Andre Evans is up for a bit of hit and giggle at the speedway this weekend.
The 27-year-old wheel alignment technician is a fixture in the Nelson Speedway Association's annual demolition derby, having never missed one since he turned 16. He has even won a couple, piloting a tiny hatchback painted as cartoon clownfish Nemo.
Evans has a Mitsubishi lined up for Saturday night's Classic Hits derby at the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway but, to be fair, his mind is focused elsewhere.
That is because, earlier in the meeting, he will make his stockcar teams racing debut for the Accessman Tasman Thunder as they host Blenheim's Eastern States Titans.
So, while the derby is pleasure, Evans and his Thunder team-mates are all business as they approach the Teece Family Trophy race against a powerful Blenheim lineup.
"Every person in there knows how to teams race, they have a group that has gone into battle together a lot of times and we need to really be on our game against them," Evans said.
He has won his promotion to Tasman's starting five at the expense of Ben Smith, who broke the Ford 6 engine in the family stockcar as he helped the Thunder to a win over the Greymouth team last month. The rest of the local lineup is settled with captain and new South Island stockcar champion Cody Teece fronting up alongside Michael Paynter, Justin Hearne and Adam Hall.
Trevor Lineham moves into the squad as Tasman's reserve, although he will only run in the teams race if one of his offsiders strikes mechanical troubles pre-race.
Evans has served his time as the sixth man. On Saturday, he is itching to push past the four practice hot laps that herald a teams race.
"It's something I have been hanging out to do," he said. "I feel like I'm ready, we'll find out soon enough."
The Thunder will carry confidence into Saturday's assignment, having reversed a loss to Greymouth in their last race and then showing a team-first approach as they guided Teece to his South Island title last weekend. Despite it being an individual event, the Nelson drivers ganged up on their Blenheim rivals to pave a path for Teece.
"We're working together better than ever before, putting those team goals ahead of personal ones," Evans said. "The Thunder family are pretty tight, pretty supportive."
Evans, like team-mates Paynter and Hearne, is a relative newcomer to stockcar racing and a total newbie on the teams scene. He entered speedway as a derby driver, had one undistinguished season in streetstocks, then joined the stockcar ranks in an aged chassis purchased from the Coast.
That provided little but headaches and the occasional ache elsewhere as it proved unable to stand up to the pounding that is part of stockcar racing. Evans disappeared for a season but returned this year with a new car, built with the help of Hearne, Paynter and Stephen (Gribbage) Gribben, and the support of partner Dee Eden, young son Dakota, and main sponsors Jacks Tyres and Performance, the Lunch Break, Footies Signs and Designs and Tony's Engineering.
It has changed Evans' attitude to racing.
"I don't have to worry about surviving now, I can actually try to drive and win once in a while," he said. "I'm having so much fun, the season has gone better than I could possibly have hoped."
Saturday's race against the Titans will provide another page in the family album. Eastern States recently finished as runners-up in the national championships and boast the likes of [Recca] Ricco Gray, Gavin Marshall and Ralph Gillespie.
"They're just six guys in six cars," Evans said. "We know what they are capable of but there's no point in racing if we don't think we can win.
"It's all great experience, anyway, because the Thunder are looking to get to where Blenheim already are and we have to push ourselves against the really good teams to learn."
The Tasman Thunder will have their cars on display, with a chance to meet the drivers, at Rob Roys in Queen St, Richmond, between 1-3pm on Saturday.
The Thunder are generously supported by Accessman, Nelson Vehicle Deliveries, ProKarts, Rob Roys, Lift N Shift, Footies Signs and Designs and the New Zealand Community Trust.
There has also been strong interest in the derby with sponsor Classic Hits entering five cars and New Zealand Home Loans with another four among a big field for the last event of the meeting.
- The Nelson Mail