margins but the punt looks like paying off. Fans are booking flights from around the country and overseas to be in Nelson on November 16 and the drivers have rocked up in big numbers.

There’s a naming rights sponsorship still available, although Hill has already dragged in handy support and every sponsor who gets on board helps reduce the Nelson club’s exposure to any financial risk. A sweetener for potential sponsors is live streamed coverage through The Pits Media, meaning the audience is both national and global. The Nelson club is piggybacking the War of the Wings sprintcar promotion alongside the superstock show, meaning US, Australian and other international viewers will log in to see a class that’s familiar (sprintcars) and get a class that will blow their stars and stripes socks off (superstocks).

“Kevin (Nelson association vice president Kevin Freeman) spends a bit of time around sprintcar and speedway people in the States and they can’t believe we are even allowed to race like the superstock class does — their equivalent of health and safety would turn white and shut it down after the first race,” Martin said.

The timing of the meeting early in the season has been a key to making it work for drivers, while the one-night format is also a change from the norm. It’s a little bit open wheel and a little bit Stock Shock (a past Nelson promotion for stockcars). The field of 36, 39 with three wild cards being held at the promotion’s discretion, will be split into three groups. Those groups of 13 cars will race each other in an A v B, B v C, A v C format to find the top 26 for a final. The top 10 on points will race an additional shootout to set the first five rows of the grid for the final while there will be an extra tier for non-qualifiers. Being early in the season, the main championship meetings are still a month or two off, allowing competitors some high quality racing without the pressure of a title on the line.

For the Nelson club, the benefits come in a number of ways. The meeting will keep that long-held connection to the collision classes alive when local numbers are down. Potential converts to the class will be encouraged by the club’s commitment to not just riding out the low point, but confronting the issue head on by promoting the class. If November’s meeting works, it could become an annual event and signature meeting along the lines of Woodford Glen’s Battle of the Stocks or Rotorua’s World 240s. And, finally, it sends a message to the national body that Nelson isn’t dead and buried when it comes to hosting superstock championship meetings.

“At the moment, we are being squeezed out of the rotation because our numbers are down but that’s no way to grow the sport,” Martin said. “We have history, we have proven we can run a championship meeting well every time and the drivers seem to like coming here — surely excluding a club on the basis of a temporary downturn is no way to showcase and promote your sport. I would have thought the way forward is to deliver it to a variety of audiences — Nelson has certainly never let the side down at championship time, so we won’t go without a fight.”

The fact the field filled in less than two weeks has convinced Martin, Hill, Harwood and others that they are on the right track.

“I won’t lie, it’s a bit easier on my nerves to have a field already. Not everyone in the club was happy about the amount of money we are talking about here but it looks like it is going to work and now we can spend the next five months adding sponsors, getting that multi media production right and building the promotion. Instead of wondering if it is going to work, we can focus on making it work the best we possibly can.”

And a message to superstock drivers out there — even if you’ve missed out on the initial cut, don’t be shy about contacting Martin through the Nelson Superstock Stampede page on Facebook. It’s likely not all of the current field will make it on November 16 for various reasons and that standby list will come in handy. If drivers want to contract to Nelson and throw their name in the hat for the Tigers, even better …

“The way this has come together has been amazing, thanks to the drivers who have really shown the faith in the club and the respect they have for Shane and Kerry in particular,” Martin said.

“Maybe this was just an idea whose time had come — for someone like me who loves the crash and bash, I hope it’s the sign that superstocks still matter in Nelson and we will start to see guys take a chance and put the class back where it’s been over 50 years.”

  • Follow updates on the meeting through Nelson Superstock Stampede page on Facebook. Potential sponsors can contact Martin or Hill at Trinder Engineering or Harwood through Hi-Reach Access Solutions.

 

Nelson images, Tom Laney, www.imagepress.co.nz