Written by Pete McNae

Blenheim’s Paddy North is a bloody good saloon car driver, three times 2NZ, in fact. He’s also had a bunch of podium finishes in NZ Grand Prix and South Island championship meetings in both saloons and super saloons and has taken on the Australians over there in a New Zealand test team in his super.

Now he’s looking for some of that success to rub off as he learns to master a sprintcar – and freely admits it’s a steeper curve than he had imagined. The 46-year-old transport company operator is having to unlearn many of the skills he honed over a 25-season speedway career, starting in production saloons before his long stint in Lovelady-built super saloons and the shorter – but successful – run in the saloon class.

“With the saloons, you brake and turn in and steer the car through a corner,” North says. “With these things, you have to trust that bloody big wing will pull you around and you don’t lift. It’s a mental hurdle that’s taking some time to fully get over.”

North is at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway this Saturday from 6pm for the second to last round of the Hydraulink War of the Wings series, presented by Dowie Construction. It’s been a busy month for the class with the Darryl Ainsley Memorial meeting in Cromwell leading into a double WoW round last weekend, the class competing in Invercargill and Dunedin. With some teams starting to struggle with erosion of the pile of spare parts and the budget, North is finishing strongly.

A third in the feature at the Cromwell meeting – which wasn’t part of the WoW series – gave him confidence for the southern swing. North won a heat race in Invercargill and ran seventh in the feature while a testing track in Dunedin saw him push on despite a broken right rear shock for a sixth in the A Main.

“I was going to pull in once I blew out the shock but this late in the points race, I just pulled back a bit and kept turning laps and that ended up being good enough for sixth. It’s moved me from 16th in the series to 11th so the goal now is to crack that top 10 with just Nelson and the last round in Cromwell left.”

North’s sprintcar goals are modest. He’s impressed by the car control, the smooth lines and the no-fear aggression of younger drivers at the head of the standings – Jamie Duff, Connor Rangi, Sam O’Callaghan and others – but feels he is making progress. A trip to the North Island, when he got to tick a bucket list item by racing at Western Springs, was a confidence builder. North went north worrying he might be out of his depth at the Springs, a risk to himself and others. In fact, he ran solidly in mid-pack, off the sheer pace of the top guys but comfortably competing with the next wave.

“Watching from afar, the guys there seemed so fast so it was a great feeling to be able to compete. As much as anything, it showed me that the South Island offers all the competition you need to challenge yourself in a sprintcar.

“That’s where I am at in this class,” North says. “I don’t have visions of being a 1NZ but I would like to be able to drive one of these things really fast.

“They are such different beasts from the saloon – there you can make major changes to see a result but the sprintcar is so responsive that the tiniest tweaks can alter everything, one extra pound of air in a tyre compared to three or four in the saloon class.

“And we are still getting our head around the fact that they aren’t really a car like I know a car to be … they are a collection of components and bars. When you crash one, they are barely worth fixing, you scrap that set of bars and chuck the running gear into the next set.”

North’s Maxim-Rodeck 410 has the goods to run near the front and he is a big fan of the Nelson track, having raced there for the best part of two decades. He knows it’s a momentum track where smooth lines are fast, rather than mashing the brake and the loud pedal as is required at other speedways. The slicker surface also plays into his hands. The goal on Saturday would be a top five in the feature, with a podium some day one of the things that keeps driving him.

“I realise I’m one of the old guys now, that the reactions aren’t as sharp and the decisions not as instinctive as the young ones but I do have the advantage of a lot of laps on some of these tracks. I find Ruapuna a bit harder because I’ve only done a couple of seasons there but the likes of Nelson are very familiar.”

North is Eastern States loyal to the core, despite running in a couple of classes that don’t appear there regularly, if at all. The sprintcars don’t race in Renwick this season and, after five years of juggling both the saloon and super saloon, he’s looking to sell his saloon and mix and match the other two. That will limit his opportunities to race at home even further but North is undaunted.

“Right from the start in productions 25 years ago, I have been an E club member and that won’t change. If it means I have to organise a sprintcar meeting for my own track next season, well, that might happen. It would be nice to leave the track and be in my own bed half an hour later for once!”

  • Paddy North runs with support from MD Freighting, AME (Auto Marine Electrics), Marlborough Spraykote and Greg Hiddlestone Racing Engines while Katie, Kevin, Kerry and kids Brad and Tahlia have been race day regulars over many seasons.
  • Saturday’s meeting is the penultimate one in the Nelson season with just Good Friday’s 4pm race day to come. Along with the Hydraulink War of the Wings, presented by Dowie Contracting, other features this weekend include the Waimea Weekly Wind Off (stirrer’s money for the stockcar class to mix it up, backed by the Nelson and Waimea Weekly newspapers), the Brett Lusty Memorial Trophy for sidecars, production saloons competing in the first leg of the Mike Inwood Trophy against Blenheim, the club championship for streetstocks and TQ open racing. Sprintcar time trials start at 5.40pm.
  • An added attraction for younger speedway fans is event 7 on the programme, the kids’ bike race around the speedway track, backed by the Richmond Mall and E’stel Water. Riders up to the age of 15 can compete. The handicap race offers prizes for winners along with spot prizes for the best dressed bike and rider. See the club’s official Facebook page, Nelson Speedway Association Inc, for entry details.

Main images, Tom Laney,

Paddy North wheelstand, Gordon Smith