One would have thought Hawke's Bay's Bryce Cross had won the weekend's North Island stockcar championship at Meeanee if you had seen the size of his grin before prizegiving.
"You know the many years of horrible luck I've had ... I was just super stoked to qualify for the first time in four national events," Cross said as he reflected on his two nights of racing in the 98-car Shane Warner Engineering-sponsored event which attracted more than 5000 fans both nights.
"That was the third meeting in my new car and I qualified top in my group," Cross explained referring to his Brett Loveridge-built Falcon-powered car which was previously raced by fellow Hawke's Bay driver Josh Swannell.
Like the other Bay qualifiers, former national champion Jason Penn, his nephew Regan Penn, Cameron Swift and Ben Milne, Cross, didn't make the top five but he had plenty of fun. He finished 19th in his first heat, popped a tyre with three laps remaining in his 15-lap second heat and was pulled from the track by officials in the third shortly after taking Stratford visitor Mark Duthie out.
"I tried to help another driver out by giving him a tap to get started but you aren't allowed to hit a parked car. I had my teams racing head on," Cross, 27, recalled.
A veteran of 11 years in the class after progressing from the ministock ranks, Cross has raced for the Meeanee Maulers and helped them finish third at last summer's national teams champs in Auckland. But he intends to take two seasons off teams racing to get more familiar with his car and to allow a niggly shoulder injury to heal.
Despite finishing fifth in the final heat on Saturday night, Wellingtonian Josh Prentice won the title by eight points from Whanganui's Callum Sturzaker and Rotorua's Michael Rumney was a further three points behind in third place.
"I didn't think it would be that easy. Stratford and Auckland were far better off for numbers but I wasn't stressing and we did it," Prentice said before collecting the $1000 first prize.
Prentice's previous best finish in the championship was a third in the 2013-14 season. He took the early lead in the final heat from grid three and remained in the top five despite being spun by Duthie.
"I'm one of five drivers to have won all three major titles in the class, the nationals, the grand prix and the North Island. That was only my fourth meeting in the new car and there's a lot more to come from it," he said as he pointed to his Hartley V6 Holden-powered car.
A truck driver for Masterton-based Burling Transport and a father of two, 26-year-old Prentice has been racing stockcars for nine years after leaving the ministock class. He intends to remain in the class and he knows exactly how his prizemoney will be used.
"Spare parts and bills ... you know how it is in motorsport."
There were plenty of hits and rolls throughout the championship. One of the best rolls was experienced by Wellingtonian Hayden Thomas midway through the second heat. Regan Penn did the best of the Hawke's Bay drivers in the championship with 59 points, 23 less than Prentice.
While the Penns, Cross and Swift qualified by finishing among the top six in their groups on Friday night Milne had to finish among the top three in his repechage on Saturday night and he won it. Wet weather earlier last week contributed to a rough track on Friday night and numerous popped tyres.
On Saturday night drivers still had ruts to contend with on turns one and two but conditions were reasonably slick for most of the night on turns three and four. Aucklander Logan Peat won the Summer Cup second-tier event in which Hawke's Bay's Jemma Palmer finished fifth.
Gisborne's David Glassford rolled on the first lap of the 15-lap first heat for the Summer Cup but was able to continue and finished 15th in the 30-car race. Thirteen of the starters didn't finish this race.
Hawke's Bay's Brent Redington finished third at the weekend's New Zealand Streetstock Championship in Rotorua. Host track driver Chris Shingleton won the title and defending champion Brenden Gooch of Gisborne was second. The other Bay qualifiers, Glen Shepherd and Tim Towler, finished 16th and 19th respectively.
The New Zealand Saloon Championship will be raced at Meeanee tomorrow night and Wednesday night.