By Pete McNae

In a surprising – and pleasing – development, the Nelson Tigers will take five local drivers to the ENZED Superstock Teams Champs in Palmerston North next week.

Surprising because, for most of the 2017-18 season, a depleted class has struggled to build interest in teams racing for the Tigers with both the Challenge Cup against Palmerston North and the teams champs briefly being abandoned before 11th hour efforts saw a Nelson team front.

Pleasing because, from a class with seven cars, five have decided to go to Palmerston North and have a shot, despite their relative lack of teams racing experience.

The Tigers squad for next weekend (February 3-4 at Robertson Holden International Speedway) is Alex Bright, Alex Hill, Anthony McKenzie, Dale McKenzie and Trevor Lineham. The sixth driver, who can be called on if a team needs to cover injuries, comes from the Tasman Thunder stockcar ranks with Brad Neiman getting the nod. He has plenty of teams race experience and, importantly, can fit safely into the seats of the Tigers cars, should he be needed.

Lineham, Bright and Anthony McKenzie were on board for the Challenge Cup win over the Panthers at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway in December, although McKenzie was the reserve as Gisborne Giants Peter Rees and Ethan Rees helped out in a one-off capacity. Bright won the race, thanks to some sterling blocking work from the Rees tandem. Hill and Dale McKenzie have both teams raced sporadically in the past with Hill uncertain about returning to the four-on-four format until last week, while the likely captain for the big weekend, Dale McKenzie, sat out the best part of two full years after the motor in his 85N Toyota blew in January 2016. He filled in for brother Anthony at a couple of meetings last season and has had one Nelson outing in his own (rebuilt and on the market) car this summer for two wins from three starts.

In the middle of last week, the Tigers cancelled motel bookings and appeared to have abandoned any plans to keep the strong Nelson legacy in Palmerston North alive. Within 24 hours, that changed, with the provisional squad coming together and the foundations of a 2018 campaign being put in place.

Former Tigers teams racer and past 1NZ superstock champion Shane Harwood, who played a role in working with the group of five Nelson drivers, said he and fellow former 1NZ Brendan Higgins didn’t get involved until they were made aware of the cancellation.

“I hadn’t heard a peep about the team, really since the Challenge Cup in December. Hig called me last Tuesday and we talked through a couple of possibilities and what was holding the boys back – ultimately, that’s what it came down to, why weren’t these boys putting themselves forward because they have the ability and they have the machinery.

“One of the big barriers was the cost. No one races superstocks to get rich, especially teams racing, but these are guys on wages, they have houses and families that come first and there was this expectation that they’d go away simply for the privilege of being a Tiger. Don’t get me wrong, racing for the Tigers is pretty special, but if it comes at the cost of your family and people say “good luck boys, cheers, thanks for coming” – it just doesn’t work, financially.

“So, one of the bottom lines was that we will go like fifty bastards to bring in some money so that becomes one less issue to stand in the way of them competing.”

With less than two weeks to go until the iconic meeting, there is no time for elaborate funding proposals and campaigns. Instead, there is an open request to the business and general speedway populace to come forward to Harwood, to Kirsty Nicholls or to the Nelson Speedway Association. A 1000 club (less than the price of a latte a day for a year) can be a way for small businesses and some individuals to make an affordable contribution that can make a real difference while it’s hoped a couple of business contributors can help make the Tigers viable.

“I want to be able to hand the boys an envelope up front so they know they aren’t carrying the cost while everyone else gets to watch them put an awful lot on the line,” Harwood said. “It’s not all about money but it’s unfair to ask five guys with commitments to carry the cost alone.”

In February 2017, the Tigers fronted with Lineham and Anthony McKenzie, alongside Hawke’s Bay’s Adam Groome, Scott McEwen from Rotorua and Whanganui stockcar driver Dion Mooney. Harwood said a United Nations team this season would never have got off the ground.

“I’m involved because these are Nelson boys racing for Nelson. And Junior’s (Dale McKenzie) bottom line was that we had the drivers and cars to put a team together from within the club and that was the only reason he was willing to be a part of it.

“We hope our fans are realistic – we don’t have a whole lot of experience but you don’t get experience by watching. The only way to build some confidence and teams racing know-how is to get in there and get it done.”

Superstocks are on the card this Saturday when the Nelson club hosts the Racing for the Kids Child Cancer Foundation fundraising meeting but don’t expect the five Tigers to start teeing off.

“They don’t need ‘practice’ … it would be the dumbest idea in the world to go out there and start wrecking gear a week out from Palmy. They can work on timing and communication and sometimes things happen but I don’t buy into the need to start wrecking shit to be ready to teams race,” Harwood said.

The Tigers currently have support from Rodz, Ridez and Restorationz, the Nelson Speedway Association, Thomason Contracting and Foot Print Signs but anyone who is willing to help get the “surprise” Tigers to Palmerston North can contact the Nelson Speedway Association through its Facebook page, Kirsty Nicholls on the Nelson Tigers team page or contact Harwood at Hi-Reach Access Solutions.

“I’m pretty pleased these boys are willing to have a go,” Harwood said. “They don’t lack talent and they don’t lack heart – so our side of the deal is to help support them financially and with some old heads so they can hit Palmerston North with the right attitude and know they have that support behind them. A pat on the back and a thanks very much is nice, but we need to be able to take one problem off the table so they can think about teams racing.”

Superstock images by Tom Laney,