All at sea in a great white whale

00:22, Feb 25 2013
Pete McNae
PANEL BEATERS: Pete McNae in the NZHL01 Ford Falcon cops some early treatment from the Honda of derby veteran Isaac Russ.

Nelson Mail speedway writer Pete McNae had a chance to run in the demolition derby on Saturday. As they say, the best laid plans ...

In the wonderfully inverted world of demolition derby, first is last and last is first. If I had one aim on Saturday, it was not to finish first.

Not one to look gift horsepower in the mouth, when the chance arose to drive in the Classic Hits demo derby at the speedway, there were no doubts in my mind. Okay, maybe one. "What if I get last?"

I've done a derby before, did passably well. Driven a production saloon and a stockcar in invitation races and won them both. But, in the world of one-off drivers at the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway, you are only as bad as your next race.

There were four of us in this together. After having a whale of a time sponsoring the New Zealand superstock championships in January, New Zealand Home Loans chief exec Mark Collins and operating officer Phil Harris wanted a crack on the track. Nelson branch co-owner Shane Adamson was in, too.

We had race plans. We had driving instructions. We had borrowed gear and donated cars and every good intention in the world. Then, we got to the track and all of that went out the holes where the windows once were.


Shane was momentarily thrown off his game by his Primera's pink paint. I'd argued for fuchsia, but it was PINK. Mark's Telstar only started when his accelerator foot was flat to the floor and Phil's Opel sported something that looked distressingly like a bullet hole in the front fender. We wondered if it had been put out of its misery by a previous owner.

My Ford Falcon looked the part. A Moby Dick of a car, it exuded bulk and power - when the wires were connected to make the fuel pump work. My team-mates, and many of the other 40 entrants, were quietly envious.

That's until we got to the dummy grid, three minutes from race start, and the car wouldn't turn over. Belted in, braced up, helmeted and gloved and my Ford wouldn't fire. Some desperate last-minute mechanicing discovered the problem, the one thing that couldn't be fixed with a wire stripper and a sharp knife. Driver malfunction.

The 01 Ford made it out the pit gate, though, onto a saturated clay surface. It was like a tipsy elephant on ice skates. Commentator Dave Birdling apparently said: "Pete McNae is a very experienced driver" . . . that is because it took me the equivalent of 14 race laps to manoeuvre the Ford back towards the wall in reverse, all the while muttering darkly inside the helmet: "What if I finish last?" Or "What if I never get started?"

On the green light, the Ford burrowed into the back corner of another fuchsia-hued Classic Hits car, my first spin that didn't involve me waltzing my own personal dance of the desperates.

Phil and Shane, in their lighter weight cars, disappeared in a hail of clay bullets, Mark was following his own agenda. "There were two options, putter round and eventually sputter out, or hit as much stuff as I could before my car died." He did and it did.

Meanwhile Moby and myself managed a couple of laps and a few taps. Gave a couple, copped plenty as the big sedan skidded and slid. When Janelle Steed's raffle prize car caught fire, Nelson Speedway officials put on the red lights. Moby was stranded sideways across the back straight. The first four cars sledged past but I saw Felix Frans's car coming before I felt it. Then I felt it. Bells ringing, birds singing.

Felix hadn't spotted the reds, or the Falcon, until he was fully committed. His car and mine formed the perfect right angle as it T-boned Moby.

To its credit, the Ford ploughed on for another couple of laps before I again put it in the line of fire. The plan was to get pointed in the right direction and aim for Shane's pink Primera but one final slap across the chops took out the Falcon's steering and I wobbled infield and out of the derby.

Mark was a goner, too, stoved up against the turn two wall but Phil and Shane lasted for ages. At one point, Phil was passed by his own right front tyre, while Shane's steering was completely cock-eyed and knock-kneed but they hung in, manfully.

When the chequered flag was finally handed to Gav Peterson, in another raffled car, put together by the Nelson Tigers and running fuel scrounged from Canterbury superstock driver Jason Smith, the four NZHL drivers were already comparing bruises and war stories. And planning the next campaign.

Thumbs out, team.

NZHL 01, 02, 03, 04 were put together with the help of Nelson Vehicle Deliveries, Seeka Panels and Parts, Footies Signs and Designs, Willie Simpson, Daniel Kitto, Brittany Carpenter and the other competitors and crew who provided time and race gear. Aaron and Kris Carpenter of the Nelson Speedway Association brought the sideshow together with many hours of stress and mess.

The Nelson Mail