Allstars the Star of the Show at Huntly

For the last three seasons the Auckland Allstars have been on the verge of real success, with a number of solid efforts having landed just short. After knocking on the door so often, they finally scored a long-elusive victory by winning the Pollock Cranes Superstock Invitation at Huntly International Speedway’s final night on May 6.

This event should have been done and dusted six months earlier, but heavy rain forced the original mid-November timeslot to move to early March, only for the rescheduled NZ Superstocks to take that spot. This meant that May 6 was the only possible date for Huntly, which was far from ideal at the end of the season.

While the likes of Rotorua, Stratford and Palmerston North have had their fill of teams racing, a cobbled-together Waikato Wanderers and the debut of the Gisborne development teams joined the Kihikihi Kings, Auckland Allstars and Baypark Busters to make for a six-team event, two down on what is usually seen but still a respectable number this late in the year.

Going into the week leading into the event, there was considerable doubt that it would run with a dire-sounding weather forecast. Thankfully, come race day, the skies, while laden and overcast, stayed dry save for some drizzle early on.

33A Tyler Walker took the flag in the semis against Kihikihi.

The sketchy weather did put off a few punters as the crowd, which, while still moderately large, was down somewhat on the full house this event usually attracts. This was a bit of a surprise given the postponement of Kihikihi’s closing meeting, also planned for this evening which should have seen a few extra fans through the gate.

Opening the first round of racing was the Gisborne Development against the local Waikato Wanderers, which, with several imports, were almost local in name only. They did have experience on their side, however, which gave the home crowd some hope.

Gisborne Development, while virgins in teams combat, have proven their worth in individual prowess, and this showed as Waikato were lambs to the slaughter for these young lions who scored an easy 1-2-3, making several big hits along the way to book the first spot in the semi-finals.

Next to race was the defending- champion Kihikihi Kings, up against the Baypark Busters, the former seeing Mitch Vickery back in action after his injury at Rotorua in November. Todd Hemingway led for Baypark on flag fall, but the Kings soon were in front. However, with debutant Dion Henderson out of action very quickly, Kihikihi looked vulnerable as Baypark kept them honest.

Had Asher Rees, who was brilliantly shepherding race leader Vickery on his way to victory, been blocked, Kihikihi would have been in real trouble.

The final bout in the opening round was the Auckland Allstars and Gisborne Giants. Gisborne quickly established the early advantage as the Aucklanders got caught out by a slippery outside groove, delaying the rapid Cody Mckee when he was poised to take the fight to the Giants. A late rally by the Aucklanders saw early leader Ethan Rees lose a massive two-lap advantage over Mckee, who took the front after a stoppage with just half a lap to go to claim an impressive come-from-behind win.

99M Todd Hemingway avoids stranded teammate Dylan Towler and Waikato’s Allan Dunn. Image: James Selwyn

At this point, it seemed hard to believe that after such a strong drive, Gisborne would be racing for the wooden spoon against Waikato, with Baypark only just ahead on points. However, there was a little sting in the tail as Allstar Craig Chatfield was excluded from fourth, promoting Giant Tim Ross into fifth, providing enough points to vault the Giants narrowly back into the semis.

The Kings and Allstars faced off in their first semi, an exciting prospect given their close battle at Waikaraka Park two weeks earlier. The Kings again put Vickery into the lead, but when Henderson was punted hard into the Turn 1 concrete by Randall Tarrant, ending a difficult night, they were again looking vulnerable.

Despite the early setback, Asher Rees ran shotgun again for Vickery, and they were looking good. In block mode all race, Tarrant took Stefan Roigard to the wall, rendering him almost immobile after half distance, suddenly putting the Kings in real trouble.

Tarrant then proceeded to put Rees to the infield just as the reds came out for some debris on the track; the instigator also taken out of the equation with a broken wheel guard. His sacrifice paid dividends as Chatfield blocked Vickery off the restart with two laps to run, going onto the wet grass and preventing a quick re-join.

With Rees having to restart from a muddy area just beyond the pole line, it allowed Tyler Walker to hit the front and claim victory in his debut as a super-sub, and just like that, Auckland were through to the final of a major event for the first time in yonks.

The second semi-final was a local derby between the Giants and the Gisborne development squad, and the Giant’s superior experience showed, Ethan Rees scoring an easy win to put the Giants to the final, up against the Allstars for the second time of the night.

72A Cody McKee took the flag for Auckland in the final. Image: James Selwyn

Gisborne Development, however, showed signs that they could progress with more experience as Sam Hughes and Brodie James double-teamed Peter Rees to put him out of the running. They were unfortunately caught out by the wet infield, which kept James from taking the fight to Ethan Rees while in a close second in the early laps.

The battle for 5th and 6th between Baypark and Waikato saw the first real aggression from Waikato, with Logan Nicholson-Mabey leading for a lap and Allen Dunn tipping over Dylan Towler, but Ross Ashby’s blocking quickly put Baypark back in front to score an easy win for Hemingway. It was a small crumb of consolation after missing the semis by a steward’s call they had no control over.

It was also one-way traffic in the race for third between Kihikihi and Gisborne Development, the Kings keen to atone for their loss to Auckland when success was close at hand.

After Gisborne led the opening lap, the Kings lived up to their name to maintain their 100% record of finishing on the podium in every edition of this event.

It is rare to see two sides that clashed earlier in the night back for another encounter in the final, but this was the case when the Giants and Allstars met again in the decider.

Peter Rees got to the front for Gisborne and led in grand style, with the Giants appearing to be in control just before half-race distance, only for the Allstars to make some well-timed blocks on the leader with seven of twelve laps completed. A key block on Peter Rees from Walker was made, which propelled McKee into the lead. Excellent attacking from Auckland put pay to any Gisborne counterattack, the Allstars emerging as well-deserved and popular winners.

Baypark’s Ryan Hunt takes care of Kihikihi’s Stefan Roigard. Image: James Selwyn

It has been a long time between drinks for the Allstars, who struggled for much of the 2000s and up to the early 2010s to stay alive, let alone be competitive. The emergence of Mckee in 2020, together with the skills of seasoned campaigners Gary Lonergan, the retiring Jamie Ferguson, and, more recently, the addition of Randal Tarrant, has energised the Allstars over these past three campaigns.

Those fans that never lost faith in Auckland through the lean times have had their perseverance pay off in a big way.

Also on the programme was the Cooke Roofing Waikato T.Q. title. Victory in the 15-strong field in the winner-take- all final going to 2NZ Kayden Barker, ahead of Regan Tyler and 1NZ Aaron Humble. The stockcars also put on some good action, along with F2 Midgets and Production Saloons in a supporting role.

It brings an end to a season that promised so much for Huntly with three major NZ titles in addition to their own big attractions but ultimately was severely disrupted and ruminated by a terrible run of wet weather.

The fine racing seen at the Teams Invitation would have eased some of the pain, and after such a trying year, going into the off-season on a more cheerful note hints of better times ahead come springtime.