Hawke's Bay's Denton Hodgkinson dedicated his North Island production saloon title to his late partner Lisa Mitchell.
"I had a tragic start to the year when Lisa died suddenly in January. This title is for her," Hodgkinson said after he won the 20-lap, winner-takes-all final for the top 20 qualifiers in the 29-car championship at Meeanee on Saturday night.
Despite leading from start to finish in the final in his VTEC Honda Civic from grid two, Hodgkinson, a third-season driver in the class, admitted he didn't feel comfortable when the only caution in the final came with two laps remaining.
"I was freaking out. I never thought in my wildest dreams I could win this event."
The 44-year-old former Kiwilites driver, who works as a lead installer for Future Products Group, finished sixth in his first 12-lap heat and won his second after securing the lead with two laps remaining. He said winning the East Coast championship later in the season would be the ultimate end to the summer for him.
"I finished second to Grant [Rotorua's Loveridge] in the Hawke's Bay championship last weekend. We have to stop these titles going out of the province."
Gisborne's Fraser Wright and Sean Robertson finished second and third respectively to Hodgkinson. The top qualifier, Gisborne's 3NZ Crystal Peach, was one four drivers who didn't finish the final after collecting a puncture with two laps remaining.
After Hodgkinson, Brent Redington and Tanga Walsh, were the best of the Bay's finishers with eighth and 10th placings respectively.
Rotorua's Sheldon Arapere, 20, became the youngest winner and first out-of-towner to capture the prestigious Thirsty Whale-sponsored Krusty 500 stockcar title when the fourth edition of the event was staged on Saturday night. The apprentice builder pocketed $3000 after finishing two points ahead of Hawke's Bay's Ben Milne who finished three points ahead of clubmate Regan Penn.
Penn's uncle and inaugural winner of the title, former 1NZ Jason Penn, finished fourth, three points behind his nephew. The event is raced in memory of track commentator Mike Wilson's son, Christopher John "Krusty" Keane who died in Australia in 2015.
Although he took a one-point lead over Wellingtonian Josh Prentice into the final heat, Arapere, was surprisingly untouched by the Hawke's Bay drivers and his sixth placing was enough to give him the title. Arapere had earlier won his second head and finished third in his first.
"A few of the locals helped me as well as Josh [Prentice]. That's what happens and on other occasions I will help them," Arapere said.
He will be back next year to try and retain the title and will also return to the Bay for another meeting or two before the season ends.
"It was an awesome meeting and the track was full on. I was watching my mirrors. This is the biggest amount of money I've won and some of it will be going on the bar," Arapere added before heading to the prizegiving.
Hawke's Bay's Ben Yeoman had two wins and clubmate Phil McNamara the other in the 12-strong streetstock class. Gisborne's Ryan McGregor and the Hawke's Bay pair of Duane Todd and Kris Gillies had wins in the 15-strong TQ class.
The Hawke's Bay trio of Steven Martin, Shane Laking and Josh Smith had victory laps in the 10-strong saloon class.
Trevor O'Brien won an entertaining 21-car demolition derby which ended the meeting and continued for 17 minutes before O'Brien received the chequered flag.
Hawke's Bay's three-time national solobike champion Bradley Wilson-Dean completed the New Zealand treble for the second consecutive year on Saturday night when he retained his New Zealand Grand Prix title in Christchurch. Earlier this season he retained his national and North Island titles.
The Hawke's Bay Hawkeyes superstock team finished third at their national teams event in Auckland at the weekend. The Hawkeyes beat the Auckland All Stars in the battle for third place after losing to the Gisborne Giants in their semifinal.