Three words make a phrase consuming Rob Flood's conversations since Saturday evening and being "One New Zealand" will take a bit more getting used to before the modest and humble speedway competitor fully takes in his latest achievement, National Saloon Champion for 2012/13.
Flood and his crew of supporters began their journey to Cromwell last Thursday heading to the New Zealand Saloon Championship hosted by Central Motor Speedway over Friday and Saturday evenings.
"As we left Blenheim, I thought . . . how cool would it be to qualify into the top 20 cars to race in the final," said Flood. "I never really gave one of the top three places a thought."
This year the time was right for the 35-year-old to compete in the championship after spending five years finding his feet in the sport and gaining experience racing with many of the sport's biggest names in the DHL Speedweek Series over the past few seasons.
It was the first time that the South Island has had the chance to host the title and with Cromwell having treated Flood well over the past, it was worth a try.
Friday's qualifying heats went rather well for Flood. Although involved in some incidents, he managed to finish the evening as second highest qualifier in his group and happy with the speed and performance delivered by his Lovelady Mustang.
"John Lovelady builds the best racecar around and it is just a case of waiting for the track surface to come right for the car. I may not be the fastest at the start of the race but my laps get quicker as the track changes," Flood said.
Saturday was a day of nerves for the Eastern States ace and he can recall conversing with his father, Tony as the finalists were displayed on the infield and being "nervous as hell!"
The tension did not show as he performed in the three heats before going into the 25-lap winner deciding feature race. Starting on grid seven for the final, Flood had three rows of current and previous champions ahead of him, not to mention the talented field beside and behind him.
"I knew I just had to keep clean and wait for the track to come to me." Usually a 25-lap race would take less than 10 minutes to run but the yellow lights were illuminated six times, clearing the track of damaged vehicles mainly caused by some desperate moves. The race claimed 12 casualties over its 50-minute duration, leaving eight cars to battle for honours.
Flood took ownership of the race in lap 16, passing Mt Maunganui's Steve Cowling and stretching a three-second lead before taking the flag. Cowling managed to hold second.
"I'm still overwhelmed and having trouble believing it has all happened," Flood said after the race.
He was also quick to thank his team and sponsors for making it possible. "My wife Nikki, parents Irene and Tony, crew members Blair, Donna, Kerry, Ange and Stu, sponsors Radiator Services, Maher and Moseley, Repco Blenheim, Norski, Signs Now and Lovelady Race Cars are all vital to my involvement."
With Rob and Nikki expecting their first child in June, next season was planned as a low-key event. But with 1NZ about to replace the normal 791e race number, they both see it as a duty to the fans to feature as much as they can and with invitations to high-profile meetings coming in already, they will commit to what the finances and time allow.
"Brent McClymont said in his prizegiving speech that he had heard about this Southern boy Rob Flood and looked forward to racing against him but is quite keen to meet on the track again soon to try his luck again," laughed Flood.
"It is awesome to get the comments like that from others that are at the top end."
Being the first to bring a championship title home to Eastern States Speedway has made the club proud of the achievement and hopeful for more success from fellow members competing during the rest of the season.
Car builder John Lovelady was humbled by news of Flood's victory as rivalry exists between major chassis manufacturers at most championships and the saloon claimed Lovelady's second win for the year after Canterbury's Luke Keegan was crowned NZ Modified Champion last month.
Flood also thanked the volunteers from Central Motor Speedway in Cromwell for their hospitality and organisation of the event.
- The Marlborough Express
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