Fortune favours the brave

ROUGH AND THE ODD TUMBLE

Written by Pete McNae

The Nelson Speedway Association was caught between a rut and a hard place for day one of their final meeting of the summer, The New Gate Co Easter Extravaganza. Heavy rain earlier in the week soaked the surface at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway and, even though the sun had been out for a day or two since, all that water had to go somewhere, squeezing back to the top. The bright side? Bugger all dust. The not so flash byproduct was potholes, particularly in turn two with the club even having to post a warning sign to competitors about a couple of canyons that opened up about a car-width off the poleline. It meant even the chunky hunks in superstocks and stockcars were pitched around if they picked the wrong line — for the more flimsy classes; youth ministocks, TQ midgets and the sidecars especially, well, Easter is a good time for praying, isn’t it?

In the end, it was probably fortunate there were only two big smashes, Christiaan Fish taking a rough ride in his TQ before Piper Blackbourn topped that with a multiple (3? 4?) roll in her ministock. Piper was all smiles afterwards, despite a bit of a sore neck. Dizziness could also have been an issue, with the 55N car going over so fast and so far. There were a few tyres torn up and the odd shock absorber in the scrap pile but, all in all, there was an impressive number of performances out of the top drawer, with more to come from 4pm tomorrow.

Possibly the bravest of them all were the sidecar combos; the national champions, last year’s national champions,the current 3NZ team, riders and swingers from as far away as Invercargill and the central North Island. Plans to run three six-bike heats were scrapped when there wasn’t enough safe surface to put six bikes on at a time but, even with four sets of four bikes, there was some hard-out racing with the occasional front wheel to a swinger’s ribs and plenty of skill on show. And, while 1NZ Russell Stuart and Andrew Parker were good, 3NZ John Hannan and Bryce Rose were too, along with Canterbury’s Pete Stephens and Dylan Fox and the very polished Nelson pair of Brent Steer and Wade Thorn, just one combination was flawless. With eight bikes qualifying for the Easter champs tomorrow, the Palmerston North registered pairing of Derek and Matthew Ramsay (national champs in 2016-17) were the only duo to go through three rounds unbeaten. A further set of three heats will deliver a champion, but an extra lane or two of racing room will also deliver spectacular sidecar action from eight elite teams.

The TQs also had trouble with the track, an unlucky Fish adding to his personal tumble tally. But, when the national champion, Jeremy Webb, is on his game (and he has been all season long) it would take more than a few speedbumps to slow him. The class lost Morgan Frost even before racing began but turned on two decent heats and a master-class in the feature. Webb led all the way for a win in race one and travelled from the back of the grid to second in heat two, Kyle Glover proving again the most likely to tip Webb off his perch. They lined up together on the front row for the feature with Webb getting the jump and never putting a wheel wrong as he won by four seconds from Glover, with Alicia Mclauchlan clean and clear in third overall. Webb was almost four-tenths of a lap faster than anyone else in the 17-car feature field — it’s just been one of those seasons for the 1NZ. Credit also to Gavin Chappell, a stunning paint scheme on his 10th placed 5C car the hands down winner of the best presented vehicle.

Blackbourn’s upside-down antics stole the limelight among the youth ministocks. With the class not on the programme for tomorrow, tonight was the last chance for many to race this summer. In fact, for five drivers who turn 17 before next October, that’s time up in the youth ranks. It was farewell to Blenheim’s Wade Sweeting and Hadley Boyce (Boyce couldn’t make the last heat after a big prang with Nelson’s Aleisha Oakly) and local lads Caleb Jessop, Zak Baker and Cameron Thompson. Baker put a win in the books, so did Thompson, scrapping all the way with Jessop and Connor Blackbourn to claim race three. In between, one of the next wave, Riley-Jay Eathorne turned in a fine drive and will see the flag many more times in his youth career with Jessop again hard on the heels of the winner. The youth class sit out tomorrow’s season-ender with streetstocks and production saloons being added to the programme.

A couple of youth class graduates who have gone on to bigger and better things stood out among the stockcars and superstocks. While the superstocks could only rally up 10 starters, among them were the current 1 and 3NZ, the nation’s top female superstock pedaller, the current South Island champion and five of the six Nelson Tigers teams racers (Ants McKenzie is on an injury-enforced sabbatical). Contact on night one was minimal and mostly incidental, although Dale McKenzie and Alex Bright had some playtime in heat three. Race wins went to Shane Harwood, Jordan Dare and William Humphries, the heat two victory and consistent finishes enough to give Dare the Easter championship by a point from Alex Hill with Bex Barr in third. Tomorrow’s three heats are for the open club champs.

It was the same deal for the much bigger stockcar field, Easter title tonight and open club champs tomorrow. While he didn’t have a flawless run, Keightley Teece finds a way to win when it counts, taking the championship with 68 points, one ahead of Shane Brooks as Blenheim’s Scott Alexander rounded out the podium. Michael Paynter, Teece and Alexander took heat wins with Brooks second twice, Kurtis Bandy securing the stockcar stirrer of the night and Luke Dilworth taking the drive in Brad Neiman’s car after a couple of seasons away from the class and still finishing fourth overall. There were a few tentative jabs thrown by the likes of Anui Bolton, Paul Perkins and Troy Currie so some scores might need to be settled tomorrow.

Super saloons rounded out the first day programme. If you haven’t seen Ian Burson in action lately, get a green note out of the wallet and watch him perform. In a small field that still contained two past national titleholders, Burson’s 21N Hypermac wasn’t just a weapon, it was a war hammer. A heat win where he manoeuvred between two cars in a three-wide slide for the lead, and a feature win, over last year’s 1NZ Peter Dickson by a bewildering six-and-a-half seconds weren’t his best drives of the night. That came in heat two. Chasing from the back, Burson was up to third when Mark Carey’s car developed a nasty cough, bringing on the yellow lights with two laps to run. Burson jumped the restart and was sent to the back — in the final two laps, he passed all but race leader, Mr Hypermac Shane McIntyre, who nursed a sick car over the line a metre clear of Burson. McIntyre couldn’t make the feature — fingers crossed for the 26E tomorrow — but he might have had his hands full anyway. Dickson and Shane Carey chased for a while but there was daylight (love those 4pm starts) between them and Burson.

Day two of The New Gate Company Easter Extravaganza starts at 4pm with Easter titles for TQs, sidecars, productions and streetstocks while the stocks, superstocks and super saloons will run open club champs.

Photos by Becca Connor, BM Photography on Facebook.