Stephenson targets all titles in nationwide hunt
YOU cannot question new New South Wales V8 Dirt Modifieds champion Jai Stephenson's commitment.
The Grafton-born driver returned to the track with a goal to compete in every title race this year.
It was a near-perfect start for the former Australian champion, who beat former two-time national champion Andrew Pezzutti and Geoff Phillips to claim the NSW state title at Lismore Speedway on Australia Day.
His target has shifted to the Queensland title at Maryborough Speedway, where he will face Pezzutti, Phillips, defending champion Steve Milthorpe, as well as another former national champion David Clark.
But it is the 30-year-old's efforts off the track that make his achievements all the more noteworthy.
"I run my own steel fabrication business in Cobar,” Stephenson said.
Cobar, pitched between Dubbo and Broken Hill in central western New South Wales, is a 10-hour, 873km drive from Grafton, where his state title-winning vehicle is based.
Stephenson left his Cobar home Thursday night, met up with his car on Friday, then will arrive in Maryborough on Saturday morning if all goes to plan.
He will sit in his car for more than 16 hours and cover more than 1400km just to reach the start line.
"The Australian titles will be about 500km on the Murray so that's close,” he said with a laugh.
"It is a long trip but I'm just trying to do each of the title races this year.
"(At Lismore) the car was set up really well. We got into the lead and held on.”
Stephenson has 16 years of speedway experience.
He started as a junior sedans driver when he was 14, progressed to street stocks when he turned 16, then moved into a V8 Dirt Modified two years later.
He has remained in the class for the 12 years since, and with good results.
"They're so easy to drive if you get the set-up right,” the 2015 national champion said.
"There's a heap of good drivers in this race.
"(I'm) definitely a big chance, but everything has to work out.”
Stephenson is no stranger to the Heritage City track.
He has previous podium finishes to his name, and said he knew what to expect.
"We used to go up there all the time,” he said.
"Both Grafton and Lismore are a continuous circle, while Maryborough is more of an oval. The surface is different as well.”
The Australian title will be held at Heartland Raceway, Moama, on March 3. The Victorian title will be held at the same venue on March 17.