When Hawke's Bay superstock driver Jason Long got his grid draws for night two of the New Zealand championship in Christchurch on Saturday night, there was a familiar look.
"They were exactly the same as the ones Dad got when he became 3NZ in 2010 and were the same I had when I won the Ministocks in Paradise event in Rotorua in 2009. I looked at Dad and said hopefully they will be a good omen," Long recalled yesterday.
They were. Long, 26, won the 88-car New Zealand championship at Woodford Glen for the first time by one point from Gisborne-contracted Peter Rees and Palmerston North's Simon Joblin was third.
"Peter and Simon are both former winners so it was pretty awesome. Mum [Fiona] and Dad [Murray] have been chasing the title for a long time and were in the crowd so that made it pretty special," Magpies rugby prop and Hawke's Bay Rugby Union's community partnership manager Long explained.
"When Dad [who retired in 2015 after 35 years of racing, 20 of those for the Hawkeyes] started racing he started on the back foot. I picked up from where he left off and thanks to Mum and Dad I started on the front foot. I would not have been able to win this title without them ... it's for them," Long who is in his eighth season in the class, said.
He agreed consistency was the key to his success on Saturday night. Long finished seventh from grid 22 in his first heat in which he was running third at one stage before being held up in a pile-up and falling back to 12th before fighting back.
The current North Island and Hawke's Bay champion who helped the Hawke's Bay Hawkeyes win two consecutive Palmerston North teams titles in 2016 and '17, finished second from grid nine in his next two heats. Long is the first Hawke's Bay-contracted driver to win the title since Joe Faram in 2012.
Hawke's Bay-based drivers Bryce Penn (2005) and his son Shane Penn (2013 and '14) were both contracted to Palmerston North when they won their respective titles. Long, who finished second in the New Zealand championship in 2016, only has to win the World 240s in Rotorua to complete the prestigious Grand Slam (national, North Island, Grand Prix and World 240s titles) in the class.
"This season's World 240s are on January 18 and 19. I wasn't intending to go. But I will go now with the aim of completing the Grand Slam and securing my spot in the Hawkeyes for next month's Palmy teams champs," Long said.
"Obviously 1NZ is always a target. But I want to run the number at as many meetings as possible and do it proud like all the other previous 1NZs have. I intend to race at a few different tracks like at Greymouth on Tuesday night for the first time. I don't come down here often so I might as well make the most of it and on January 12 I will race in the New Zealand Grand Prix in Nelson."
Long was one of four Hawke's Bay drivers to qualify or the top 26 on Saturday night. He pointed out Quinn Ryan was two laps away from becoming the 2NZ when he was taken out by Palmerston North's Adam Joblin.
Ryan still recorded a top eight finish. Tom Stanaway and Adam Groome were the other Bay qualifiers. Groome won one of two repechage races to earn his spot in the top 26.
Long raced the same Brian Hartley-built Nissan V8-powered Rees Race car chassis he won the North Island title in Wellington last month. With the national title added to his season CV Long must be considered a serious contender for the Superstock driver of the year at the annual speedway awards function as well as the senior award at the annual Hawke's Bay Sports Awards function in May.
Top finishes in Nelson this weekend and Rotorua the following weekend as well as with the Hawkeyes next month, it will be a surprise if he isn't selected for the Hawkeyes, will enhance his chances of success at both functions. Long, who has played in winning Ranfurly Shield defences with the Magpies, has experienced wins at the annual Hawke's Bay Sports Awards function in the past as a member of the Magpies and Hawkeyes teams as well as being the inaugural winner of the People's Choice award in 2016.
The East Coast Champs which were to be raced at Meeanee on January 12 have been postponed to a later date. The next meeting at Meeanee will be the New Zealand Super Saloon Grand Prix on January 18 and 19.