Blowing out the candles on his 60th birthday recently was no barrier to Russell Stewart claiming the Burt Munro Challenge Speedway Spectacular title on Saturday night.
Stewart, of Hastings, and swinger Andrew Parker set a scorching pace in the sidecar final to clinch the coveted silverware for the first time.
Carnage in the early stages of the race impacted four of the five teams. When race leaders Fraser Gillespie and Nigel Cuckow spun, the chasing pack was forced to take evasive action but impact proved unavoidable.
While the 3NZ combination of James Douglas and Harley Biddle emerged unscathed, they were excluded for a pole line infringement prior to the crash.
Just three bikes restarted with Stewart and Parker dominating proceedings after passing Oreti’s Bradley Sharp and Lance Jefcoate on the second lap. Luke Thwaites and Neville Chalmers raced solidly for third before later getting promoted after referees excluded Sharp and Jefcoate for contact.
A former New Zealand champion, Stewart was stoked to add the Burt Munro to his title collection.
“That was a hard way to do it I can tell ya,” he said. “In that crash, the guys just came out of the dust and we couldn’t get out of their way. Your backside clenches and you think ‘oh boy, this is gonna hurt’.
“When the bike goes up on its lid like that, you don’t know what you’re going to get from it in the restart but it all panned out okay.
“I turned 60 the other day and everyone keeps asking me when I’m going to retire – well I felt like retiring a few minutes ago that’s for sure!”
He rated the Burt Munro Challenge highly.
“Invercargill is a fantastic place – you can come last all day and still have a good time here,” Stewart said.
New Zealand champion Bradley Wilson-Dean, of Hastings, reigned supreme in the Solo A ranks, holding off strong challenges from Denmark’s Thomas Jorgensen and Australia’s Damien Koppe.
“It was a strong field for the final and any one of us could have won that. It was good racing and hopefully we put on a good show for the crowd. I don’t know how many people were here but it looked like a few thousand which is fantastic for the sport,” Wilson-Dean said.
“The Burt is a really special one to win and I’ve never had it before. I’ve been here all week watching different events and looking forward to my turn to go out and try to win one myself.”
In the support classes, Peter Knapton won the solos, Kevin Ryan the classic solos and Chay McWilliam and Daniel Gillett took out the sidecars.
Racing was fierce in the junior divisions, with two titles decided by runoffs.
In the 200cc class, Cormac Buchanan, of Invercargill, secured the title ahead of fellow Oreti rider Hayden Brookland and Christchurch’s Caleb Whalley. The trio couldn’t be separated on points after the heats with Brookland’s win over Whalley forcing them to the final stanza where Buchanan emerged victorious after a thrilling tussle with his clubmate.
Kadin Cracknell impressed in the 125cc class to claim the title on countback from Mason Coulthard, while Chase Lang, of Christchurch, narrowly beat the fast-improving Slade Fordyce in a runoff for the Peewee Division One trophy. Jaxon Harley, of Christchurch, took out the Peewee Division Two ahead of Mauger Kelman.