TWO DECADES AT THE TOP
SUPERSTOCKS FUEL NGATAI’S FIRE
Written by Pete McNae
Don’t try to tell Malcolm Ngatai that superstock racing is just a young man’s game. Sure, the former national champion (1NZ 2008-09) is happy to see a new wave of drivers emerging in the class around the country but the 46-year-old isn’t ready to swap his 19C Midwest Toyota-Gordge for a mobility scooter just yet.
Ngatai is more than 20 seasons into his speedway career, the former drag racer initially getting started in streetstocks before moving over to A grade stockcars (now known as superstocks). It’s proved a pretty good choice — along with that 1NZ, won at home at Woodford Glen, Ngatai has eight podium placings in the South Island champs, including runner-up finishes the past two seasons, and a second to Adam Joblin in the NZGP. He’s in Nelson again on Saturday as part of a healthy 20-car field for the Fifeshire Forklifts South Island championship at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, starting at 6pm.
He arrives in good form, having won the Remembrance Champs and Wayne Wilding Memorial in a championship dress rehearsal at the Glen last Saturday. Initially, it appeared there would be a three-way runoff for the title between Ngatai, Nelson’s Alex Hill and Asher Rees, back in superstocks in Ngatai’s second car. But a protest changed that mix, Ngatai taking the win with Jamie Hamilton securing second in a countback from Hill and Rees. Also in the field was another recent national champion, Shane Harwood, back in the game after a brief retirement and getting his one meeting under his belt so he could compete this Saturday. Harwood won a heat and rubbed rails with Ngatai later in the meeting.
“That’s why I have never got tired of superstocks, never missed a season in all those years — Shane and me pushed and banged each other a bit then had a beer and a laugh in the clubrooms. It’s all part of the reason we keep fronting up each October,” he said.
Ngatai is aware of all the young drivers nipping at his heels and, having set a new lap record on Saturday, enjoys the challenge. “There’s a great group of kids running round in Nelson — I guess they don’t see themselves as kids — they go really well and they are the key to the class rebuilding up there but I’m not ready to give them a free run yet. I’m having too much fun to hand it all to the young guys.”
That wasn’t always the way. Three seasons back, Ngatai felt he wasn’t meeting his own marks. “I was a wee bit over it, very busy at work (Ngatai owns waste management company Suck It Up) and not going as good as I should have. I didn’t want to get out of speedway so I decided to get the (super) saloon. And it’s a nice car and I like running it but I’m always itching to get back in the superstock. You can’t beat the superstock grade.”
Ngatai owns two of the things, too, with last season’s car being campaigned earlier this summer by former Green Team legend Chris Allen. With Allen nearing 60, he’s relinquished the driver’s seat and the 116C will be run in Saturday’s championship meeting by Asher Rees, part of the speedway-famous Rees family and the winner of the New Zealand stockcar championship when it was hosted in Nelson two summers ago. Rees is on the comeback path from a serious injury and has been racing a super saloon but recently returned to superstocks, took some hits, delivered some hits and has decided to compete this weekend as 126C. Ngatai is comfortable with the decision.
“Asher fits the car, we have made sure he is as secure as he can be in there and the rest is up to him. It’s for sale for a fraction of the build cost and I want to see it on the track but Asher has a realistic chance of winning the whole thing on Saturday … he’s that good.”
Other intriguing entries include Harwood and Thomas Stanaway, returning this weekend to run as 87N after the Hawke’s Bay-based driver missed the North Island champs to attend his sister’s wedding. Drivers can compete in either of the island titles, not both, as long as they sign a contract with an appropriate club so Stanaway will again wear the number he sported when he became 3NZ on his home track in 2012-13. Standing in their way are the likes of South Island series champion Jamie Hamilton, another former Hawke’s Bay Hawkeyes driver in Kairyn O’Brien and the Nelson “kids”, Brett Nicholls and Tigers team-mates Alex Hill, Alex Bright, the McKenzie brothers and the slightly more senior Trevor Lineham. Ngatai says that, with 10 of the pre-entry field carrying an N and the other 10 running for the C, team tactics are sure to play a part. “The last race will definitely be worth watching.”
Ngatai saw the Tigers in action as he joined the Glen Eagles team for the teams champs in Palmerston North at Waitangi weekend. The two South Island sides finished second to last and last overall but Ngatai focuses on a bigger picture.
“Our club was similar to the Tigers, we had young guys going away into a very tough environment. Teams racing has never been my favourite thing — I like to give a hit but no one enjoys being on the other end — but I felt like my experience could help steady a very young team. We went okay, the results weren’t a real reflection of how well we competed and, a lot like the Tigers, the young lads will be better for it. This year was too soon for both clubs but, if we can keep the core of those teams together, it will get easier.”
Ngatai is thankful for the support of partner Megan Treweek. He says having a partner who is as devoted to superstock racing as he is has allowed him to race with top-drawer gear for two decades. “I’ll tell you a story … Megan was paying the bills and there was $25,000 for Gordge and $15,000 to Midwest and 15K or so for Cylinder Head Services and I paid $10,000 cash for a little boat. Megan comes through and asks what I’m wasting money on a boat for — so it had to go! She’s very supportive, as long as it’s speedway.”
The New Zealand title meeting will be back at Woodford Glen in January 2019; there’s little doubt Ngatai will throw all he has into the pursuit of a second national championship. “It’s still fun, I see no reason to stop doing what I love yet — there’s all these young guys coming through but there’s still something to be said for being old and sneaky.”
- Malcolm Ngatai would like to thank sponsors and supporters; Suck It Up Ltd, CHS and Dave Rosewarne, AutoScan, Elite Steel Wheel Co, Penrite Oils, Midwest Motors, Safa Tool Box, Wurlitzer, Marley Fibreglass and Megan and crew.
- Saturday’s meeting returns to a 6pm start. The Fifeshire Forklifts South Island Superstock lead the programme, alongside a round of the Vertex Super Cup for super saloons, presented by Smith Concept Construction and the completion of the Nelson Marlborough Waste Ministock Mania. The super saloons and youth ministocks also perform from 7pm Friday.