By Rob Arnold.
The annual stockcar teams invitation has been a problem child for the Huntly Placemakers Speedway
for the past few years. Not because of the standard of racing, but since 2012 the two night event has
been disrupted by rain five out of the past six years, forcing the finals to be run on a Sunday afternoon
severely impacting on crowd numbers. Add to that getting enough track personnel or a decent support programme for Friday night qualifying
is difficult, plus the fact Friday nights this early in the year don’t attract enough of a crowd to make the exercise worthwhile, [not helped by the congestion on SH1 on weeknights] one can see this was a event that needed a makeover.
It was decided on the eve of the season commencing to compress the event into a one night deal and add
a four team superstock event as well. Though it meant culling the stockcar component of the show from eight
to four teams, it instantly made for a far more promotable event than of yore and saved on travel and
accommodation costs for the more further flung teams.
The public responded to the revised format like a duck to water with bumper to bumper traffic into
the carpark with a monster crowd not far away from what was seen for the season opening fireworks
a week earlier and the action seen coupled with a respectable finish time for a big programme thanks
to the earlier 6pm start suggests that Huntly is on to a winner.
To the racing and we start with the stockcars and with the finalists doing three races over the course of the night
in a knockout format, the eventual winner was going to have to do it the hard way.
First round of eliminations saw defending champions the Stratford Stormers start their defence in the best possible way
to beat the Meeanee Maulers fairly easily, but the Hawkes Bay squad weren’t disgraced and in fact made the semis as the
highest scoring losers.
Next we saw the Rotorua Rascals against the Wellington Young Guns, making their debut at this event, but the much vaunted Wellingtonians
probably wished they never stayed this side of the Desert Rd as the Rascals outraced them comprehensively to score an easy 1-2.
It now time for a local derby between the Auckland Alleycats and the local Waikato Raiders, but it was all one way traffic as the Alleycats ripped into the Raiders in the way my cat takes a scratch at me! Several big hits secured the win for the Jafas, the Raiders unable to connect several hits that could have changed the outcome of the race.
The first semi final between Rotorua and Stratford was the closest race of the night with the lead swapping hands several times, Stratford looking like having the upper hand in the closing stages but a tactical error from Stratford allowed 583R Sheldon Arapere to grab the lead for Rotorua at the last corner and a place in the final.
Semi final number two between the Alleycats and Meeanee saw the Maulers deliver some big hits but were not able to unseat 32A Brad Waring who lead from flag to flag relatively untroubled.
The match for third and fourth between Stratford and Meeanee was another closely fought match, both squads taking turns to lead the race
and 81B Brandon Symes evaded a last corner attack from 3NZ Hayden Barker to claim third for the night, a result that exceeded many expectations and probably the team themselves didn’t quite expect to achieve. Conversely Stratford will have rued the mistakes which cost the national champions two wins on the trot but still very much look capable of defending the NZ title on home soil in February.
The final between Rotorua and Auckland was a hard fought affair that bought to the fore Auckland’s superior tactical skills. The Jafas won the start, but Rotorua pulled out all the stops to unseat them and indeed they were able to mortally wound two of their four cars but the Rascals failed to target 735A Keegan Orr, ironically a Rotorua citizen, the Alleycats using all the street smarts one expects from a homeless feline to win despite being two cars down when Orr took the chequered flag, and its skills like this that wins races between squads that are evenly matched and separates the good from the great.
Superstock teams racing at Huntly has been a very rare occurrence in the 30 year lifespan of the track, the last example of which took place as far back as 2006. With the fine action seen in all four races, one hopes we don’t have to wait that long for the next one!! Judging by the success and public response that should not be the case.
First off the rank were the local Waikato Wanderers against the Stratford Scrappers. Stratford grabbed the lead to be in control only for an unnecessary attack on a Wanderer blocker put the locals back in front, only for a successful counterattack from the Scrappers that got them back in front, where they stayed to claim victory, though the Wanderers never gave up throughout the race.
Next was a local derby between the Baypark Busters and Rotorua Rebels, and though Rotorua tried hard, the Busters looked far too polished and scored an easy 1-2.
The Wanderers and Rebels thus squared off in the match for third and fourth and it was a Waikato steamroller as 97H Aiden Eustace romped away to a easy win, his teammates dealing to the Rebels who looked rather rusty all evening and need another race or two to really gel.
The final saw Baypark too good for the Scrappers, the blue cars in a class of their own to claim the inaugural crown for this category, but it was not as if they won as they like as Stratford gave a good account of themselves and tried hard and 26S Mitch Vickery even managed to delay race winner 19M Kerry Remnant at the final corner but Kerry had 3 laps in hand should he have been taken to the wall. Not bad for a team that very rarely gets to run at their home track!
Also superbly supporting the main attraction was the DVS Super Saloon series, held over from the washed out opening night, which was combined with the Waikato Super Saloon Championship and Kevin Bates Memorial. After processional one lane racing from the class the last couple of seasons it was heartwarming to see the vastly improved track conditions produced the excellent racing Huntly was once known for from them, nicely whetting the appetite for the NZ Champs in January. The 20 lap winner take all final for the Waikato title and Kevin Bates Memorial saw 96A Lance Jennings and 1NZ Terry Corin have a wonderful wheel to wheel joust for the lead which ended all too soon when Jennings had to retire after slamming into two stationary cars that had just bought a caution flag but the veteran had the consolation of breaking Shane McIntyre’s 2009 lap record, which was initially lowered by Corin earlier in the night. Corin won easily after the restart from
21H Steve Williams with 55A Rick McKay completing the trifecta.
Completing the night’s programme was regular stockcar racing which produced some good racing, 36K Clint Cheetham scoring possibly the first hatrick of wins by a Kihikihi stockcar at Huntly.