Until last weekend Brad Johnston was just one of hundreds of men and women from teenagers to pensioners who over summer months race production saloons (aka productions) on speedway tracks all over the country.
Now though, as winner of the Friend Forestry 2019 – 20 New Zealand Production Saloon Championship at Heavy Trax Hire Central Motor Speedway, Brad is the one and only who can race until the next championship with 1NZ on his production saloon, a Honda Integra Type R. Adding to the significance of Brad’s title, he won it in a field of 61 productions from as far away as Huntly, Gisborne and Wanganui and all over the South Island.
Friday and Saturday’s enthusiastic full throttle productions racing over 15 heats, each of 12 laps, and the 20 lap title decider showed spectators just how exciting and fast productions are with plenty of sliding through turns, tail gating and side panel kissing.
As often happens when a national title is at stake, protests delayed the start but when the green flag did fall, it was all eyes on the track as pole sitters Matt Sherlock (75c) and Brad McKee (89t) lead the 22 cars to turn 1. By turn 2 the Championship’s principal sponsor, Geoff Friend (11t) of Friend Forestry had sneaked into second ahead of 89t. Then on the 4th lap the potentially risky strategy of wall hugging and keeping to the high line paid off for Brad at the wheel 9c who shot from fourth to first. At around the half way mark with 89t retired to the centre field, Brad had established a good lead leaving Matt Sherlock protecting his second place while Sean Robertson (16g) and Geoff Friend fought for third. Unfortunately Geoff had to settle for fourth across the line after a typically spirited drive.
At the prize giving Brad (Christchurch), Matt (Christchurch) and Sean (Gisborne) were quick to compliment Central Motor Speedway for hosting a very successful championship and preparing a track they described as ‘mint’. While Brad regularly races on Cromwell clay, Central Motor Speedway is the home track for his brother Grieg in super saloon 77t. Greig is currently sixth on the Mag & Turbo Super Cup leader board and performed well in the South Island Super Saloon Championship. .
Friday Night Car-nage
Friday and Saturday also gave spectators their fix of huge horsepower and a number of heart stopping moments, especially on Friday when five super saloons competing in a round 4 heat of the 2019-20 Mag & Turbo Super Cup came to grief at turn three. One of those in the car-nage was Paddy North (46e), a regular and popular visitor to Heavy Trax Hire Central Motor Speedway. Most, if not all of the damaged super saloons, were resurrected overnight ready to compete in Saturday’s 2019 – 20 South Island Super Saloon Championship. Again, Paddy had the crowd gasping when not once but twice the right rear quarter of 46e burst into flames, with Paddy demonstrating just how quickly he can exit the car. Both times the fire crew got the fire under control before truly serious damage was done.
For the record, round four of the 2019-20 Mag & Turbo Super Cup went to Ryan Marsden (17c), Ray Stewart (34t) and Terry Soper (8d). With just two more rounds to go, Ray is second on accumulated points. Impressive for someone turning 70 on February 22.
Saturday’s 2019 – 20 South Island Championship was another successful night for Ray who came a close second to Ian Burson (3NZ) and ahead of Hayden McKay (86c). Known as ‘The Baby Faced Assassin, this is the seventh time Ian has won the South Island Super Saloon Championship, equalling the record of the legendry Tony Cardwell.
Youth to the fore… Newbies galore
The 26 youth ministocks competing in the weekend’s Goldrush event was undoubtedly a sight close to the heart of visiting New Zealand Speedway General Manager Zoe Irons. Zoe is very much the driver of speedway gender equality, youth participation and promoting awareness of speedway’s contribution to local and regional economies.
The Goldrush winner was Lucas Erskine (91t) with Josh Evans (32t) 2nd and Marcus Scott 3rd. Sponsors BME, Tyreland, BNT, O’Callaghan & Walker, The Ranch Bar & Grill and Erskine Construction ensured all 26 youth ministock drivers left the track with an amazing haul of prizes.
Coincidently, Zoe was witness to a number of definite and possible newbies to speedway racing. After being a regular trackside, racing a production for a season, and keen supporter of Daryl Ainsley, Cromwell local and owner of Flintstones Masonry, Brian Ellison was so confident he’d love racing in the six shooter grade he bought a car and had it signwritten before his first ever race on Friday. The verdict? “I’m loving it.”
As always, six shooters put on a great track show and in the pits demonstrated camaraderie and support that is a feature of all speedway classes. After having no choice but to t-bone Shanarrah Stronach (21t), Faith Ainsley in 5t was towed into the pits where her car was immediately swooped on by six shooter crews fixing and providing front end parts to have 5t on the track for the next race.
In the sprint cars on Saturday, Mark Evans gave up 98t’s seat to his 17 year old son Adam who after competing in youth ministocks is into his first full season of six shooters. Adam’s performance in the sprint car suggests Mark might be soon have to visit his bank manager. At the insistence of Central Motor Speedway promoter Jason Scott, long time hard track racer Steve Scolls agreed to jump the Highlands fence into Jason’s sprint car 86t. After saying he got a real buzz from the experience, Steve did confess that he’ll be sticking to tarseal racing his Ginetta and 1969 Klass Camaro.
Just in his first season of sprint cars, John Sievwright encouraged friend, business client and pre-65 Falcon XP racer, John Smolenski of Komatsu, Invercargill, to have a go at kicking up Cromwell clay. Relieved he didn’t prang the sprint car John Sievwright put together for him, John said he might have been bitten by the speedway bug and to ‘watch this space’.
The next meeting at Heavy Trax Hire Central Motor Speedway is the 2nd annual Daryl Ainsley Memorial Meeting. This starts on Friday, March 20 with a programme of activities following by serious racing on Saturday, March 21 that includes the final of the well supported, inaugural Southern Sprint Car Series.