YOUNG PANTHER KEEN TO RETURN

WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE

Written by Pete McNae

It’s hard to avoid a small dose of superstock envy. While the Nelson club ranks, home to four national champions including Craig Boote who won three of the things, appear to be in a slow downward spiral, in Palmerston North, they just keep rolling out the pit gate. A handful (Peter Bengston, Wayne Hemi, Clive Elliot etc) have been doing it for decades. Others like Jordan Dare and Bryn Liddell made their way through the grades before seizing their chance to shine in a superstock. Then, there’s the next generation – mates who came from ministocks and stockcars to end up punting 450 horsepower superstocks around the nation’s ovals – drivers like Ethan Rees, Jack Miers, Chev Taniwha, Jayden Ward and William Humphries.

Humphries, a 22-year-old heavy diesel mechanic from the Manawatu, is one of the crop of out-of-town drivers to have entered the two-day Easter Extravaganza at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway this weekend. Racing is scheduled to run from 4pm on both Friday and Saturday and a superstock field of 24 is divided almost evenly between Nelson-registered cars and visitors from Hawke’s Bay, Rotorua, Canterbury and Palmerston North. Humphries was meant to have been in Nelson in November with the Panthers team but the Kaikoura earthquake put paid to that. Now, he’s keen to return to a track he last visited as a stockcar driver, for the national title meeting in early 2015.

“I loved the track, it’s an awesome club – and you can hold it flat pretty much all the way round in a stockcar,” Humphries said. “Might be different in the super, though.”

Humphries and his dad, Craig – who has raced the car here previously and had a famous roll in pit straight some seasons back – had some shed work to do early this week with the car stripping the diff on their home track last Saturday. With a new crown wheel and pinion the most likely fix, and the standard maintenance, the eight-year-old homebuilt chassis powered by Midwest Toyota will be on the ferry for two days of biff. “We have been to most of the Easter meetings in the North Island,” Humphries said, “and it was a shame the ferry thing stopped us coming for the teams race early in the season so we decided to go to Nelson for some good weather and hard racing.”

That’s as good as guaranteed. Nelson’s regular contingent is set to be boosted by late-season debuts for Ben Taylor and Kurtis Bandy, former national champion Malcolm Ngatai has entered along with five other Canterbury cars, Lance Ashton will be flying the Rebel flag, Adam Groome raced with the Tigers in February and will tow through from Hawke’s Bay while Humphries, two of the Joblin brothers and Miers represent the P. They will compete in the Easter champs over three heats on Friday with Saturday’s three heats counting towards the open club champs. Humphries is high on the list of drivers who, if they can’t win a title, enjoys deciding who does. Throughout his stockcar and superstock careers, he’s been known as a driver who likes to put his bumpers about.

“That’s what they have them for,” he said. “At home with the big fields, we end up with quite a bit of contact but we did a meeting with 13 cars that was one of the most brutal of the lot. I approach every meeting looking to win races but, if someone turns me around, I like to take a chance to repay that, when I can. It’s not about personal battles – I treat everyone the same and I don’t take it personally if someone has a stab. But I will try to pay that back. We don’t go cheap on safety gear so you go one more click on the ratchet [belts] and look for that shot if you see your opening.”
Humphries, a former 3NZ in his stockcar, which the family ran alongside Craig’s superstock for a number of seasons, was an instant hit in the super when he elbowed dad out of the seat just over two seasons ago. He appeared for the Manawatu Mustangs team before he made the Pumas stockcar squad and, this season, was bumped up to the Panthers for the big national teams meetings. He has ambitions of getting a national number on the car but gets a buzz from the tribal warfare of teams racing. “Racing alongside Pete B [Bengston] – he’s still one of the best in any race, club night or national championship. All class.”

Humphries has already gathered a second in the North Island titles and a third at the NZGP in his brief time in superstocks and is keen to keep competing alongside his mates and rivals. “There’s a group of us who started as soon as we turned 12 in ministocks, moved up to stockcars as soon as we could and then got the chance to race superstocks – on the track, you want to beat them and we might need to put a shot on to do that, but off the track, we get on real well. I hope I can keep at it for a while because it’s where my mates are and what we do.”

Easter info:

  • Superstocks, stockcars and streetstocks are the three classes that will race three heat championships both nights.
  • Currently, the superstock field sits at 24, with 24 stockcars entered from Nelson, Blenheim, Christchurch and Greymouth. A streetstock field of 13 sees Canterbury cars heavily outnumber the locals.
  • Production saloons (18 entries) race Friday only and are replaced in Saturday’s programme by youth ministocks (22 starters including the podium from last weekend’s youth King of the Coast; Brayden Nell, Hamish Carter and Wade Sweeting).
  • Saturday’s meeting will conclude with The Hits 89.6FM demolition derby to end the 2016-17 season at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway.
  • Spectator gates will open at 3pm both days with admission prices held at usual levels.
  • Check back at nelsonspeedway.co.nz for another Easter preview later this week.

 

William Humphries images, with thanks to Graham Hughes, Sportsweb Photography, www.speedwaynz.com