You put the right Boote in, you take the right Boote out, you put the right Boote in - and then you award him a championship in speedway's version of the hokey-cokey.
It took a long time and a hearty helping of angst before Nelson's Craig Boote was named the 2013-14 South Island superstock titleholder at the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway on Saturday. Three heats in the New Zealand Home Loans-supported event provided superb superstock racing but the championship descended into farce with a one-driver runoff, two different men being announced as champion and Boote eventually receiving his sash an hour after the meeting ended.
The issues all surrounded one corner of one lap in heat three of the championship. Boote led on points going in to the last heat with Ricky Boulton and Dale McKenzie his closest chasers.
On lap four, McKenzie saw his chance and used his bumper to spin Boote's car coming off turn two. That was when it got tricky.
Boote recovered for fifth across the line, enough to head McKenzie for the title. But it was ruled he had come out of the spin and used the grass to gain two places, which were then taken away by the meeting referee. Boote was bumped back to a tie for second with Boulton and McKenzie was elevated to champion.
Boote shunned the runoff for second, Boulton completing four solitary laps as a protest into the relegation was heard. The big crowd filtered out the gates and few were still around to hear that video footage had resulted in Boote's protest being upheld.
He was back as champion, McKenzie bumped a spot to runner-up and Boulton shifted down one to third. The presentation was held in the clubrooms over a beer that might have had a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Issues aside, the championship still delivered. All three heats provided ample action, despite a field made up almost exclusively of Nelson cars, and a half-dozen drivers had a realistic shot at the top step going into the last heat.
Jared Gray's charge ended when his car's engine broke a conrod and expired in a ball of flame, ruling him out of the New Zealand title meeting this week and Brett Nicholls only made it through two laps before withdrawing. Shane Harwood smoked the field in the final heat but a fuel pump fault in race two had ruined his chances, leaving Boote, McKenzie, Boulton and impressive teenaged rookie Alex Bright to sort out the sashes.
Boote had one wild moment when he rode over the front of Jason Smith's Christchurch car but the three-time national champion survived that incident, only to have to wrangle for the championship in the protest room.
The rest of Saturday's meeting proceeded as most normal Nelson nights do, decent fields, close contests and one or two standout performances.
Among them was the return to competition of two of sidecar racing's finest, rider Noel Puklowski and swinger Nigel Sturgeon. Puklowski had previously made a brief comeback from a long retirement but Sturgeon, a former New Zealand champion with rider Robbie Duncan, had not been sighted in donkey's years.
With a new bike not yet finished, the pair saddled up 9N and placed second, first and first (until the bike quit) in a tidy display of controlled aggression. At the very least, the pair have added to a Nelson field that already boasts talented twosomes of Adie Drake-Owen Hunter, Nippy Ching-Justin Smith and Brent Steer-Kyle Ball.
Impressive, also, was Invercargill rider Josh Wells who made the 1000km trip north, hitched up swinger Kieran Satherley and improved from four wobbly test laps to run second in the last heat.
There were some long distance travellers in the midget class, too, as seven drivers fronted for the first time in this Nelson season. Gavin Wilkie's haul from Dunedin is expected now but it was good to see four Canterbury cars on the grid, among them the 99C of hard charger Dave Kerr.
He did not have to resort to his usual wall-of-death antics to win twice, leaving that to Nelson's John Mabbett who executed a frightening four-roll dismount in turn three, but Kerr also had to yield once to Wilkie while Scott Millar also put up a yeoman fight in heat three.
Somewhat lost among the smoke, flames and scattered spare parts was the Nelson club championship for production saloons. The referee was again fully occupied, with four relegations in the second heat alone, before Steve Russ was handed the title for the umpteenth time, despite not officially winning any of the three heats.
Russ was first across the line in race two but was bumped back a spot, wins going to Jared Blanchett, overall runner-up Patrick Ward and third place man David Allan from Blenheim. Hogan Jeffs was fourth on debut in Steve Watson's Honda.
While the Thunder team are away, the remaining stockcars had a play, a small field deciding to test their bumpers. Dallas Murray won once in his last meeting before heading overseas to further his studies, then went on the warpath, mixing it up with the likes of Nick Brunning, Aidan Limmer, Andre Evans and Dwayne Westley. Race wins went to Murray and Blenheim's Brent Goulding.
The streetstocks and youth ministocks rounded out the night, former national champion Simon Bland ruling the roost among the streeties while the ministock victories were shared between Trey Kelling, Roydon Winstanley and Luke Ewing.
There is another title at stake at Nelson's next meeting, when the Oxford Court Motel New Zealand three-quarter midget grand prix is decided on January 11.
- © Fairfax NZ News