By Rob Arnold
It was a strong start to the season for the Huntly International Speedway last Saturday, and in fact there was the largest fields seen for a Huntly season opener since the writer has started attending the venue regularly in 1995. While some season openers have seen greater fields in certain categories, the 26 youth ministocks, 11 saloons, 13 production saloons, the same number for super saloons, 21 superstocks and 27 stockcars as a whole was even possibly the strongest quality line up for a Huntly season opener since it opened its doors in 1988.
With such depth and breadth it was no surprise to see a moderately large sized crowd in the bleachers for an opening night not containing fireworks in spite of the earlier than usual 5:30pm kick off, done to see the meeting finish in time for people to get back home to watch the Rugby World Cup final. With no All Blacks in it however, the exercise seem a little pointless! As stated above the earlier start time, some 90 minutes ahead of Huntly’s usual kick off time in spite of being a tad awkward for dairy farmers and something regular Huntly patrons are historically not used to proved no barrier to getting a healthy crowd. In fact with the earlier start at a time of year when in it gets chilly after dark makes speedway more attractive for families with young children and for the casual punter in general, which sees Huntly having the next two meetings start at 6pm. Most track surfaces don’t respond well to direct sunlight early in the meeting, but thankfully it cooled off sufficiently not to be a problem, and in fact it was that good order that it didn’t need to be watered after every race
It was a night that saw the large number of visiting drivers proved to be too quick for the locals as they corralled the winner’s circle. One notable exception was the stockcars, long the core class at the track, putting solid action that we come to expect from them. 422H Dylan Ashton continued his good form at Kihikihi the week earlier to win the opening heat, followed by 361H Clinton Cheetham, a new addition to the Huntly ranks in the second, with the finale, fittingly sporting the best action of the night with a great battle for the lead won by 8A Logan Peat. , 8H Larry Henderson, 51A Alistair Van Amsterdam, the former rapid local now in the Waikaraka ranks were also very racy while 27H Brett Aiken, 49H Zac Hickford and 88H Justin Hutchby also chipped in to finish in the top five, as did 641A Angus Moore.
It was also a local clean sweep in the production saloons, but with all but one car carrying an H that was to be expected. Wins went to 6H Vaughan Glidden, 48H Dave Pilkington and 2NZ Wayne Warrender in a sturdy supporting act to the more glamorous categories. Also on the pace was 11H Anne-Marie Warrender, and veteran Peter Craddock in the 63H. Good to see 42H Lance Gribble back in the class after a few years in stockcars in a BMW 3 Series, which was quick enough to post two top five finishes. After three lack lustre seasons were numbers have been barely enough to keep afloat, it was good to see much needed new blood in the class to boost the ranks and it appears they are on the road to recovery. One of them was the pink Toyota of 77H Jamie Ngakai, one of the very first crop of ministock drivers at Huntly when they were introduced to the programme in the 1999-2000 season and out of the sport since ageing out of that class until now.
The same can’t be said for their bigger brothers the saloons, where local numbers remain very low, just two of the cars carrying an H, but the saving grace has been the strong support by Waikaraka and Kihikihi cars as they get some mileage in preparation for the NZ Champs in February. Wins went to 116A David Ingram, 146A Paul Wright with 18K Chris Taylor showing why he is one of the favourites for the NZ Champs by romping home to easily win the finale. Also showing good pace were 56K Corey Tyler, 8K Kevin Williams, 8M Jarrod Fletcher, 16A Ted Ingram while 81A Dan Hickman also chipped in with a top five finish. Good to see 68H Cody Hata back after a few years off, two top five finishes showing he was instantly back into the swing of things. While the racing was good rather than great and there was only a fair amount of passing, the action should hot up in the build up to the Nationals.
13 super saloons was the most ever seen for a Huntly season opener, this being promoted as a shakedown for the DVS Series for budget level competitors, the second leg of which will be at Huntly as part of the fireworks meeting next week. There was several of the quicker top guns in the mix as well and as expected monopolised the winners circle with wins going to 8C Craig Cardwell, evergreen veteran Lance Jennings in the 96A and the rapid 46A of Matt Smith. 63A Nigel Mouat, who was planning to hang up his helmet over the winter was an welcome and unexpected sight as he simply couldn’t get speedway out of his system and will continue to campaign the Mustang at selected events, a lone fifth place not reflective of his ability.
Also showing good pace was 77K Ross Creswell and fellow Ford Mustang pilot Steve Williams in the 21 H. Good to see 79S Richard Drever making the step up from saloons and do something different by running a Toyota Supra, it’s turbocharged exhaust note standing out in a sea of V8’s. Like the saloons no one could really make the outside groove work even though there was the grip, although Cardwell tried his darndest to do so but was it was fast clean and entertaining racing nevertheless.
Kihikihi’s Regan Tyler dominated the youth ministock action with two wins in the rapid 56K, but Connor Van Lieshout restored some honour for the locals to take the 4H to victory in the finale with 76M Deegan McGregor, 12H Harry Hodgson, 14H Greg Capper Conijn, 7H Hamish Hambling, 82A Azaria Simspson and 454R Jesse Henderson all featuring in the top five over the evening. Henderson and Kayden Barker provided the night’s highlight when the pair made a double rollover in heat two that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a stockcar race! Apart from that mishap the racing was fast and clean, everyone adapting to the introduction of rolling starts and yellow lights for minor incidents very well.
Last but definitely not least were the superstocks, the 21 on tap the biggest the writer has ever seen for a Huntly opening night. Initially the action while good didn’t look like matching the high energy level seen at the Kihikihi opening night a week earlier, but a high voltage final heat really ramped up the heartbeat. This culminated in a wild finish when young lions 97M Aiden Eustace and 57H Dylan Marshall violently collided in Turn 3 while battling for the lead in the closing laps in one of the biggest ever crashes in the category at Huntly that seriously bent both cars and saw Eustace in the ambulance. Much has been said about this incident which has been controversial and this is not the time or place to discuss further about it, but suffice to say it was an explosive finish to a fine night’s racing.
118R Bryce Steiner won the opening heat with the unfancied 106R Des Curry showing he is getting his act together to hold off Steiner score his first career win in his distinctive Army coloured car, the finale ironically going to Eustace despite finishing his race on his lid as the race was declared at that point and positioned backdated a lap. 93R Gary Hunter, 22M Dean Mulholland, 5M Blake Dykstra, 73A Bryce Marx and 218H Aaron Alderton also picked finishes in the top five, Marx the most consistent with two thirds.