Super saloons in good Elf
Every Santa season has an elf.
And, at Nelson's Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway at this time of the summer, that is the ELF Super Cup.
The super saloon travelling show opened in Blenheim on Friday with 19 of the promised 20 cars in attendance. Crashes and mechanical failure claimed three, but 16 of the South Island's leading supers still made it through to Nelson on Saturday, for the club's last pre-Christmas meeting.
Leading the troupe over the hill was Shane Carey, who had a strong night on the big Blenheim track, but it is always a different scenario when 16 of the 700 horsepower taxis try to squeeze around Nelson's cozy corners.
It was a tribute to the skill of the drivers - and track prep guru Murray Teece - that the field came away largely unscathed after more than 70 race laps. While the clay did dust up and become slippery early in the 25-lap feature, there were no incidents, 15 of the 16 starters making it to the finish.
First to the line, collecting 91.5 points from the feature and an overwhelming 265 for round two of the series, was Christchurch's Mark Osborne. The first-season super saloon driver appeared, all night, to have the best race package, winning heat one, making a load of passes from near the rear in the reverse grid heat two, then claiming a front row feature start alongside Nelson's Ian Burson in the eight-car pole shuffle.
Burson, who had been strong in the earlier races, had a goal of putting points in the bank when he went out for the 25-lapper and drove a tight and tidy line for 15 laps until the bolder Osborne got by on the 16th.
In his post-race comments, Burson acknowledged that "Mark had bigger gonads than me", as Osborne was willing to work out by the wall to make passes.
Third in the feature but second on points, once the heats were added in, was Blenheim's Paddy North with Mike Verdoner and Richie Taylor filling the top five. Carey was seventh for the meeting and slipped to second in the series.
Osborne did catch one lucky break, when it appeared he was heavily involved in a spin on turn two but the meeting officials decided that Gavin Hill had pinched his race line and allowed Osborne to reclaim first place for the restart.
It was a hectic night for the referee, with exclusions and relegations flying thick and fast.
A couple of those decisions had an impact on the outcome of the Nelson club stockcar championship with race one winner Shane Harwood relegated, while Wayne Martin was disqualified from fourth, Nick Brunning was outed for hitting after the flag and Andre Evans had both a relegation and a dismissal for duelling on the infield with Brunning.
Emerging through the smoke was Ben Smith, who gathered two wins and a sixth place to put his stamp on a first club championship. He had a little help from his friends, with Tasman Thunder team-mates Michael Paynter and Justin Hearne holding up points leader Harwood in the final heat to create an overall one-point buffer for Smith.
One point behind Harwood in third was Adam Hall, who recovered from an average first race to win the second and power home behind Smith in the third. Trevor Lineham and Paynter completed the top five.
Cody Teece's prospects ended when he was tipped up by Shane Brooks in heat one. That simply freed Teece to even the ledger for past indiscretions, firing Cliff Henderson's Tank up the wall and grinding Caleb Russ's car along the concrete in turn three. Henderson suffered a fractured shoulder blade and some breathing difficulties in his crash and will be off the scene for some time.
Brooks, a new driver this season, stood out on an aggressive night, as did fellow rookie Shane Robertson.
A rival's relegation in heat one for the three-quarter midgets opened the door for Jason Riley to score a fortunate win in heat one. There was no luck involved as he swept to victories in the other two races, though. Finally, Nelson appears to have a competitor capable of running with the Canterbury drivers who travel north and scoop up Nelson's prizemoney.
While James Nicholson and a resurgent Mark Bezett were strong, Riley's car lapped in 14.4sec on Saturday and, with a little more time in traffic, will prove hard to head off.
The youth ministock class is the Nelson club's future - for better or worse. While the 12 to 16-year-old drivers are clearly talented, raging hormones have created issues in recent weeks. Saturday's meeting saw a race stopped halfway through as, in the referee's words "they were acting like stockcars", while one driver is facing a suspension for a post-meeting meltdown.
Brad Neiman, Dylan Clarke and Keightley Teece were at the front of the field with Bayley Corkill scoring a first career win in heat two.
The officials were able to breath out again through the streetstock and production saloon racing with both classes remaining mostly within their rules. A relatively slow start for the streetstocks became the building blocks for an all-in scrap in race three, no cars escaping unblemished.
Cody McCarrison (two) and Ryan Musgrove were the winners, Neville Soper the streetstock stirrer of the night.
Seventeen production saloons were split into five triples, with two newer drivers floating in the field. Steve Russ gave it a great shot to get his team home with two wins in three races but the consistent contributions of Steve Watson, his dad Geoff and team-mate Henry Ford saw them claim the promotion by 14 points from Russ, Jared Blanchett and Jordan Bridge. The Black Racing Team triple of Mike Arnold, Nic Eden and Jason Bradley were third.
Superstocks return to the Nelson circuit on December 29 for their club champs and a chance to add final touches before the New Zealand Home Loans NZ Superstock Championships on January 11-12.
The Nelson Mail