Sunday, March 02, 2014
The times they are a changin'
Superstock Teams Champs
Palmerston North Speedway
They say change is good, and going by the crowd reaction on Friday night, the failure of not one but both Palmy teams to make the top four was met with disbelief and for some, no doubt, a sense of relief. Of the top four teams to qualify, only the Baypark Busters had ever won this title before, so for the Hawkes Bay Hawkeyes, Wanganui Warriors and Great Britain Lions there really was a sense of change and an air of expectation for night two. Saturday night delivered big time! A meeting that has always been a must see event for any true speedway fan, took the action to another level and with the Burger King Supersaloon Series providing some of the best support programme racing I've ever seen, the fans were treated to an incredible weekend of action and speedway at it's best.
But for me, the memory I'll carry away from this meeting was watching the entire arena give the Auckland Allstars a standing ovation when they beat the Palmerston North Panthers. It was like something from a dream, I really had to pinch myself and for the Allstars fans it had been a long time coming. It epitomised the whole meeting actually, there were no dead certs and any team could produce an upset. The days of easy beats are long gone. Many people will say the Wanganui v Manawatu race on Friday night was an all time classic and the race of the meeting when it looked as though no cars would finish. Bevan Humphrey just managing to drag his car across the line while Kyle Heibner held Adam Joblin in the wall just metres from the line.
A few drivers stood out and I believe Kyle Heibner was named the driver of the weekend which I would agree with, although I thought Carl Hodge and Ross Ashby were equally as impressive. Ashby did the business and only upon watching a highlights video of the Busters races do you realise how much work the big man put in. Carl Hodge was a sensation for the Allstars in his first appearance at the Palmy Teams and was almost a one man highlights reel including a rollover that he managed to continue racing from. Heibner was a big reason the Warriors made the final, the Wanganui team looked more structured than they have in years and with Kerry Podjursky blocking they were capable of the win.
Last season, the title for my review of this meeting was "Are the Panthers too good?" and lamented the lack of a serious challenger to their run of titles, 12 months on and I don't think anyone was ready for the spectacular fall from grace that occurred. The conspiracy theorist in me wants to say they 'threw' their races to keep the traveling punters happy, but knowing the calibre of this team and their hunger for wins it was simply just a bad weekend for the Panthers. God help the team that meets them first up at their next race at the Auckland Teams Nats! The other side of the coin was the GB Lions who in their short history at this meeting have had astoundingly good results but this season were without mercurial leader Frankie Wainman jnr and with only Tom Harris having appeared before, were lacking in experience. Their only practice race against the Auckland Allstars a week prior resulted in a loss but once again on the nights that mattered and under the guidance of Tony Mac, they surprised everyone and made the top four, eventually car and driver damage taking its toll as they were bundled out of their last race with only 3 cars managing to make the track.
The decision to relaunch the Busters two seasons ago was met with anger in some corners and many thought the idea was not going to fly but with the class also being reignited at Baypark and the resulting win at Palmy I'm sure many are feeling not only justified in their decision but excited about the next chapter for the club. News that Kyle Fraser is retiring will be a massive blow to the solid crew that have formed this team for over a decade, but there is no shortage of cars wanting to join the Busters camp so I think this next era for the Mount based team could be requiring a larger trophy cabinet. Whether you agreed with the reformation or not, it has added some real competition into the teams racing arena.
Finally the refereeing decisions... wow! Obviously a call was made to stick to the letter of the law and the two teams that copped the game changing calls were Nelson and Palmy. There does need to be a strict adherence to the rules but you cant have races where both Scott Miers and Scott Joblin are removed from the racing - which is a HUGE call - and not inform the public why. Wanganui and Hawkes Bay also fell foul of the Refs and Malcolm Ngatai was made to leave the track but little info came through and this is only going to start rumours and pointless postings when a simple "refs call is..." from the ref or the commentary team will end it right there and then. I think it could actually be a really cool addition to the atmosphere like the third umpire TRY or NO TRY in rugby league. The Palmy promoters are on the ball with most things so maybe we'll see some innovation like that next year. Anyway all I know is, as far as teams meetings go, this really was one of the best I've ever been to. Just when I think I've seen it all, you go to a meeting like this one and your hooked all over again.