Written by Pete McNae

Dwayne Whitfield is on a mission to bring back the bumpers.

The 24-year-old is one-and-a-bit meetings into his superstock career but already he’s eager to dispense a dose of cold steel. As Corporal Jones used to say in Dad’s Army; “They don’t like it up ’em”. Whitfield’s not boastful though — he realises how much he has to learn and that he needs to serve his superstock dues but, in his view, the cars have bars for one reason.

“I do like to crash into people,” says the factory foreman on one of Talley’s trawlers. “Ever since I was a young fella hanging out at speedway I decided the whole point was to throw your bumper around — preferably as fast as possible. It just grinds my gears that there’s not a lot of contact these days — and I’m not talking big wind-offs but spinning and some wall contact. That’s what they are built to do, surely?”

Mike Lowe photo

Whitfield’s speedway career, while brief, has been spectacular. As a 19-year-old in an early stockcar, he went for a mighty wall ride in turn one with Westport’s Jamie Boulton that had patrons on the other side of the fence fearing they were going to get a stockcar in their lap. A couple of seasons back, after absences and in a much better wagon, he cleaned up the $500 stockcar stirrer’s prize in a one-off promotion when the Kaikoura earthquake prevented the Palmerston North Panthers coming over for a teams race. Instead, club officials rustled up half a grand and told the stockcar class to go and earn it. Whitfield’s response when he heard about the cash incentive? “Excellent”.

But, as soon as he made his mark, Whitfield was gone again. The car sold to Hamish Carter’s family and, with work at sea meaning he was often away from the track, everyone assumed Whitfield was done. Not. So. Fast.

Alex Bright debuted a new home-engineered superstock last season (it’s a bargain at 60K now) and Whitfield purchased the previous Higgins-built chassis with a view to moving up to superstocks. The doubters didn’t hold back.

“There was a few who thought I had my hand on it, eh. They figured the car would never happen,” Whitfield said. “I get where they were coming from. My whole speedway career is 14 meetings, with three stockcars and a superstock. And I like to have a bit of fun, party a bit — so the view was that I’d start it, lose interest and that would be the end of it.

“Driving that car out on the Nelson track for the first time on opening night to do some laps by myself is the proudest thing I have ever done, it just released all the pressure. It was my car, financed completely by the job I do, it looked good and went pretty good too. There was a part of me thinking, ‘well, you thought I was going to give up, but here I am, and where are you right now’?”

Tom Laney photo

And Whitfield’s first race night at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway went better than he could have contemplated as he was making one of half-a-dozen nervous trips to the toilet block before racing started. He spun out a few times but the Higgins-Toyota, fresh off the trailer, with a driver who was used to about half the horsepower, finished all three races, posted lap times in the mid-16s and even avoided last place.

“I know I probably should have taken the steady approach and backed off the throttle but that’s not how I’m wired. I know I’ll make mistakes and I’m expecting a wall ride or two — it’s superstocks, though, the top of the tree especially here where I grew up watching Bootey and Hig.”

Race night number two for Whitfield was last Saturday at Woodford Glen, when six Nelson cars went down to bolster the Canterbury field and take an early look at the track that will host the NZ Superstock Championships in January. While Shane Harwood had a top night, fortunes were more mixed for other N cars. There’s a call out to Canterbury drivers as it’s thought that a couple of Nelson’s already small field are non-starters for the Dave Scott Memorial Trophy. Whitfield came within a whisker of joining them as a withdrawal.

In race one, he started off the front row with the likes of Malcolm Ngatai, Asher Rees, Jayden Ward and Harwood behind him. He got put up the wall, dropped to last but worked his way back past a few cars before the end of the race. In race two, he saw danger signs from the motor and pulled infield. There was a temptation to go back out later in the meeting but Whitfield chose the cautious approach and trailered the car. With the help of Hill and Alicia Mclauchlan, the Toyota was pulled on Sunday and, with the sump off, bearing wear was evident. It was back with the engine builder on Monday and Whitfield was confident the car would be on the grid on Saturday.

“It’s not a $100,000 car but, if that motor had let go, that’s me out for half a season at least. My job is my priority and I will need a house some day, so I can only race what I can afford,” Whitfield said. “Plenty of people tried to talk me out of a superstock but I’ve done it on my own and I’m proud of that.”

Work is a priority and when the call comes that the boat will sail soon, Whitfield parks the race car and he’s gone for five weeks at a time, on average. He’s keen to get this meeting in so he can be sure of having three under his belts, which would allow him to enter the NZ champs. He’s not unrealistic about his prospects but, as the old saying goes, he might not win the title, but he could help decide who does. That brings us back to those bumpers … his boyhood was spent with dad Rex, uncle Terry and the Burson racing team in the super saloon pits. There was a suggestion Whitfield (not the beefiest bloke in the crash classes) might get his go-fast fix in that class. But he couldn’t stop thinking about the Tigers.

“It’s the end goal, for sure. Not this season, until I know the car and get more time in it, but if there is a team in the future, the Tigers appeal to me because I can throw my bumpers in a fast car and because you’re in a group with mates and that’s the best bit for me.

“I’d say I am about 40 per cent racing and 60 per cent travelling with your mates and your crew and spinning yarns and that side of it. ”

Whitfield knows not everyone endorses his decision to join a class that has half a dozen viable cars and almost as many (although one will be out this Saturday with a guest driver) parked up and for sale but he said he and fellow newcomer to the class, Brad Neiman, had to shut out the noise and follow their faith.

“Brad and I both had a drive of one and, when you feel what a superstock can do, you have to have one. I’m happy to make my car available for a few laps to anyone who is genuinely thinking about getting into the class because that is what moves you from “maybe” to “shit, yes”. For me and Brad, we could have stayed where we were but, when you make that move, you know there is no better choice.”

  • Dwayne Whitfield races with the support of his sponsors; Mean Machine, Jacks Tyres, Racers Edge, Walker Engineering, Tom Tech and Outpost Supplies. He thanks his crew and reserves special mentions for the Nicholls family, for longtime supporter Jack Mclauchlan and for Alex Hill and Alicia Mclauchlan who pitched in to extract the ailing Toyota this week.
  • Saturday’s meeting, which starts at 6pm, has a number of feature promotions, all building towards the big finale, the Coca-Cola fireworks show just after 9pm. Along with the superstocks in the Dave Scott Memorial (two heats plus $1000 15-lap feature), there is the Brett Lusty Memorial for sidecars, a stockcar hit to pass and rounds of the club championships for TQ midgets and production saloons (two heats plus feature). Streetstocks and youth ministocks will run open races.

Images courtesy of Tom Laney, and Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography Facebook page