A mass migration eastwards for Wanganui Stockcar drivers is under way.
Seventeen Wanganui cars are among the 230-plus entrants for the Hawke's Bay Doors New Zealand Stockcar Championship at Meeanee Speedway this weekend.
Qualifying takes place tonight, and with only 24 places in the 30-car finals field available from the eight qualifying groups it is going to be absolutely cut-throat.
Only the top three cars in each group will qualify automatically for the finals, with the remaining six places in the 30-car Championship field coming from two repechage races tomorrow night.
Making the finals field will require absolute driving skill, mechanical reliability and a very large portion of luck.
Mark Johnston (78V) is the sole Wanganui car in the Yellow Group, which is headed by last year's New Zealand Champion Ben Smith, from Nelson. Like every group, this one is full of tried and tested competitors and plenty of up-and-comers.
Johnston is lucky to be making the trip at all. He suffered engine damage on Saturday night, but Engine Rebuilders pulled out all the stops to rebuild the engine in 48 hours, enabling it to be refitted to the car on Wednesday night.
Cody Alabaster (16V), Joshua Annabell (39V) and Jason Wilson (176V) are in the Green Group, which is headed by 2NZ Tyler Walker, and includes last season's Stockcar Grand Prix winner Harley Robb (991C).
The White Group includes Dion Black (61V) and Blair Reeves-Smith (212V). The group is headed by Mitch Vickery (3NZ), who holds the distinction of recently winning the same number, 3NZ, in the recent New Zealand Superstock Championship.
Dion Mooney (6V) and Callum Sturzaker (15V) are in the tough Orange Group. After finishing second and third in last season's Stockcar Grand Prix at Christchurch, both Mooney and Sturzaker would be considered front-runners, and if both were to qualify directly, it would be an outstanding achievement.
But with Sturzaker having form at Meeanee finishing second in the North Island Stockcars two years ago, and with Mooney a two-time 2NZ, you wouldn't rule them out.
Three Wanganui drivers feature in the Grey Group, Chet Swan (9V), Hailey James (18V) and Trazarn Ryland-Annabell (33V). None of these three will shy away from using their bumpers as and when necessary!
The Red Group includes Jack Purcell (5V) and Kaelin Mooney (26V). Mooney recently finished third in the Stockcar GP at Gisborne, and the winner of that event, Gary Lonegan (95A) is also in this group, along with three of the hardest hitters in the class; Brett Loveridge (16B), Mike McLachlan (84B) and Keegan Orr (735R).
The Blue Group includes three Wanganui cars, Jason Wright (19V), Roy Smith (32V) and Blair Lockett (89V). Lockett is a proven performer, whose luck has often deserted him at New Zealand championships. Hopefully that will change this weekend.
Lastly the Purple Group features Trevor Greig (81V), winner of the recent Charlie Berntsen Trophy, and former 1NZ Gerry Linklater (98V), alongside a host of proven drivers such as 2004/5 champion Dale Robertson.
An interesting sidelight is the 14 women drivers entered. The number of women competing in the Stockcar class has increased significantly in recent years, encouraged by Rotorua Speedway running the Aotearoa Ladies' Stockcar Championship.
Wanganui's Hailey James finished second in the championship last year behind Stratford's Carol Podjursky, and the event has grown so quickly that there is a waiting list to enter this season!
After qualifying tonight, the top 60 drivers who have missed direct qualifying will take part in two 30-car repechages at the start of tomorrow night's racing, giving them a second chance to qualify.
The top three cars in each repechage will join the 24 drivers already qualified to compete in three 15-lap heats.
Points are awarded to each driver based on the finishing position in each heat, and the highest point-scorer will win the title, and the right to carry the 1NZ number for the next year.
Fine, warm weather is predicted for the entire weekend at Meeanee Speedway, although this creates its own problems.
With 24 12-lap qualifying heats tonight, each with close to 30 cars taking part, the Meeanee track surface will need huge volumes of water to ensure that drivers have the best possible track conditions.
It will be a weekend of attrition, of hard work, and hard racing. And for 17 Wanganui drivers and their teams, they simply can't wait to get over to Meeanee and start racing.