Speedway dodges the showers

Fireworks night packs in the punters

Written by Pete McNae

They must have skipped over Nelson at weather forecasters’ school because they so rarely get it right. When yesterday’s forecast said rain, followed by showers, with some high winds in the mix, it seemed there was no way the second meeting of the season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway could possibly go ahead.

Tell that to the thousands who started to roll in the gates from 4pm under blue skies and with the mercury touching 22 degrees. Nelson’s weather simply doesn’t play by the rules. Granted, there was a delay mid-meeting when a steady shower came through and the fans watched Tow Truck 1 head off Tow Truck 2 in the 30-lap wheel packing feature but no one left and they were treated to a huge TQ dismount, plenty of stockcar and superstock activity and the focal point, the annual Coca-Cola fireworks display.  What’s a wet pair of jocks when the club can counter with a small fortune spent on sparklers and hard and fast racing?

And it was fast. Despite having just a six car field — and that included a welcome back to Ben Taylor and a welcome aboard to Phil Krammer — the superstock class has never lapped the Richmond raceway quicker than they did last night. With the Dave Scott Memorial Trophy at stake, Shane Harwood put maximum points on the board in heat one and scored a new lap record of 15.6566s. Close behind, and also under the previous mark was Brad Neiman on 15.7593 — even Dwayne Whitfield who finished back in sixth had a 16.0s circuit. Neiman was just getting started, though. He took heat two by a clear second-and-a-half from Harwood with Trevor Lineham in third and the two race winners lined up at the back of the grid for the feature to decide the trophy and a cash bonus. Neiman got a little leg up when Harwood decided to turn right on a rival on lap one but capped his best night of a young superstock career with a second win, claiming the Scott Memorial. Whitfield was true to his word and laid some bumper on Krammer, Harwood tapped Whitfield and Lineham took a shot too. The promised Christchurch cars would have been helpful but you couldn’t fault the attitude of the six locals who showed.

Stockcars ran a hit to pass promotion with a refugee from the superstock ranks, Anthony McKenzie, making a return from last season’s significant injury. He might have found it easier back with the supers because, when Levi Collier, Wade Sweeting and Hamish Carter are around, things can get hectic in a 14-car stockcar field. Again, Blenheim’s trio of Sweeting, Scott Alexander and John Mcclelland are to be admired for making the trip over — having an E on the car is similar to rolling yourself in KFC herbs and spices and heading for the pits — everyone wants a piece.

Ben Smith took out heat one from Josh Nell, who has developed  a much faster car this season, but Keightley Teece got his hands on the flag in the other two races to win the hit to pass from Smith with John Everett in third. Collier and Sweeting had a running battle, which even went beyond the chequered flag (the lights were still green) and Dylan Clarke took a couple of pops at Carter but ended up marooned on the wall in turn two in a car with a broken bum when the second-season stockcar driver got his chance at a clean shot and delivered.

Like the superstock field, the streetstocks had anticipated a handful of visitors from Woodford Glen but that weather forecast (it’s Nelson, guys, it will be fine!) turned a number away with Corey Schumacher the only one to commit to the five-hour  tow. There was a big, but unintentional crash early in heat one when Shannon Marr swung on the steering wheel in his 73N Falcon and the wheel kept spinning without any driver input. Rob Skurr took the win in heats one and three with Schumacher getting the W in the middle with Skurr and KC Rose the most active stirrers.

The youth ministock class lost a race due to the weather delays and the need to get the crackers on before the youngest patrons lost the plot completely. At first appearances, race one saw a clear win for another Skurr, Brayden matching dad’s win while the second race saw a cracking duel between Raiden Hearne and Connor Blackbourn with the pair siderail to siderail for half a dozen clean laps before Hearne got the edge. But, being youth ministocks, it wasn’t that cut and dried. Skurr had his race one win wiped when he was relegated to seventh, with Piper Blackbourn also bumped back, to 12th. Then in race two, Hearne, who had inherited the first heat win, was relegated to place three with Connor Blackbourn promoted, while Max Baker was sent back to position nine. Confused? A little.

There was a decent dose of confusion in the sidecar pits too, where the Brett Lusty Memorial Trophy was on the line. With another healthy turnout and good early efforts from Sam Satherley, who also produced the mint track surface, and swinger Jono Kilburn and the Brent Steer-Shaun Solly combo, the trophy race was shaping up for an entertaining third heat to see if anyone could pick off Adie Drake and Kieran Satherley. And then the drizzle came. And the sidechair guys loaded up their bikes to get them out of the rain. And club officials saw the bikes loaded up and assumed the sidecar class didn’t want to run on the damp track and scrapped heat three.  Crossed wires and some unhappy sidecar teams, with the end result that the Memorial Trophy will be re-run in full in March.

The last two classes on the card ran round one of their three-meeting club championships. That’s been the way for the TQ midgets and production saloons in recent seasons, with the reward coming after nine races, rather than the three-heat, one-night conclusion. Darkie Armstrong will be thankful for those extra two meetings, it’s just not certain he will be around for them. The 7N TQ was in searing form last night and comfortably banked a pair of heat wins, even with the likes of Dylan Stone-Cuthbert, Alicia Mclauchlan and Dylan Bensemann in the field. But there’s always a chance of Armstrong getting the pointy end of the pineapple and a wheel touch while he was rounding up Stone-Cuthbert for the lead ended in a massive multiple barrel roll. His car preparation, the two wins and the tumble made Armstrong a dead cert for competitor of the night but that might be little consolation as he’s removing bent parts.  With a chassis that is seriously twisted, Armstrong is believed to be considering whether he will make a comeback. The feature win has Stone-Cuthbert out in front after round one but he can expect the challenges to come thick and fast in the later rounds. Kudos too to Graeme Porter for running the most consistent times in his TQ career while younger brother Dan’s first night out came badly unstuck with a heat one, lap one rollover.

The productions made their first appearance of the season, having been stood down on opening night, and welcomed the first ever 3NZ (productions only became a Speedway New Zealand championship class last year) when Matt Sherlock arrived from Christchurch with his immaculate Mitsubishi. Sherlock could only manage sixth in his first heat, won tidily by Kaylim McNabb. Sherlock got up in the remaining two heats but Cam Lankshear made him work all the way in both. Geoff Watson was also consistent through the night — it will be interesting to see if the Cantab comes back to protect his lead in the later rounds.

Having dodged their weather bullet this weekend, the Nelson Speedway Association will be hoping for a less stressful buildup to meeting three on November 17 when the Mike Rollo Harcourts round of the Hydraulink War of the Wings for sprintcars tops the programme.

Photos by Tom Laney, www.imagepress.co.nz