As 2019 draws to a close, the Whanganui speedway fraternity is bracing itself for a massive start to the new decade.
An invasion of superstocks, competitors and fans is expected from Thursday onwards for the Elite Mechanical New Zealand Superstock Championship at Fast Lane Spares Oceanview Family Speedway.
The New Zealand Superstock Championship is the most sought-after individual title in the sport.
The Superstock class has grown significantly in recent seasons, and this is reflected in the highest number of entries for the championship since Superstocks became a stand-alone class 20 years ago.
134 cars entered initially, and although there have been a few withdrawals, the pits at Oceanview Speedway will be filled to overflowing with exotic and expensive machinery.
Superstocks feature custom-built steel chassis, high performance V8 engines (although there are some six-cylinder cars), and race-specific gearboxes, differentials and suspension.
Weighing in at a maximum of 1500kg, most drivers now are using multi-valve Toyota and Nissan V8 engines, with some Chevrolets, Fords and even a Jaguar motor in use.
Power outputs of up to and in excess of 500HP are now commonplace, with the engines often built by specialist race engineers.
The combination of high powered race cars running on a tight Oceanview track makes this year's New Zealand Championship a particularly eagerly awaited affair.
The Wanganui Stockcar and Speedway Club has been planning this meeting for more than 18 months.
Club President Daryn Smith said that the Club had drawn on the experiences of other speedways to have run the event in recent years.
"We've looked at what has worked, and what hasn't, and added our own flavour to the meeting" Smith said.
Smith said the Club was hugely appreciative of the support received, especially that of naming rights sponsor Mike Mooney, of Elite Mechanical and Engineering Limited.
To increase the capacity of Oceanview Speedway, a temporary grandstand has been erected at the southern end, high above Turns One and Two.
Seating 540 people, the grandstand is sold out for Saturday night, and less than 40 tickets remain available for Friday night.
However the grandstand is only a small part of Oceanview's overall capacity, with grassed embankments surrounding the track providing excellent viewing.
Cars and drivers will begin arriving in the River City on Thursday, for an official practice session at Oceanview from 7pm to 9pm.
Scrutineering of the cars, to ensure they comply with Speedway New Zealand specifications, will take place at Wanganui Racecourse from 10am on Friday January 3.
The public is welcome to attend the practice session and scrutineering, and admission to these events is free.
After a Grand Parade of all entrants at 6pm on Friday night, racing will get under way at 7pm.
Drivers and cars have been drawn into five groups for qualifying, sponsored by local businesses Wanganui Toyota, Sharp As Group, Hymech NZ, Garmac Engineering and Display Associates.
Drivers will compete for points based on their finishing positions in the three 15-lap qualifying heats, and the top five cars from each group will qualify for the 26-car finals field.
The final place in the Top 26 will be decided by a repechage, the first race on the programme on Saturday night.
The next highest 26 points scorers from qualifying will do battle in a winner-take-all race.
Saturday night's Elite Mechanical New Zealand Superstock Championship will feature the Top 26 cars in three 15-lap heats.
Team tactics are likely to play a part, especially heading into Heat Three, where allegiances are likely to be formed, and drivers from certain tracks are likely to help one another, either by providing protection to a clubmate, or by slowing the progress of an opponent.
With 130 cars racing this weekend, even qualifying for the Top 26 will be an achievement, and whoever emerges with the coveted 1NZ at the end of Saturday night will have truly proved themselves to be the Champion Driver of the Year.
The second tier of drivers will compete in a separate championship sponsored by Steam and Machinery Limited, and there will be consolation races for non-qualifiers.
An additional support series will be a Best Pairs competition involving 26 invited Youth Ministock Drivers.
They will be drawn alongside on of the Top 26 drivers, and points will be aggregated over the evening's racing.
Youth Ministocks has become a feeder class to Stockcars and Superstocks, and a number of champions in recent years started off in the Youth grade.
Current 1NZ Jason Long from Hawke's Bay showed on a visit to Oceanview Speedway in November that he has the pace and skill to win a second straight title, and join a select group of only three drivers who have won back-to-back championships; Dave Evans, Craig Boote and Shane Penn.
However, Long will face pressure from a number of past champions including William Humphries, Peter Rees, Simon Joblin, Jared Wade and Wayne Hemi.
Joblin also has a chance to make history by becoming only the third driver, after Boote and Kevin Free, to win three New Zealand titles.
Joblin is one of only two second generation champions, with father Russell having won at Baypark in 1985-86.
Penn is the other, winning in 2012-13 and 2013-14 after his father Bryce had won the title at Palmerston North in 2004-05.
Brothers Asher and Ethan Rees have the same opportunity, but first they will have to beat their father Peter, the 2014-15 champion.
With drivers from as far afield as Auckland and Christchurch attending, and fans from all over New Zealand, the event will also provide a shot in the arm for Whanganui.
Accommodation will be at a premium this weekend, and a village of camper vans will sprout at a property adjoining Oceanview, with access kindly provided by the landowner.
Additional parking areas adjacent to Oceanview Speedway have been made available, and these will be staffed by members of the local Rotary Clubs, raising funds for their local community projects.
This is the first New Zealand Superstock Championship to be held at Oceanview Speedway since the 2007-08 season, and is expected to provide some of the best, fasted and most action-packed racing seen in Whanganui for many years.