Tigers' euphoria snuffed
One minute, the Nelson Tigers are looking at a potential third place and a secure seeding for next year's nationals superstock teams racing championships; the next, they are eighth.
A frustrating weekend for the Tigers at speedway's biggest meeting, the two-day ENZED teams champs at Robertson Holden International Speedway in Palmerston North, had more speed bumps than a supermarket car park.
After a mixed performance on Friday saw the Tigers bumped out of the top tier after being out-qualified by Great Britain in their group, the speedway fates had one surprise left for the highly rated top of the south team. Nelson blasted through a tough Manawatu Mustangs team in Saturday's crossover competition, only to have the win taken away by meeting officials.
The issue arose when race winner Shane Harwood was pushed onto the grass in turn three of a hectic race and neglected to complete a 360 degree turn to rejoin the race at the point he left the track. With the referees hot on rule infringements all weekend, the Nelson win was initially declared, then later reversed, with Harwood relegated to second.
That left the Tigers, who had been preparing for a third-place showdown with Hawke's Bay, back in eighth, one spot behind defending champions, the Palmerston North Panthers.
The outcome was hard for Nelson to accept, especially as the meeting is likely to be the last in a long career for former captain and national champion, Dale Ewers.
Harwood had a reasonable reason for his mid-race slip, having wound Jordan Dare's Mustangs car into the turn three wall but following in hard.
"It was a 10 for dedication and a three for execution," he said. "When I ended up on the grass, the little tweety birds were still flying around in my helmet."
Harwood spent more than a lap on the infield as he gathered his wits but was still able to take the chequered flag due to the destructive nature of the race.
With Ewers launching at green and white cars and captain Jared Gray tying up Adam Joblin in turn two, the Tigers reeled in race leader Dave Tarrant, Gray successfully blocking him out of first place despite being locked in on Joblin's bumper.
Ewers managed another shot on Tarrant late in the race to give team-mate Harwood room to move but Nelson's victory lap proved premature, Harwood copping the relegation within 15 minutes of marking the win.
With too few points on the board, the Tigers were done for the night, alongside the Panthers who suffered one of the sport's biggest upsets when they fluffed their tactics and lost to an unheralded Auckland side, led by Carl Hodge.
In the tier one semifinals, crowd favourites Bay Park narrowly pipped Hawke's Bay while Great Britain ran out of cars and drivers against Whanganui. Bay Park took the title with a clinical display while Hawke's Bay and Manawatu completed the list of seeded sides for next year's championships.
Speedway returns to Nelson this Saturday when the Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway hosts the South Island midget championships and the Classic Hits demolition derby.
The Tigers are backed by the Nelson Speedway Association, Super Liquor Richmond, Pro Karts, Footies Signs and Designs, Heslops and ELF Lubricants.