Nelson Speedway on national stage

Best little oval in the land

 

Written by: Pete McNae

 

It’s more than just a slogan painted on the officials’ tower, the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway really is New Zealand’s No 1 club-run speedway. Speedway New Zealand says so.

Karen Carey: Services to Speedway award recipient

The Nelson club delegation had extra baggage to bring home from the annual Midas Speedway New Zealand awards function in Wellington at the weekend, securing three trophies while longtime Nelson club life member and national promotions committee representative Karen Carey was surprised to receive a Services to Speedway award for her long service on the national body.  The formal evening followed on from the sport’s Annual General Meeting which considered a number of remits, the most controversial appearing to be the elevation of production saloons to a national class, meaning drivers will now be eligible to compete for a 1NZ. It was a close vote and a result which did not find favour with all.

But, for the Nelson contingent in Wellington, there was plenty to celebrate. The club had finalists in a number of categories ranging from Stockcar Competitor of the Year (Keightley Teece), to Best Promotional Apparel, National Speedway Event of the Year, and the club-run track category, among others. The stockcar trophy was won by 735A Keegan Orr; Jason Gutteridge from The Pits media secured the Best Written Article for his tribute to Bryan Clauson over a profile on Nelson cancer survivor and speedway fan Deanna Marsden and speedway blogger/journalist Matthew Percival’s entertaining and informed piece on chasing sprintcar racing and Palmerston North’s superstock national champs meeting headed off the stunning Equus 75th New Zealand Midget Car Championship meeting in Nelson for the National Speedway Event of the Year. While the superstock nationals are a Holy Grail for many, anyone who attended the midgets meeting in January, with four US drivers in attendance and Michael Pickens winning his seventh national crown, knew they had seen something special.

Nelson’s other unsuccessful finalist (the top three are chosen from a wide range of nominations from across the country) was from the same class, with veteran traveller and staunch midget class supporter Gavin Wilkie in the running for Midget class Competitor of the Year. Wilkie lives in Dunedin but trucks the best part of 800km on broken roads to carry the N around the South Island.

But there was good news for Nelson to come. The Promotional Apparel award for the midget champs T-shirt was recognition of the efforts of Nelson’s Kevin Freeman and Commentator of the Year AJ Batt, who used US contacts to source a design featuring old and new style midget race cars on a high quality T shirt. The fact they sold out quickly and have been sighted around the country is a testament to the shirt’s design.

Waimea Print staff member Cam Mayne, who has taken a significant role in redesigning the Nelson programme and calendars, was honoured for the Best Promotional Poster for his series for the War of the Wings sprintcar promotion. Mayne is a speedway fan and will work closely with the Nelson association in future on the visual aspects of their promotional work.

Then Nelson’s name was called, ahead of Cromwell and Kihikihi, as the best club-run track in the country. Retiring club president Wayne (Wog) Martin said he was surprised.

“I didn’t know we were there with the rainouts and all that guff this year, but talking to people since, it stacks up,” he said. “It’s been a long time between drinks, we almost got to the point of redoing the signwriting on the box because we haven’t actually won this award for a few years — but it’s one the whole team should be pretty proud to share.”

While the midget meeting was the jewel in the crown, the Nelson association made other significant moves last summer. The club secured a new long-term backer in Milestone Homes, its website had a major makeover, adding much more fan-friendly content than before, potential promotional washouts were repackaged with the club choosing to support earthquake relief through the Waiau pool rebuild fund and the Racing for Kids Child Cancer Foundation meeting. The NZ Sprintcar GP was threatened by rain but a hasty reshuffle saw the event completed in one night, allowing visiting drivers to contest the title before the downpour arrived, wiping out Saturday’s racing. And the clubrooms onsite have become a genuine focal point for most meetings.

“It’s that social atmosphere that brings people back,” Martin said. “At the end of the night, we can walk across the pits, have a beer, spin some yarns and unwind in comfortable, modern clubrooms.”

Lots of other tracks can’t get drivers in the doors for a social drink. In Nelson, they are struggling to get them out.

“I guess what I am most proud of with this award is that we keep checking ourselves, asking if we are delivering what fans and competitors want. Some of our decisions haven’t been in the club’s ultimate interest but they have generally been good for the sport. We have worked hard to move away from the black T-shirt brigade to be a legitimate sport that stacks up with the other options out there and has some community aspect that gets us beyond our own gates.

“We haven’t always got it right but we have tried a few things and been willing to step back and look at what we have offered and we need to keep doing that to survive and grow.”

Martin steps down after three years as president at next week’s AGM. Once a new committee is in place, finishing touches will be added to the bones of the 2017-18 calendar following various class meetings. The prospect of fewer meetings to appease neighbours will mean no “soft” nights or marginal promotions — every meeting will need to stand on its own merits. Features include the national TQ champs and South Island championship meetings for superstocks, midgets and sprintcars. Others, like the stockcar teams brawl, will have to succeed this coming season or be scrapped while the Tigers superstock team also desperately needs a transfusion to survive after being a longtime feature on the speedway landscape. That involves club communication with drivers and a recognition that being chosen for the Tigers is an honour, not an obligation.

“I think we are in good heart, there’ll be a new president by the end of the month but individuals aren’t how Nelson works — we want and need everyone so I am proud of where we have come and where we can go. It’s nice to put some truth behind the signwriting and actually be the best club-run track in the country.”