Written by Pete McNae

There’s a race car entered in the Vertex Super Cup for super saloons in Nelson this weekend that is better known than its owner and operator. Nelson’s Dave Manera is no slouch at the wheel but his 88N Corvette is the one with the pedigree — a national championship victory in the hands of Graeme (Skinny) Colson at the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway wayyyy back in 1998-99. Yes, Manera’s Corvette is old enough to drink alcohol and has been ridden hard over the seasons but the Nelson builder is determined to be competitive in a field crammed with modern Hypermacs, along with the occasional Gordge and Lovelady chassis.

He’ll get his chance at 7pm Friday and 6pm Saturday in the final two rounds for the summer of the Vertex Super Cup (presented by Smith Concept Construction), the South Island series that brings together more than 20 top super saloons for meetings that cover the length and breadth of the island. This season, the title will be decided at the Richmond raceway and, while Manera is nowhere near the podium, he’s chasing his own goals. “Back when the ELF (now Vertex) Cup was put together, the class was struggling a bit, kind of held together by a few guys at two or three tracks who weren’t going to let super saloons fade away. Now, we have national champions competing each round, we have new drivers coming in to the class and new cars coming out each season — that just wouldn’t have happened with each track trying to battle along on their own. Clubs know a very tight promotion will come through the gates, with the numbers and racing as good as you will see anywhere.”

Cup drivers are rewarded for committing to the series and, invariably, the champion only emerges in the final round. That’s in Nelson this weekend with both Friday and Saturday’s racing being distinct, self contained meetings with heat races, passing points, a pole shuffle and a feature.

Manera had a bit of a mixed bag at the previous round in Blenheim. The ageing Vette has already had its chassis rearranged a couple of times, but Manera was putting up nippy lap times, challenging (and passing) much more modern machinery when it rode the wall in Renwick. The panel damage looked severe but was easily mended, a few bent bars will be sorted by Friday. “We might even cut one out,” Manera said. “It doesn’t affect the car or safety and it still seems to handle all right, even though it’s had a few twists.”

Maybe Manera is a master of making-do. The former West Coaster was playing in a bar band most weekends up and down the Coast in his 20s (he’s 46 now) and a colleague bought a B grade saloon to race out of Westport. Manera liked what he saw and purchased a $1500 Cortina with a Ford Grenada V6 the next weekend. “We played the bars Friday and Saturday and raced the cars a bit hungover on Sunday afternoons.”

Next was a former Nelson car, an MGB V8 with a Leyland P76 motor on its last legs before Manera took the plunge and purchased an ex-Paddy North super saloon. As the only competitor with a fuel injected V8 super saloon on the Coast, he raced mostly in Christchurch and Nelson and moved here 11 years ago, buying a share in a Bridge St bar.  There was one more race season here with the car, then it went into storage for a couple of years before being sold as Manera worked hard during the Christchurch rebuild.

“I thought I was done but I went to a couple of meetings at the Glen and said ‘bugger it, I want another car’. It was always going to be a super saloon, I’d never race anything else and I found Skinny’s Corvette racing at a black track club way up north. Everything on it was pretty tired but Skinny builds a great car so with a bit of a tidy up, I was back into it.”

An engine blow-up saw a healthy HRE 401 Chev added and Manera repanelled the car for a more modern wedge look — there are new tyres but the shocks and other fittings might still be Skinny originals from 20 seasons ago. “That’s part of the challenge, getting as much as we can out of equipment that’s been around a while. The goal is to be competitive and we are getting there — once we get the lap times I can live with, it’s matter of me keeping it off the walls and not spinning up once or twice each race.”

Manera certainly left a mark in an early-season appearance in Nelson, riding the turn 4 wall at the Trackman Trophy meeting. The car was totally perpendicular, 90 degrees to the track surface but came back down and kept running. “I was pretty sure it was over but it came off the wall, I did one slow lap and nothing fell off so I took off again. I got a heap of (Facebook) friend requests that week — everyone wanted to talk about how close it was to rolling.”

While the cup podium is well out of reach, he’s determined to keep pushing his own limits and those of the ageless Corvette. He’s drawn front of the grid starts on a number of occasions and is well aware of 22 big horsepower, big budget supers behind him. “I’m trying to block that out and drive my race because when I start to hear what’s behind me, the odd mistake can creep in. On our night, I can hang with those guys and even pick some off, it’s just about being clean and consistent.”

Nelson is a tough track for a large field of the Kiwi taxis — it’s short and slick and there is little room for error in turn one of lap one but Manera enjoys racing on his home track. “When you get in the groove, it’s a magic place to race — that groove can be anywhere from the pole line right out to the wall.” Just not up the wall, eh, Dave?

  • Dave Manera’s 88N Corvette super saloon is supported by Nelson Bays Builders, Milestone Homes Nelson and Liquid Bar. On the crew are Nick and Tim.
  • Friday night’s meeting starts at the later time of 7pm to allow club volunteers to finish work and set up. Alongside the penultimate round of the Vertex Super Cup (presented by Smith Concept Construction), the Nelson Marlborough Waste Youth Ministock Mania has 24 entries, including visitors from Blenheim, Christchurch, Cromwell and Dunedin, racing to strict behaviour rules.
  • Saturday’s meeting sees both super saloons and youth ministocks on the programme, alongside the 20 cars competing for the Fifeshire Forklifts South Island superstock championship. Racing will start at 6pm. A preview story for that meeting will be published tomorrow.

Photos by Tom Laney and Hayden Mortimer,