Winning speedway championships must be like riding a bike . . . once you know how, you never forget.
Former international midget team competitor Nevil Basalaj made a rare appearance at Tahuna Beach Holiday Park Speedway - the midget class has only run twice at Nelson's first 10 meetings and Basalaj missed that one - but the veteran showed he had lost little of his polish on Saturday.
In winning a heat, placing second in two others, then getting the better of a four-lap runoff, Basalaj scored his fourth South Island championship, denying Canterbury's Dave Kerr his seventh in a row. Kerr was still right in the hunt, a heat three win forcing the runoff, but Basalaj found something special when it was required.
The championship drew just eight starters, with two of the 10 entered unable to front. Kerr had momentum on his side but Basalaj's history in the class - and his knowledge of the Nelson track - meant the title was was never going to be a walkover.
Basalaj drew a line in the clay in heat one. With a favourable grid draw, he streaked away for the win as Kerr tried to chase through from the rear. But, mid-race, he drifted wide off turn two and smacked the wall, rearranging the rear of the 99C Aggressor midget. With the car unsteady, the best he could manage was third behind Tom Lumsden, opening up the championship race.
Kerr was untroubled in winning the other two heats but Basalaj kept him in sight for second placings in both, leaving the pair locked on points with Lumsden a clear third ahead of Scott Millar and Andrew Brown.
Basalaj drew the outside row for the runoff and took the lead off the line but Kerr got by on turn two. Basalaj wasn't beaten though, staying low as Kerr slid wide off turn four and regaining a lead he would hold to the final flag.
While the midgets made the most of a small field, there was no shortage of condemned cars for the night's other feature, the Classic Hits demolition derby. They rattled and oozed out the pit gate by the score, in various states of disrepair, Adam Sutton's car not even surviving to the green flag.
The derby was stopped a number of times for small car fires and one serious incident which saw a driver needing to be cut from his Skoda, before Jason Monopoli, driving one of the sponsor's team cars became the last man standing, heading off Blenheim streetstock driver Aaron Schumacher for the major money.
The derby drew one of the biggest crowds of the season to the Richmond race track, setting the perfect stage for the sidecars to turn it on in their open club championship. With Owen Hunter sidelined for the rest of the season with a serious back injury, defending champion Adie Drake had Kieran Satherley on the chair on Saturday. Canterbury sent four bikes north and former club champion Nathan Ching, with swinger Justin Smith on the side, was another with a shot at the title.
But, when the dust settled, no one got near Noel Puklowski and former 1NZ swinger Nigel Sturgeon, the 9N team comfortably controlling all three races. Drake and Satherley picked up second in heat one as they got settled on their bike, then gathered a pair of wins while Ching-Smith shared third with John Ward, who marked his 58th birthday last week, and his passenger Luke McMahon.
One week on from the batterings handed out at the national superstock teams racing championships in Palmerston North, three of the five Nelson Tigers cars turned up for round two of the best pairs, although Kerry Hill was sitting in for Shane Harwood who turned up in Craig Boote's Ford in heat three. Dale McKenzie blew off some steam after playing a reduced role at the championships, winning twice while team-mate Jared Gray was the only contender for stirrer of the night after drilling Trevor Lineham's car. Lineham started it with a bump to the wall in turn one, 50m later, Gray repaid the debt tenfold.
The top pairing on points after two meetings was McKenzie and drawn partner Ian Clayworth, from Craig Boote and Ant McKenzie.
There was also some seat swapping among the streetstocks with Brad Phillips and Nathan Musgrove possibly reluctant to hand the keys back to the regular race-night drivers. Musgrove and his brother, Ryan, were race winners with Phillips very busy at the wheel of Dan Kitto's Ford. Ryan Bowater also enjoyed the chance to dust off the rust when he filled in for Aaran Findlay.
The meeting was completed by the youth ministocks and production saloons.
Standout driver in those classes was Shawn Pomeroy, who managed an impressive three-from-three among the big field of youth drivers. He scored his wins from a mixture of grid positions and used great lines to pick his way through the field without contact. Bradley Frost, Trey Kelling, Adam Pearce and Ariana Holland also shone, although Holland spent the night in Nelson Hospital with a shoulder injury and lower back pain after a hit in heat three.
Production racing offered up a range of winners, Jason Bradley picking up a flag in just his second Nelson outing in a new car, Patrick Ward winning another and Steve Russ getting the better of Pam Nixon on the last lap for a win by 0.3sec in heat three.
The Nelson club deviates from its normal fortnightly race schedule to back up again this Saturday with the popular ELF Super Cup series for super saloons the main event.