Written by Pete McNae

According to Speedway New Zealand statistics, one lap of the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway is exactly 354m long. So, anything that can get around there in a tick over 11sec is hustling pretty hard. The lap record in Nelson has stood for a long time, Ross Troughton running a borrowed sprintcar to an 11.781s circuit. Tonight, that mark was broken not once, or twice, or even three times. All told, four drivers ventured into uncharted territory.

The hot laps came in time trials for the second round of the Hydraulink War of the Wings, the 11-meeting South Island sprintcar series that also drew local backing from Brooks Auto Painters. Before the official meeting start, all 21 entrants were given two timed hot laps in the late afternoon heat. And, while Troughton’s mark wasn’t surpassed during heat and feature racing (when records can be set), five drivers dipped under the magical 12s mark, with four; Matt Honeywell, Jamie Duff, Connor Rangi and Steve Duff Jnr, circulating quicker than Troughton’s time. Honeywell was the sharpest of them all on 11.6828s with Jamie Duff a whisker behind at 11.6976. Rangi (11.7599) and Jamie’s brother Steve Jnr on 11.7783 were impressive as Jason Scott (11.9447) also dipped into the 11s.

Heat, dust, traffic and any number of other factors meant no one saw the low side of the 12s for the rest of the meeting but the time trials summed up what we had already heard about the WoW series in 2017-18, the cars are better than before, the pace is hotter and the outcomes less predictable. Four heats were largely trouble-free, in fact it wasn’t until the 25-lap feature that a few cars fell by the wayside, although there were none of the “weapons of mass destruction” crashes spectators have been used to on Nelson’s tight track. Heat wins were shared around; Nelson’s Jason Smith on the board first and posting the fastest lap as groups 1 and 2 squared off. When group 3 met group 4, Steve Duff Jnr marched away, with round three resulting in a win for long distance traveller and round one winner Daniel Anderson from Te Anau. The final group race was taken out by past national modified champion Luke Keegan.

The B Main for the nine mobile drivers to miss automatic qualification (Blenheim’s Scott Valk withdrew after the time trials) was simply a chance to burn up race fuel as all 21 available cars were invited to enter the A Main feature. Second generation sprintcar driver Caleb Baughan won the B Main while his dad, Ray, was the top qualifier and chose to start the feature off grid 2 alongside Keegan. Best of the Nelson entrants at that point were Rangi on row three with Kris Gerard and Alicia Mclauchlan lining up on row five.

The first big tangle happened off turn four in lap two and ended a difficult night for Nelson’s Greg Teece. Baughan Snr was involved but restarted well back, only to get slightly sideways off turn two a few laps later and retire with a punctured rear tyre. Steve Duff Jnr got the hammer down off the first yellow and eventually worked his way past Keegan while a little further back, both Gerard and Mclauchlan were making passes and dodging danger. The hard-charging Honeywell tangled with lone North Island entrant Tony Uhlenberg, sending both to the back and Jamie Duff’s car lost forward momentum and retired to the infield. His brother headed off Keegan for the win with Daniel Anderson third but there was a lot for locals to like about Gerard and Mclauchlan making the top five, Rangi not far away in seventh.

Twelve cars completed the full 25 laps with Martin Harcourt and Jason Smith happy to load up in one piece despite finishing a lap down. Seven cars were listed as non-finishers.

Four other classes logged track time. Best of them was the streetstocks, who opened the meeting with a teams race between the Richmond Exhaust and Radiators Nelson Knights and the Canterbury Cobras. Despite having a driver excluded, Canterbury finished 1-2-3-4 with Neville Soper the first Knight home in fifth. And that set the standard for their open races with Ryan Musgrove’s Holden wagon the only Nelson car putting up much resistance as Daniel Baldwin, Paul Leslie and Kieran Skurr pinched wins. Canterbury have long held the upper hand in streetstock racing but she was a tough old night to be carrying an N.

The biggest support field was carded by the production saloons for round one of their club champs, 19 cars fronting including three from Blenheim and Keith Martin’s Greymouth Falcon. Eddie Frans has the early jump in the series with a race win and a total of 53 points but Tony Diedrichs and Jarod Fisher are within touching distance — and as usual there was plenty of touching, Diedrich’s Nissan shedding panels throughout the night. Jared Blanchet lost one flag after a two-place relegation while the other race win was claimed by Brett Allan from Blenheim but a 16th placing in the last heat leaves him with ground to make up in the coming rounds.

The youth ministock class saw a couple of young men wearing mile-wide smiles after posting breakthrough wins with Raiden Hearne getting up in a tight first heat and Brayden Skurr, who turned 15 during the week, powering away in the third. In between those two, Brayden Nell claimed a win to sit alongside a second and a third. Zak Baker continues to post quick lap times and he and Cameron Thompson are overdue to win one.

The superstock hit to pass saw very little hitting and not much passing but did herald the return of Dale McKenzie after almost two years on the sidelines. His car’s engine blew at the New Zealand champs in January 2016 and, apart from a couple of outings in brother Anthony’s car, the former 2NZ has been a watcher. He didn’t muck about tonight, winning his first race back and adding the feature later on. Not bad, not bad. Brett Nicholls was also back on track and grabbed a win in race two.

There’s been no mention yet of a possible Tigers team to meet the Palmerston North Panthers for the Challenge Cup at Nelson’s next meeting on December 2 but where there’s life, there’s hope and with seven local cars fronting (and another just missing the meeting with a breakage), well, there’s some signs of life and a hint of hope. We hope.

Photos by Tom Laney,