Justin Hearne knew all was not well.
The oil pressure gauge reading was low and his stockcar's motor had begun the death rattle.
"I got infield as fast as I could and shut it off," the Tasman Thunder team racer said. "It probably prevented us losing the motor."
Hearne's hiccup came on opening night of the Nelson speedway season at the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway on Saturday. The Trinders engineer had a trouble free run in pre-season practice and was looking for big things from his rebuilt racecar.
"We picked up the body from Footie [signwriter Steve Foote] that afternoon and the car had new steel, new body, new paint - it was really looking the part. Instead, the whole meeting became a bit of a nightmare," Hearne said.
Fortunately, his early intervention saw the Ford 6 motor saved, although Hearne and his engine builder were busy this week repairing bearings and regrinding the crankshaft.
He is confident the car will be ready for a road trip to Greymouth tomorrow, where the Thunder will try to wrest the O'Halloran Suspension Developments Trophy away from the hometown Grizzlies.
The Thunder have selected Cody Teece, Adam Hall, Ben Smith and Michael Paynter alongside Hearne, while the Grizzlies will line up five drivers from a squad comprising Tony Oliver, Tony Stanton, Chris Baxter, Andrew Wright, Dwayne Honey and John Gray.
Teece is the teams racing veteran, Hearne and Hall have a couple of seasons under their belts, while both Smith and Paynter are on debut tomorrow.
It's an expensive and punishing way to go racing, but Hearne is happy to front up for the Nelson club.
"I'm definitely driving for the club and the stockcar class," he said. "I'm in because the class is like family and you do stuff for family, don't you?
"If I didn't get picked, I wouldn't have been bothered but, once your name is called, it is car and body on the line."
Greymouth claimed the cup on their Greenstone Park track last season, but also have had some squad changes since then, with Honey on debut and Gray offering assistance from his Christchurch base.
Greymouth club spokesman Hadleigh Smith said Gray put his name forward last week when the Grizzlies were short on numbers, the experienced Canterbury racer intending to tow across the island, whether or not he is in tomorrow's team.
Hearne said the Thunder were going in cold, having only had one race meeting in Nelson.
"They are in the same boat but we hope we can get the jump on them," he said. "We want that trophy back."
The Thunder plan to join their superstock brethren, the Nelson Tigers, in Wellington on November 17 for races against the Young Guns and the Wildcats respectively, while the return leg against Greymouth is set down for January 26. Their season also includes a race against the Eastern States Titans from Blenheim on February 23.
Hearne hopes to be part of as many of those teams races as he can but, despite help from Lift N Shift Ltd, budgets are always an issue.
"We're doing Wellington, if we get picked, and we'll see how things pan out from there," he said.
"Finding a whole lot of some foreign matter in the bottom of your engine on the first night isn't the way you want to start, but we'll do this for as long as we can."
Tomorrow's Greenstone Park meeting also features the Jim Bradford Memorial three-quarter midget promotion, with a field of 15 already entered, including Nelson's James Nicholson, Mike McWhinney and Mark Bezett.
Racing at the Cobden track starts at 4pm with a plan to move the meeting to 1pm on Sunday if weather intervenes.
- © Fairfax NZ News