If good things take time and home ground advantage actually works, Dennis Bolt is a sure thing for the New Zealand Super Saloon Championships.
Thirty-six drivers from all corners of New Zealand will descend on AmPro Tools Woodford Glen Speedway for tonight's qualifying, with the top 26 points scorers advancing to tomorrow night's finals.
Bolt, who turned 65 last week, has had almost four decades of trying without success, and has dented many a door panel, but not his desire to win. He knows he is not the favourite, but he is not discounting himself if the big names falter under the pressure.
"The quality of the young drivers these days is exceptional. They will be really tough to beat, but I'll be trying as hard as I can and with the right run I believe I can be in there somewhere."
The owners of the Riverlands Holiday Park, he and wife Jeanette live next door to the speedway complex, taking home track advantage to a new level.
Two weeks ago he also returned to helping prepare the clay track before racing. A highly regarded track preparer on the national stage, Bolt was in charge of the clay for over 20 years at Woodford Glen and has been called back after sub-standard surfaces have been an issue this season.
It is no coincidence the Woodford Glen track was massively improved for the Canterbury Stockcar, Streetstock and Ministock championships on February 2, the first meeting with Bolt and sidekick David McSherry back on deck.
Making a few mid-season improvements to his race car after a sluggish start to the season has made for a busy month for Bolt, but he is confident the long hours will pay off this weekend.
"We were pretty disappointed early on but we've (Bolt's pit crew) had a talk about where we were going wrong with the car and with the way I was driving and are satisfied we've got it sorted."
He has been close to the title, twice finishing third (2000 and 2009) and placing second in 2001. No Canterbury driver has won the title since former Cantabrian Tony Caldwell was victorious in the 1995/96 season.
Racing at Woodford Glen since the track's inception in 1974, Bolt has raced in all three national championships contested in Canterbury.
He was fifth in 1978 and looked a winning chance in 1990 and 2002 before crashing out of contention.
Bolt said he has definitely got more conservative as he has got older, but knows sometimes experience is more valuable than going fast.
"The younger guys are more aggressive. They are more likely to have a crack and if they pull it off it works, and if they crash out, they're not so worried."
Bolt has won a stack of championships. In fact, the national title is the only major one to escape his clutches so he knows what it takes to win in the three-heat format.
"You need three good races. You need to finish them all and stay out of trouble. It's all about passing enough cars without taking too many risks."
Bolt singled out Nelson's Ian Burson as the favourite but said Tauranga's Brent Emerson, who raced out of Woodford Glen last year, was a big chance.
"Outside of those two, you could make a case for at least a dozen drivers. With so many good drivers it's . . . who handles the pressure and performs on the night." Racing starts at 7pm tonight and tomorrow night.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Would you still go and watch the NZ Open if Lydia Ko was not playing?Related story: What if the Lydia Ko-show becomes no-show?