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

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