There are scores of pubs between Nelson and Dunedin. Hundreds, probably. And new national streetstock champion Paul Simon might have been asked to shout a round in each and every one.
Simon, who held the title once before in 2007-08, had a few favours to repay after he claimed the championship again at Nelson's Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway over the weekend. The longtime streetstock competitor is usually found at the front of the field but even Simon had to admit that his victory in the Zumo Coffee House-backed national event came courtesy of his allies.
"The southern guys stuck together as they said they would," Simon said during Saturday's trophy presentations. "The Christchurch boys came through and took out a few of the drivers who could have got home ahead of me."
Simon might have expected assistance from his Dunedin clubmates, Darrell Richards delivering in spades, and the Invercargill contingent was limited, down to one mobile car as Arnie Tuhura did his best to secure a podium place. The key was the contribution from Canterbury.
While they were also helping Steve Peterson through to the runner-up step, the likes of Kieran Skurr, Tom Earnshaw and Steve Jackson were determined to see the trophy stay south of Picton.
Simon still needed all his wiles and guile to secure his second national championship, though. Saturday's racing was completely mental.
Almost 80 cars fronted for qualifying on Friday, just 13 were classified as finishers of the last championship heat. The message seemed to be, "If you're not going to win, don't bother bringing the car home."
Richards' efforts in the last race summed that up the best. Knowing Stratford's Chris Shingleton was three points clear of the chasers and making a run through the pack after an early spin, Richards launched his Falcon panel van at the Taranaki car going into turn three. Shingleton caught a glancing blow, enough to spin him and cost crucial places, while Richards' car delaminated around him, collapsing as it slammed the wall. In the old insult to injury scenario, Richards was treated for concussion, then had to sign a form saying he accepted a fine for creating excessive contact.
Shingleton recovered from the clattering enough to finish 11th and force a runoff for third overall with former champion Simon Bland, the Stratford driver getting the better of the five-lapper.
Defending champion Steve de Malmanche and 3NZ Trevor de Malmanche were ripe targets, especially after Trevor won his fourth race in a row when he took out heat one of the finals. They were bunted, shunted and munted and had to settle for spots outside the top 10 this time.
Nelson's only qualifier, Gordon Ingham, found the going tough, especially without assistance. He was 16th in heat one and improved to 11th in heat two but was the first to the infield in the last race, scoring 27 points overall and finishing 14th in the nation.
A second tier event for non-qualifiers was just as brutal, Gisborne's Brenden Gooch taking the Streetstock Stampede from Colin Robinson (Canterbury) and Invercargill's Megan Molloy. More smoking wrecks, fines and official reprimands proved that even the support field was giving it plenty.
Simon's Toyota V8 is part of a new streetstock breed, the nimble Japanese saloon showing it could last with the big Australian taxis. He thanked his crew for keeping the wheels on it, admitting that he "drove its arse off" over two punishing nights.
"It took a while to get my head around this little [Nelson] track but we got there, it's been a great meeting," he said.
The Nelson club and meeting sponsor Zumo can be well satisfied with their efforts. Saturday's crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder and the track surface held up well. The streetstock class can be a tough one to police, especially around contact, and relegations and exclusions were needed but the championship was another feather in Nelson's helmet, thanks to the efforts of the volunteer army, many of whom were at the track from early morning until after midnight on both days.
Some things had to give, though, with the superstocks, three-quarter midgets and youth ministocks sacrificing a race each to get the programme through.
In the superstocks, club champion Alex Bright continued his hot streak, the teenaged rookie climbing over Brett Nicholls and racing away from Craig Boote for two wins, while posting the quickest lap times. The field was shorn of all six Nelson Tigers team members but the talented Bright would have been hard to head anyway.
Alicia McLauchlan has also mastered her machinery, scoring a second and then her first Nelson win in the TQ class. The Marlborough club champion pushed Jason Riley all the way in heat one and then cleared out in the second race, again putting up the best lap times in the class.
The ministocks were boosted by newcomer Jared Fisher and Canterbury's Matt Petersen and delivered two competitive heats, Shawn Pomeroy leading from flag to flag in race one with Luke Ewing getting the upper hand over Bradley Frost in heat two. Petersen did well with a fifth and a third on debut in Nelson.
Production saloons were given the full quota of three heats, wins going to Jared Blanchet, John Everett and Steve Russ. With the referees fully occupied with the feature class, the productions somehow managed to avoid any trips to the tower, despite almost constant contact.
The stockcars completed the packed programme and showed a little more restraint after Friday's shenanigans when the triples promotion was won by the team of Gavin Marshall, Liam Smith and Phil Krammer.
Nick Brunning might beg to differ, Ben Taylor firing the 96N car into the turn three wall for Brunning's first roll in his racing career. Peter Roach will also be nursing bruises after clipping Dwayne Westley's car and eating concrete and Keightley Teece put a heavy hit on Andre Evans. Race winners were Teece, Blenheim's Ralph Gillespie and Brad Neiman, backing up his strong effort on Friday.
Another big crowd puller features at Nelson's next meeting when the Classic Hits demolition derby shares top billing with the South Island midget championships on February 15.
- The Nelson Mail