As you might expect from an international airline pilot, Ross Troughton knows a thing or two about wings.
So it was no real surprise that, seven years since he last raced on clay, the Motueka flyboy was right back on the pace during the Tyre General War of the Wings South Island sprintcar series on Saturday.
Troughton's drive was put together by father-in-law Neville Greaney and backed by a number of Motueka businesses so the former modified champion could race two rounds of the 10-meeting series, on Friday in Blenheim and Saturday's meeting at the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway. A ride was leased from Canterbury sprintcar hoarder Greg Hiddlestone and Troughton and his team threw a competitive car together at short notice.
To prove driving at the speedway is like riding a bike, albeit one boasting more than 800 horsepower, Troughton set a new lap record for the class in his first outing at Nelson in seven seasons.
He had to accept third place in heat one after being baulked by lapped traffic but his two laps in the 11sec range - with a best of 11.7815sec - carved a full half-second off Nelson's open lap record.
Troughton didn't finish the 25-lap final - no-one did as rain and a bad smash ended the race three laps early - but there was little doubt that he has the talent, if not the time and the budget, to shine in the 14-strong series field.
The 25-lapper should have been the meeting's crowning glory but a club decision to run other classes when the showers were on the way ultimately backfired.
Cromwell's Jason Scott came in with the championship lead but ended his race hanging from the turn one wall in a bent car as the clay slicked off badly when the rain fell.
He and Ray Baughan had pushed hard for 22 laps as some of their rivals floundered in 800 horsepower ice skates, but Scott's crash was an unfortunate outcome that could have been averted. Events were muddied - literally - after the race when it was ruled that Scott would not be the race winner, despite leading on the last completed lap.
Baughan was bumped up a spot, as were all of those behind him including new runnerup Andy Erskine, with Scott's crash deemed the cause of the race stoppage, rather than the rain.
Troughton had been first out of the final after a brush with the wall saw his right rear tyre deflate while championship contender Matt Honeywell spun away a lead to end up in 10th.
Nelson's Kris Gerard improved as the meeting went on, winning a heat and taking third overall, one spot ahead of fellow Nelson entrant Brett Sullivan.
Gerard's workmate, Greg Teece, also had a heat win and was lying fifth when the final was canned.
A stockcar teams race and two club championships made for a busy night while a handful of major prangs played a part in the meeting running on into the rain.
The Accessman Tasman Thunder continue to grow into a capable teams racing unit, logging their second dominant win of the season when they wiped the Canterbury Crushers off the clay. Keightley Teece made his debut, stepping in for Justin Hearne who had been in the midst of an engine rebuild on race day, Teece going on to take the flag for the Thunder.
His job was made easier by a well-organised blocking effort, led by older brother Cody, who did a fine job of putting his car between Keightley and trouble.
The Thunder finished first, second and third as they build towards an appearance at the stockcar teams nationals at the end of the month.
Open races saw mixed fortunes for two superstock drivers who hopped into their backup cars for the meeting. Shane Harwood won both races while Trevor Lineham gave the wall a meaty headbutt and failed to finish either one.
Keightley Teece and Hearne trailed Harwood in both races with Dallas Murray also impressing.
Ian Burson's overall victory in the Nelson club super saloon championship was no surprise but he did have to work hard to add another sash to a bulging collection.
Josh Boulton took heat one by 0.04sec from a charging Burson while Bruce Boulton had a more comfortable 0.4sec up his sleeve as he took race two. With a narrow lead on overall points, Burson simply needed to get to the front and stay there in heat three, a feat he achieved in style, winning the overall title by two points from the Boultons, with son Josh pipping dad Bruce for second.
The Canterbury contingent were unable to make it back to Nelson this weekend for the three-quarter midget club championship but a visitor still stole the lollies with West Coast raider James Thompson making a winning return to the raceway.
He smashed the field in heat one, which saw Rob Martin, Mark Bezett and Dylan Stone-Cuthbert gone for the evening, Stone-Cuthbert tumbling spectacularly along the wall after riding the clay cushion left by the sprintcars.
Thompson backed that up with a heat two victory as closest challenger Jason Riley was relegated one costly spot and then survived a big crash in the final when Thompson got tangled with Simon Crawford and both rolled.
The Nelson car of Crawford came off worst in the turn three tumble, Thompson managing to nurse a damaged car home to the title. Riley was a strong second with rookie Morgan Frost third ahead of two other new drivers, Alicia McLauchlan and Hayden Mortimer.
Youth ministock racing looked like a green party as the lime-hued cars of Bradley Frost and Shawn Pomeroy set the early pace, Frost taking his first Nelson chequer in race one and Pomeroy leading race two until his car's engine blew.
That opened a door for Roydon Winstanley to win but he was punted from race three by the referee, Luke Ewing taking the flag.
Production saloons completed the card, 17 cars fronting for the best pairs promotion. Two wins and a sixth earned Steve Russ individual honours ahead of Blenheim's Brett and Dave Allan, Russ winning the pairs section with team-mate Ash Bradley, ahead of David Allan and race partner Pam Nixon. Third were Patrick Ward and Henry Ford while the rookie duo of first-season production saloon driver Felix Frans and first-night racer Jono Sutton did well for fourth.
However, the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for Geoff Watson's win in race three.
After a year which has involved a fatal rally crash, a critical injury and long rehabilitation and the theft of a race car that had huge sentimental significance, the Watson family deserved a little sunshine.
The next meeting in Nelson will see a capacity field racing for the South Island TQ midget championship on December 14.
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