There was one word Steven Martin forgot to mention when asked why he did the best of the Hawke's Bay drivers in the New Zealand Saloon Championship which ended at Meeanee on Saturday night ... maturity.
"It's pretty cool. That's the highlight of my 11 years in the class," Martin said as he reflected on his fourth placing in the 48-car Auto Super Shoppes Onekawa-Kiwi Motorsport Media-sponsored nationals.
"I had my mind on it. It's also a reflection of the preparation which went on in the shed and the home track advantage. Most importantly I went out there and had fun," Martin, 26, continued.
The maturity the driver of a 355 Chev-powered car displays these days is admirable and a sharp contrast to what his supporters witnessed during his ministock days and early years of his saloon class career. His options are a lot more sensible and Martin is a lot more composed on and off the track.
Martin was the top qualifier in his group on Tuesday night by five points after winning his first heat from grid two and collecting fourth placings from grids 10 and 12 in his next outings. On Wednesday night he finished third from grid five in his first heat and seventh from grids 15 and 12 in his next two.
Martin's previous best placing at the nationals was a sixth four years ago. He intends to remain in the class until he podiums at national level.
"I want to try and get a podium spot. I've got to podium before I move up," Martin added.
The Bay's only other qualifier, Josh Smith, finished fifth equal with Cromwell's Mike Verdoner five points behind Martin. This was the 12th edition of these nationals and while a Hawke's Bay driver has yet to make the podium it should only be a season or two before either Martin or Smith manage the feat.
Gisborne's Ethan Cook won the title by six points and became the first driver from his track to podium in the event. He had to win his repechage on Wednesday night to qualify for the top 20 after experiencing part failure on Tuesday night.
"It's unreal to come through the repechage and win. I think it's an advantage to do that because you are ahead of the game with your car set up," Cook explained.
A fifth season driver in the class who also races a 355 Chev-powered car, Cook, 24, had only done one meeting at Meeanee previously this season. He finished second from grid 16 in his first heat on Wednesday night, first from grid six in his second and sixth from grid nine in his third.
Cook will attempt to retain his New Zealand Grand Prix title in Wellington this weekend. Huntly's Cam Roigard finished second to Cook and Wellingtonian Matt Eckersely finished third for the second consecutive year, two points behind Roigard.
Huntly's former national champion in both the saloon and super saloon classes and the former golf caddy for former world No 1 Tiger Woods, Steve Williams, beat Canterbury's Danny Knight in a run off for the New Year Saloon Cup title. This event catered for drivers who failed to qualify for the Top 20.
The best of the Hawke's Bay drivers in this event were Shane Laking who finished fourth, nine points behind Williams and Knight, and Martin's brother Kevin who was a further five points back in eighth place. Kevin Martin was unlucky to be hit with a mechanical problem when he was the joint points leader 10 laps into his 15-lap final heat.
An experienced Palmerston North pair of rider Glen Murray and swinger Ann Plummer won the 11-crew Hawke's Bay sidecar championship which was raced as a support event on Tuesday night. Another Palmy crew of Mark Whye and Jacob Cooper were second and Jeremy and Steve Pruckmuller were the best of the host track crews with their third placing.
Hawke's Bay's two-time national champion in the TQ class, Duane Todd, did well to win all three of his races in a 10-strong support class on Wednesday night. Maddison Wise was the only Hawke's Bay driver to register a win in the 19-strong superstock class.
Denton Hodgkinson matched Wise's feat in the 20-strong production saloon class.