Sunday, November 01, 2009
WP Opening Meeting
If ever there was an important meeting this season for WP, this was going to be it. A lot of pressure and expectation for the new promotions team and club who perennially under-perform each season, usually giving a glimpse of how good the place can be at only a few meets during the season. Fortunately they delivered with a quality show, fantastic fireworks display and decent fields in most classes even requiring some of the cricket grounds for the abundance of MiniStocks in attendance. More noticeable than the on-track action (which was great) was the HUGE crowd and excellent atmosphere (yes atmosphere!) that has been missing for several years.
From the moment you went through the public gates the new signage signalled change. The amount of competitors in the pits (probably double any figure a usual opening night has drawn in) and a quick look through the new-look full colour A5 sized programme which is very spectator friendly, confirmed that indeed, change is happening.
The four man commentary team (Howe, Drever, Duff and new man Chris Lawrence) gelled well although there were a few hiccups with driver info and results that can be overlooked on a normal race night. There were some hilarious jokes at the expense of John Duff who put the commentators hex on EVERY car he mentioned to the point that he refused to even say drivers names towards the end of the night. He must owe Nigel Ross a drink such were his powers of destructive suggestion! The flow of the meeting was pretty good although the fireworks usually means a late night - starting promptly at 6.45pm and finishing just after 11pm stretching it a bit. The programming of a teams race between Auckland and Gisborne (win to the Alleycats), a Rock FM promotion infield, a chance to win a season pass and the complete lack of pointless downtime for a crowd that would have included many families probably only there for the fireworks meant that for once the club were taking advantage of the opportunity to convert a few first timers and get them coming back for the speedway viewing.
The Gisborne Gladiators made the long trek up for a match-up with the local Alleycats team who haven't made a home appearance since the disastrous cancelled encounter with Rotorua last year. The race was essentially settled in turn three of the first lap as Gary Lonergan took out Gladiators runner 66g Sam Hughes leaving 5 cars on to 4 for the rest of the race. The visitors never gave up, which is becoming a hallmark of the new era Gizzy teams but with a polished looking Auckland team including new cap Dan Martin performing clinically and without too much need for mega hits, Gary Lonergan took the win from a late charging 65g Andrew Powell. Lets hope this is an omen for the Alleycats big season ahead at the Huntly and Wellington events.
The rest of the programme included 8 Modifieds, a big quality field of Saloons, a mixed field of SuperSaloons and Saloons with some spectacular if unpredictable driving from 99a Shane McInteer, 30+ MiniStocks, a very big field of 26+ Stockcars, a strong field of StreetStocks, MiniSprints and the Sidecar rigs who raced on the big track (another good decision that gets a thumbs up from me) plus the feature race photos and interview with the winning driver to finish the night off. As I left I heard over the pit speakers the drivers all being thanked for their efforts and no doubt relief that the first date was done and dusted.
Mission accomplished for the first meeting then, the big challenge now is to repeat it and keep the crowds coming through the gates. Having the big crowd there really makes a difference. Even when the winning driver went on their chequered flag lap people were cheering on the backstraight like in the old days. The old days... now there's a hard act to measure up to, nobody has been able to even get close in recent years, but if we remember massive speedway fan Rachel Hunter's sage advice "it wont happen overnight,..."
Meeting rating 7/10