Hawke's Bay stockcar driver Brandon Symes had an extra incentive to win the provincial championship at Meeanee on Saturday night.
His grandparents, Murray and Nora Grant, had driven from Matamata and were among the crowd of 5300 at the BedPost Christmas Special meeting. However Symes, a fourth-season driver in the class, knew it was going to be a tough assignment from grid eight in the 15-lap winner-takes-all final for the top 30 qualifiers.
"When I saw Regan [long-time race leader Penn] leave the track with a flat tyre after lap 10 I knew I might be in with a chance," Symes, 24, recalled after the meeting.
He managed to weave his AU Falcon-powered car through the field and pip clubmate and defending champion Cameron Swift for the title. Another Bay driver, Craig McBeth, was third.
"I was pretty stoked to win my first Hawke's Bay championship title. All of the Hawke's Bay boys, particularly Ethan Anderson, Brett Loveridge and Andre Stenson helped me out," Symes explained.
The passion and commitment displayed by the host track drivers was top shelf. Anderson put a huge hit on Gisborne visitor Jason Lovell who was one of 12 drivers who didn't finish the brutal final. Hawke's Bay's Justin White rolled when he was running second to Penn.
Loveridge ended the title hopes of Auckland visitor Keegan Orr with a hard hit on lap 10. A diesel mechanic with Eastern Trucks and Marine, Symes agreed the signs were promising for the Meeanee Maulers team in the build-up for the February 22 and 23 national teams champs in Stratford.
"I want to qualify for all my major events this season including the North Island champs at Meeanee [December 28 and 29] and the February nationals at Bay Park," Symes added.
While the Bay's stockcar drivers deserve praise for the manner in which they dominated the podium in the championship, it was a case of contrasting fortunes for the Hawke's Bay Hawkeyes superstock team. They suffered their third consecutive loss for the season when beaten by the Wellington Wildcats.
However, Hawkeyes manager and the team's most experienced blocker Mike McLachlan pointed out the team isn't panicking.
"Three losses is a bit steep but we're still trialling things and are not quite clicking yet."
On Saturday night Jason Long, who had won the North Island championship in Wellington the previous weekend, was experiencing gearbox issues and didn't have the power needed. McLachlan will announce his team for the Hawkeyes assault on the prestigious Palmerston North Teams Champs event in February next month.
Former national champion Dale Robertson secured the win for the Wildcats. It was a memorable night for Robertson, who also recorded another two wins including the feature and a second placing in the 18-strong class. Stanaway won the other heat.
Hawke's Bay ministock driver Asha Penn rolled three times in the fourth heat for her 28-strong class. Penn, a daughter of 2016 national stockcar champion Jason Penn and granddaughter of 2005 national superstock champion Bryce Penn, didn't collect any serious injuries in the incident.
Her clubmates, Bailey Warner, Blake Barraclough, Ryan Dorward and Liam Danielsen all had heat wins in the class. Like Penn, Dorward and Warner are third generation racers.
Hawke's Bay's two-time national champion Duane Todd had two heat wins and clubmate Tony Meechan the other in the eight-strong TQ class. The host track pair of Tanga Walsh and Denton Hodgkinson along with Gisborne's Lloyd Stuart had wins in the production saloon class.
An entertaining 29-car demolition derby which lasted 30 minutes ended the meeting. While Bevan Healey was initially declared the winner he had the title taken away from him as he was ruled not to have done enough hits.
Experienced campaigner Beatle Tarrant took the title and with Richard McLachlan, received a prize for his stirring exploits.