Tuesday, April 25, 2006

It's Speedway Jim, but not as we know it...

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If you were completely oblivious to the goings on this past week with Tiger Woods appearing at a charity celebrity stockcar meeting in Huntly, then reading the international websites reporting on the event might leave you wondering what actually happened.

My favourite so far is from MSN "...(Woods) won the second of two celebrity stock car races on a dirt track in this small coal mining town...to raise funds to provide sporting careers for disadvantaged youth, Woods forced his way from the back of the grid to the front..." it sounds more like a script to a tear-jerker movie of the week but in actual fact the whole night felt a bit unreal and definitely a bit Hollywood. No matter what the reason for the event the Huntly club were on to a winner here. I've been to many speedway meetings but nothing like this, a 'drivers-by-invite-only' showcase of the sport featuring some heavyweight celebs that received positive front page newspaper coverage and even the leading story on the major TV networks. You can't buy that sort of exposure and Steve Williams and the Waikato Stock and Saloon Car Club should be commended for their achievement.

I will admit though, at some stages during the buildup last week and specially during the meeting, I had some 'ownership issues' to deal with. My usual seat gone, my complete and unrestricted access to the pits and cars suddenly removed! People at work talking about Tiger racing at Huntly and telling ME what was happening and how great this was for speedway, I just wanted to shout "you dont know the first bloody thing about speedway... I'm a REAL fan!" Funny how possesive we become of something we've supported for years through the good and bad just to suffer these fools... hold on, isn't the whole point of this exercise to get these people coming every week? Do we take for granted that speedway will never grow bigger, that we will always be this secret society that gathers in 'small coal mining towns' across the county to enjoy something as special as teams racing? It's an odd feeling knowing that you're in on something great before the masses know about it and sometimes that's the feeling you get sitting at a speedway meeting that is just 'going off' wondering "why isn't this on TV?"

Two teams of stockcars (the Tigers and the Tanas) were the main feature of the night and in a promoters dream ended up locked at one win each (race one Paul Radisich, race two Tiger Woods) requiring a run off third heat that the drivers were keen to see happen and the crowd even more so. The surprise for me was that the ability of most of the celebs was much better than I thought they would be but how hard must it have been for the 'real' stockcar drivers involved not to show them how it's supposed to be done and on one occasion the restraint it must have taken for Carlos Chestnutt not to put Tiger up and over the wall when he had the opportunity...

The crowd was huge and vocal and even though the weather and traffic tried hard to spoil the script, we were well entertained and lucky to be part of something a little bit different and a little bit special. I would have killed for a pit pass and the only time I was close to a celeb was when Tana Umaga walked right past me and as usual I was stuffing my face with an eggburger. If I was part of this 'movie' I just had my Jimmy Olsen moment...Doh!

So as 'novelty' events go, it was rather well executed, and hopefully not a one off. Getting someone with the star power of Tiger Woods was the key to the success and also the problem, there aren't too many tigers in this neck of the woods so to speak and without Steve William's connection I doubt the idea would have got off the ground. Maybe it will be a one off, if that's the case I hope the Huntly club will be able to capitalise on the exposure the club and speedway in general received.

From a spectator point of view, things went smoothly, the track and facilities looked stunning and the commentary team outdid themselves (Paul Hickey, Ken Sines and Mintie). Tana's team proved they weren't playing tiddlywinks and won the challenge but Speedway was the real winner... oh, and the disadvantaged coalmining orphans of Huntly.

The Tanas:
13AB Tana Umaga
21 Paul Radisich (1st race 1)
1nz Tony Galbraith
64a Carlos Chestnutt (1st race 3)
206r Bill Keijzer

The Tigers:
1 World Tiger Woods (1st race 2)
21h Steve Williams
51 Greg Murphy
96h Kevin Ngakai
98h Justin Hutchby

Meeting rating : 8/10

Sunday, April 23, 2006

King of the Park

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Late Saturday afternoon and luckily I checked the WP website and realised the meeting started earlier than usual at 6pm. Arriving a bit late, a quick check of the pits revealed a large turnout for the final meeting of the season. In fact there were quite a few visiting cars from as far a field as Gisborne and Meeanee. Also a few new cars in the pits, early purchases for next season getting a last chance run.

The crowd size was better than expected and I wonder if the high profile speedway has had this past week piqued the interest of a few punters who wanted to check out WP? Well if that was the case, Waikaraka Park turned on one of it's best meetings in ages. I'm one of the many people who seem to take every opportunity to point out every little thing that's wrong with the place, so get ready for a review full of praise... it's only fair.

I dont know what happened on Saturday night, (I'm still a bit dazed and confused) but apart from a small understandable delay to the start of the meeting because the ambulance was late, there wasn't a single holdup for the rest of the night. Every class has decent numbers beginning with 22 ministocks who not unlike the ministocks last week at Rotorua, were determined to go out with a bang. The Saloons were a little light on numbers but the combination of 9a Steve Louden, 12a Nevano Cowan and 58a Gavin Hinsley provided plenty of thrills with Hinsley taking out the final heat and title.

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The stockcars were amazing. Boosted by visiting cars 37g, 49b, 78m & 137k the action started from the first corner of the first heat as Paul Vasey driving 93a was rolled. Now this is where one of the innovations of the night was played out, instead of 93a being towed off he was put back on his wheels and allowed to restart. This happened throughout the night to any car that caused a red light and what a difference it made. Immediately the car that had been rolled or put up the wall had the opportunity for revenge! This was an inspired move, and should be done on any club night or night like this if the drivers agree to it. Although the King of the Park title was up for grabs, a number of drivers were only out there to cause trouble, which we love. 137k Paully Rawiri performed his usual antics and probably was the stirrer of the night, he gave a great interview about his driving style too. The hits in every heat were full on and sometimes you didn't know where to look so much was happening. 45a Daniel Knight was another who seemed to be constantly in the action along with Carlos Chestnutt in the 14a.

The Modifieds capped off a successful season with three heats of superb racing with Jamie Fox and Scott Lane absolutely flying. Fox claimed the title with a brilliant performance, he was just awesome to watch. With the Mods holding the NZ Title here next season this class will only get better and better. The programme listed the title dates as January 1 + 2, 2007 so another quiet New Years eve for these guys! Streetstocks have been a bit average this season but not tonight. Finally a bit of biffo and 45a Bill Peat was paid the ultimate compliment when he decided not to run but stir and had a group of cars queued up behind him unwilling to pass. 89a Shane Waldon took out the title.

Superstocks had a field of 11 cars, not big numbers at other tracks but for WP it was large and also a fairly even group too. 11a Gary Ellis had the car really firing in the first heat for the win but it was 99a Mark Decke who won the other two races and the title with ease in a car that is for sale. Supersaloons also provided some tight racing between 11m and 3nz and a spectacular crash for 16a John Parlato in the last race with 3nz Lance Jennings taking the title.


The sound system functioned (at last!) and the combination of Mike Howe and Aaron Drever's commentary worked well. They managed to get some comments from the drivers, give out results and even the infield mic was working. The most notable thing for me about the whole night was the lack of delays. In between races they had a novelty ramp jump thing happening but instead of the usual mucking around, the next class was being assembled ready to race immediately afterwards... this is exactly how it should be done. A great meeting with plenty of action, and most importantly a professionally run, entertaining night. This is how Waikaraka Park should present it's show every week, it proves that the combination of decent fields + good organisation = happy punters. Hopefully there were a few new spectators who would have been well satisfied...

Kings of the Park
Superstocks: 99a Mark Decke
Stockcars: 34a Mark Wearing
Modifieds: 11a Jamie Fox
Supersaloons: 3nz Lance Jennings
Streetstocks: 89a Shane Waldon
Saloons: 58a Gavin Hinsley

Meeting Rating : 6.5/10

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Monday, April 17, 2006

Hot and Cold

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I wisely chose to drive down on Saturday and so avoided the traffic nightmare on Good Friday that other family members got caught up in resulting in a five and a half hour drive to Tirau for them!

Anyway, it's been a while since I've been to Paradise Valley, in fact the last time I went down I think they had just finished the first lot of terracing on the back straight, so I was looking forward to seeing what else had been done. The improvements are great and the look of the place is a credit to everyone involved. I usually sit in turn three, in front of the food stand (of course), and now there is the option to lean on the wooden rails at the top of the bank which offers a fantastic view of the track. Perfect.

Before the meeting started I had planned to meet up with Mike from Superstock 21r to check out some old Rotorua photos of cars from years ago, and can I say it was a pleasure meeting you and hopefully at a later date I'll be able to post some of the amazing photos he had (specially of a bright yellow 83r Wayne Houston 'Sherman Tank-like' standard stock from years ago, I've never seen a more solid looking car)!

Then as I was about to leave the pits, I saw Neil McCoard who I hadn't spoken to for ages and managed to chat for about half an hour. He's always been one of the nicest guys in the sport and very approachable. We talked about the old 14a tank, the 'Concoard', racing injuries and his plans for next season. What a great start to the meeting and the racing hadn't even begun!

Night one of the Easter Meeting featured Superstocks, Stockcars, Production Saloons and Mini Sprints. Now two of these classes I love and two are not so lovable, can you guess... the minisprints had good numbers and did what minisprints do, so no real gripes about them. Productions saloons are less interesting. There was a bit of biffo though which made them bearable but it offered me the opportunity to test the theory offered by Barry Brown about the popularity of classes and the numbers of people ordering food and I can say the woman cooking the hamburger patties at the food caravan was getting her panties in a bunch because she was overwhelmed by the masses during the production saloon racing! During the Superstocks and the Stockcars there was virtually no one ordering food. This survey has a plus or minus error rate of about 5 burgers.

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The Superstocks and Stockcars both had massive fields of cars with the Stockcars being split into two qualifying groups. The cars were mostly from Rotorua with a few W, P, K, M, a couple of H and one token Stratford entry. From the get go Wellington cars were set upon and dealt to. This made for great viewing! Also the two tanks in attendance, 33r and 26k were constant targets all night and perhaps because 26k used to be 26m the Baypark cars specially 91m, took to him. It proved that Bill Peat style tanks can take the hits!

The Superstocks were running a best pairs meet along with the knowledge that this would be Rodney Woods last meeting before the jump to Sprintcars, so I knew at some point there would be some paybacks. Most of the action for them was kept until night two but the stand out performers and points leaders after the first three heats were 1nz, 51r, 515r, 62r and Jeff Mohi in the familiar green 74r.

So night one over, the overwhelming feeling was that I had no feeling because of the cold. Fortunately I ate my body weight in food (to keep warm) and looked forward to more of the same for night two. The meeting ran smoothly and was over pretty quick which was fine by me.

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I knew night two would be better because of the addition of Modifieds and Saloons. Ministocks were also on the programme, hundreds of them it seemed, in two bunches, I had grave fears for the hamburger lady, I hope she took some V or Red Bull because she was in for a big night...

Modifieds have a love/hate relationship with this track and when 16 of them rolled out of the pits I thought there is no way this meeting is going to run smoothly. In actual fact, although there were some rollovers and some 'incidents' I thought they were great. 10s Willie Noonan is one of my favourites and seeing him back on the track was a bonus. The eventual winner was 9w Tama Arapere from 11a Jamie Fox. A bit of a dust problem was the only negative from this class.

The Ministox were not on their best behaviour and I would imagine some harsh words were said to a few of them afterwards. Made them more entertaining if anything and some infield action also got the crowd going.

The saloons were alright, stand out for me was 98h who seemed to have no fear in attempting the outside pass when others hugged the pole line hoping for an error so they could jump inside the car ahead.

In the Stockcars only four non Rotorua cars made the final 26 for the three heat finals and were put upon fairly early. 77p was harder to stop but they got him in the third heat. 16r Clive Pritchard took the win and was well deserving. The non qualifiers though really turned on the action and were great to watch. Quite a few cars were 'sponsored' by FOR SALE, so it will be interesting to see how many changed hands over the weekend.

The Superstocks turned things up a notch for their final three heats and what a great spectacle it was. The noise and atmosphere that 26 Superstocks create is the drug that keeps me coming back time after time. I sort of hoped 51r would get the fairytale ending he deserved, but this is stockcars and so he ended his career with three wheels and a second place finish, which really sums up his Superstock racing, always in the top finishers and a never say die attitude. Quite a fitting end I thought. Apparently the crew were wearing black armbands! 1nz Darcy Hunter took the title with 515r Hickey in third.

Overall I was well pleased, heaps of cars on the track, good sound system and commentary, improved viewing and seating, good food, a great catch up with some speedway people and the chance to wear four layers of clothing at once. I don't think I've ever been to a disappointing meeting at Rotorua which is a pretty good record to have.

Meeting Rating : 7/10

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Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Wrath of Jamo!

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The title above refers to the feeling I had as I ventured towards my first speedway meeting in over a month at WP, the final round of the Leisurerite Spa Pools and Pacific Urethanes North Island Modified Series.

You see, over the past few weeks there have been some fairly heated arguments about the way in which meetings are being presented/promoted/cancelled at WP after the resent Stockcar teams two night meeting that became a no nights meeting. The Jamo I refer to is involved heavily in the modified section at WP and is passionate about the class and has along with a few others like Phil Crumpe (driver of 36a Modified), gone about resurrecting the modifieds with or without the support of the club. It hasn't been easy and criticism of anything to do with WP, whether it be modified related or not has been met with some fierce 'fightin' talk' and challenges laid down to be 'more positive' in posting comments about the club or to get off your butt and do something about it. So writing a review of any sorts about a meeting that features Modifieds, Sidecars and a Caravan Derby is not going to be easy if the meeting follows the usual 2006 season at WP.

Well, first I will say that the Modifieds turned it on (phew!) 15 of them turned up which is pretty good for this time of year. One from Stratford 4s Dixon, 2 from Rotorua 19r and 16r, and all the rest from Auckland. Now just to be clear, if there are any classes at WP that turn it on week in week out, it's the Stockcars and the Modifieds, so there was little doubt that the Mods would be anything but spectacular on this last meeting in the Series.

Three heats were run on a heavy track that didn't help the drivers any, and probably played a part in a huge crash in the third heat that took a bit of the sting out of the race but no complaints from me, Jamie Fox took out the series with an almost faultless performance. Winners of the three heats were 11a Fox, 19r Lane and 6a Jesen. The Auckland drivers took out the top three spots in the series too. The resurgence in Modifieds over the last two seasons has been a credit to everyone involved and it looks as though it will only get stronger with the continued support from the two main sponsors featured tonight.

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Now the difficult bit... the sidecars were canned due to the track conditions, now that's unavoidable and just part of racing although massively disappointing as it looked like they had one of the best fields of sidecars I've seen in a while including 1nz and 2nz and representation from Wanganui and Christchurch.

The superstocks numbered six, although 271h only appeared in the last race and they were boring to say the least. In fact 441a Andrew Weir ran with them to boost the numbers in the first heat and actually won the race! This season must rate as one of the worst for this class, there's not much entertainment you can create if you only have five cars on the track.

The Stockcars numbered about 10 which has to be one of their lowest turnouts and barely touched each other. One of the most reliable classes for entertainment value was decidedly average and a let down.

Limited saloons were alright, not one of my favourites although 12a Nevano Cowan was excellent, and the streetstocks were pretty tame to say the least.

The night finished with a Caravan Derby that was pretty good. I'm usually gone by the time these things start but thought I'd check it out for once and stayed until about three of them were endlessly lapping before I did go.

So there you have it, a meeting that was held together with one section performing well, and all the rest on cruise control. Not great. Perhaps these other sections are missing behind the scenes people like Jamo and Co. who's passion for their class has not only raised the numbers competing but has made a difference to what is happening on the track and made their class a standout worth going to see? Perhaps they are the template that should be used for Superstocks because something has to be done soon, the horse is bolting and the metophoric gate needs shutting now before the actual gates are shut for good!

Meeting rating: 4/10

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There are three threads on Macgors "Stockcars Missing In Action" board with a collection of some of the best tank photos you will see outside of "The Tank" book published a few years ago. Check them out...

Original Palmy Tanks

Other Tank Variations

McCoard Tanks