It's hard enough to compete with the Palmerston North Panthers with a full complement of four superstock drivers. Put two of them in the back of a St John ambulance and you are on a hiding to nothing.
The Nelson Tigers were on the wrong end of a fearful beating at the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway, yielding the Challenge Cup to the visiting Panthers team.
Of more concern, though, were the injuries to two Tigers, Carey Harwood and Blair Cunningham. A bizarre and frightening crash on the second lap of the race saw Harwood hospitalised while a banged-up Cunningham was spotted smiling through the pain in the pits after the meeting.
Nelson fielded a team of Harwood, Cunningham, Jared Gray and Shane Harwood in defence of the cup, which they had won in Palmerston North 12 months earlier. The Panthers, national superstock teams racing champions in seven of the last eight seasons, lined up their traditional core of Scott Miers, Peter Bengston, Peter Rees and Shane Penn, 18-year-old Jack Miers sitting the race out as a reserve.
Gray got the jump for Nelson and led the first lap but the "get-even" was abrupt and uncomfortable.
Carey Harwood was nailed by Bengston coming off turn two and was knocked cold. His car continued to power down the back straight with Harwood out at the wheel, until it ploughed into Gray's immobile car in turn three.
Harwood's car corkscrewed in the opposite direction and took off back up the straight in the wrong direction with the unconscious driver slumped hard onto the accelerator and the car running along the concrete wall.
Both Miers and Bengston were aware of what had happened and attempted to move their cars in as a rolling block but missed their chance as Harwood's screaming Nissan V8 finally ploughed into the back of team-mate Cunningham's car, which was stranded in turn one.
Track officials managed to shut off the engine and both Cunningham, who had taken a hefty shot while unprepared, and Harwood, were able to get out of their cars under the own steam in the pits some minutes after the crash.
Harwood suffered a broken elbow and damaged ribs and ankle. However early fears of a serious head injury were allayed by staff at Nelson Hospital. Cunningham was not knocked out as first suspected but was deeply bruised and suffering some back and neck pain from the impact.
With two cars out of commission, the Tigers never stood a hope against the all-powerful Panthers, Gray attempting to hold up Palmerston North's run cars while Shane Harwood focused on chasing placings.
Scott Miers and Bengston finished as the only two drivers on the lead lap, with Shane Harwood third, Rees fourth, Penn fifth and Gray the final finisher.
The Tigers will clearly need to revamp their team for this weekend's trip to Wellington to take on the Wildcats but have a readymade replacement for Harwood in former national champion Dale Ewers. On his first night back, the regular Tigers captain showed great pace and poise through traffic and will be good to go next Saturday. He will join the squad with Brett Nicholls coming in for a recuperating Cunningham.
Open superstock racing was dominated by a pair of drivers who no longer teams race, Nick Fowler and Craig Boote. The WestFleet team-mates had the quickest cars on the track and won all three heats with Boote claiming the first and Fowler too sharp in the other two.
Jack Miers also looked dangerous as he tested combinations for the New Zealand Home Loans NZ superstock championships in January while Dale McKenzie and Thomas Stanaway were fast but battled early-season issues.
The meeting's major support promotions were provided by the three-quarter midgets, who ran the first round of their club championship, and the production saloon class, which held a best pairs event.
With 16 points at stake for a win and consistent placings required to shine out at the end, the team of Patrick Ward and Steve Russ proved the best pairing, their 74 points narrowly heading off Nic Eden and Steve Watson on 70. Third, with 66 points, were Jared Blanchet and Blenheim's Dave Allen, with Russ, Watson and Mike Arnold the heat winners.
The arrival of a Canterbury contingent in the TQ class is always a mixed blessing. On the plus side, the field takes a leap forward in pace and presentation. On the other side, the visitors usually bag the bulk of the prizemoney. That was the case again on Saturday as Kyle Glover, Blair Warren and Gareth Bindon controlled proceedings.
Apart from a double roll that claimed two Christchurch cars in heat two, there was little for the locals to celebrate, although Jason Riley, Mike McWhinney and James Nicholson worked hard to stay close.
Canterbury drivers also played the part of the bullying big brother in the strong streetstock field with fifth place finishes for the Fords of Neville Soper and Ryan Bowater as close as any Nelson drivers got to the chequered flag. Former top of the south tearaway Paul Leslie did score one win, although his car now sports 27C on its flanks, while Shane Chapman and Dave McSherry completed the red and black sweep.
Sidecar racing restored the balance somewhat with combinations from Christchurch and Blenheim well down the track as the class welcomed back another couple of former fan favourites. Three heats in the top division were shared by Noel Puklowski and swinger Ben Keys (two) with Adie Drake and Owen Hunter winning the other, while Chris Sangster and Brent Steere showed that time away had not dulled their skills as they stood out in the second group, along with passengers Rodger Delany and Tony McKenzie.
Stockcars rounded out a busy race card with a big field of 19 gridding up for race one. Cody Teece, Wayne Martin, Ben Smith and Dallas Murray took care of the frontrunning and the flags while, further back, Cliff Henderson, Justin Hearne and Andre Evans were content with the push and shove.
Teece, Hearne, Evans, Liam Smith, Michael Paynter and Adam Hall will be on the Cook Strait ferry next weekend as the Tasman Thunder travel alongside the Tigers for a double-banger teams race against their capital counterparts.
- The Nelson Mail