Watching Meeanee Maulers stockcar driver Daniel Melling in action reminds one of his rugby playing days.
He boxes well above his weight and is prepared to do whatever he is told for the benefit of the team. If he sticks to this formula and the Maulers perform to their potential they should at least reach the semifinals of the Peter Barry Memorial Teams event which will be raced at Meeanee tomorrow and Saturday nights.
"Racing for the Maulers is just like playing rugby. It's good to be doing stuff with your friends," 27-year-old Melling said.
A former Hastings Rugby and Sports colts lock, Melling, had three seasons in the side before calling it quits after two shoulder operations.
From one of the Bay's most successful speedway families, Melling's father Tony is a former racer, and his older brothers Darren, Wayne and Shayne all race, Melling, had three summers in the ministock ranks, eight seasons in the streetstock class and is in his second season in the stockcar class but first with the Maulers.
If he had to be compared with his brothers Wayne would be the one he is most like. Wayne was also a more than handy rugby player with a no-fear approach in the locking role and won a Maddison Trophy winner's medal with Napier Pirate Rugby and Sports in 2005. He adopts a similar mentality in the streetstock class on the track.
"You can't be scared of it," Melling said.
The sixth driver when the Maulers finished sixth at their 13-team nationals in Stratford in February, has been promoted to the starting five for this weekend swapping with Andre Stensen in an otherwise unchanged team which also includes Brandon Symes, Brett Loveridge, Cameron Swift and Regan Penn. Melling agreed the Andrew Powell-managed team doesn't lack confidence.
"Confidence is everything. But we are also a really young team. Apart from Brett we are all new to the team this season or have had one more season.
"But you're right ... youth and enthusiasm is good and we have some good cars."
Powell was impressed with what Melling did when he replaced the injured Stensen in Stratford and also during an away race against the Gisborne Gladiators when he volunteered to block.
"In Stratford it was something different racing somebody else's car I had never raced and getting out there trying to do a job. In Gisborne it was good to get blocking experience. Running or blocking ... it doesn't matter what role I have," Melling explained.
Like most drivers in the early stages of their teams racing careers Melling pointed out race reading is his biggest work on.
"Changing your roles and reacting to what is in front of you. You have to realise how your car is holding up and read the race ... it's no use trying to run if you have two flat tyres. In that situation you stop and block."
Melling agreed national champions, the Stratford Stormers, must start as favourites this weekend.
"They have been together for four or five years and are a hard team to beat."
The Stormers were leading on points when the second night of last year's meeting was rained off. The 2017 champions, Rotorua Rascals, won't be competing this year because Rotorua always has a major stockcar meet at Easter.
The Maulers will be one of eight teams chasing the title in the event which is staged in memory of Central Hawke's Bay businessman and farmer Peter Barry, who died in 2009 after a speedway accident. The other Bay team, the Orange Roughies, is made up of Stacey Smith, Gibson Tout, Simon Frater, Willy Stevenson, Regan O'Brien and sixth driver Bryce Cross.
Auckland Alley Cats, Stratford Stormers, Wellington Young Guns, Palmerston North Pumas, Kihi Kihi Crusaders and Waikato Raiders are the visiting teams.
Support events tomorrow night will be the East Coast Superstock champs, East Coast TQ champs, East Coast Super Saloon champs and ministocks. Support events on Saturday night will be the Autumn Nationals for superstocks, night two of the East Coast TQ champs plus the 20 lapper, the East Coast streetstock champs and the Hawke's Bay super saloon champs.
Hawke's Bay's 1NZ Jason Long will be among 29 starters in the superstock class both nights. Fellow Bay drivers Quinn Ryan, Maddie Wise and Randal Tarrant are also among the favourites.
Fancied visitors included the Palmerston North-contracted Andy McCabe, Chad Ace and Benji Sneddon, Wellingtonian Dale Robertson and Mount Maunganui's Dylan Towler.