Hawke's Bay streetstock driver Darren Melling's expectations were at an all-time low during the countdown to the provincial championship at Meeanee on Saturday night.
"I definitely didn't expect the title. My gear box had blown up at my last two meetings. Up in Gisborne I didn't have third gear so I had to race in fourth and at my last meeting out here I blew third gear in my first heat," Melling recalled.
The 45-year-old Price Engineering Ltd engineer who has raced in a variety of classes but mainly streetstocks for the past 22 years shook off those gear box issues in style when he won the title for the fifth time.
A consistent night's racing in the 22-strong class, which included first and second placings in two of his three heats, saw Melling finish two points ahead of Rotorua's Mike King and Hawke's Bay's Ben Yeoman with Gisborne's Cody Gooch were a further point back in third equal place.
Melling was considering a fourth consecutive season in the saloon class until he realised Meeanee was hosting the New Zealand championship for the first time since 2005 on January 10 and 11. Asked if Saturday night's title was a good confidence booster for the nationals Melling replied:
"Yes and no. I could have a target on my back now."
Melling is running the same Toyota V8 engine-powered car he used when he finished third at the 2015-16 nationals in Kihikihi. When quizzed about any possible alliances being formed for the nationals Melling said he would have a better idea after next weekend's Bay of Plenty championship in Rotorua.
The 14-car Tony McIntosh Memorial Trophy superstock event was another of Saturday night's feature attractions. With two wins and a third placing Hawke's Bay's Thomas Stanaway won the trophy by four points from clubmate and 1NZ Jason Long. Their Hawkeyes teammate from last summer, Randal Tarrant, was a further three points back in third place.
Palmerston North's Chad Ace, who continues to race Hawkeye Quinn Ryan's car, did well beat Long for the other heat victory.
After retaining the Clapperton Trophy with a win against the Gisborne Gladiators stockcar team in Gisborne the previous weekend the Meeanee Maulers were beaten by the Gladiators on Saturday night. However because their home and away series was drawn this season the Maulers retain the trophy.
The Maulers team of rookie Caleb Ireland, Brett Loveridge, Daniel Melling, Gibson Tout and Craig McBeth were dominating the race until Gladiators hero James Clarke smashed race leader Melling into the wall. This allowed Mason O'Dwyer to secure the victory for the Gladiators.
Another of the Gladiators, Ben Holt, won the first two heats for the 23-strong stockcar class before McBeth took out the feature.
Hawke's Bay's two-time national champion Duane Todd produced a 15.7728s lap on his way to second place behind Aucklander Michael Gurnett in the second heat for the 12-strong TQ class. Gurnett was racing a brand new car at the meeting.
Todd also finished second to clubmate Tony Meechan in the first heat but won the feature from Gisborne's former national champion Dylan MacGregor and Meechan.
Hawke's Bay's Steven Martin won the first two heats in the eight-strong saloon class but didn't finish the feature. This was won by clubmate Josh Smith who missed the first heat for the class as he was still towing his car back from a Kihikihi meeting which had been rained off.
Bradley Penn, a son of retired two-time national superstock champion Shane Penn, was among the heat winners in the 22-strong ministock class. Fellow Hawke's Bay drivers Harry Steel, Liam Danielsen and Karlin Painter-Dudley were the other heat winners.