Rain Refuses To Dampen Sprits- By Rob Arnold.
As Waikato speedway fans have waited nearly eight months for racing to resume following the disruption caused by Covid-19, waiting another 24 because of rain for the McDonalds Kihikihi Speedway’s Waipa Home Of Championsfireworks season opener was small beer.
Usually postponed fixtures see both crowd and car numbers drop off but such was the appetite by both the public and competitors to get back into racing after such a long lay offthe punters simply came in their droves. In fact the monster crowd was larger than last year’s record for a Kihikihifireworks meeting which featured a full grid of quality superstocks on Labour Weekend. While there were a few withdrawals with a few unable to make it on a Sunday evening, this save for the sprintcars was barely noticeable as fields were rather healthy for the third year running. As recently as 2015 fields for Kihikihi opening nights fell just slightly short of what was really needed for decent action even if the racing wasn’t bad for the numbers that showed. The robust fields of recent years have certainly encouraged many once a year punters that only come for fireworks or demo derbies to return on a more regular basis and the strong crowds over the past two seasons suggests that some have indeed done just that.
The highlight of the on track action came from the large field of 18 saloons which was even larger than originally expected as several locals were to have been absent racing at Gisbornethe night before for the first round of the Pit Stop Series. Chris Taylor in the 18K Mustang was the one to beat with two wins, with Steve Williams in the 21A scoring a win in the second heat. 8K Kevin Williams has really benefited from travelling and more track time to score two seconds, leading the feature from pole for a number of laps while 146A Paul Wright, 68H Cody Hata and 71K Ryan Neave were also on the pace to score podium placings. With ten cars in the field carrying a K including several new and returning drivers including stockcar legend Noel Hawthorne back after a 13 year layoff and several more still to front up the category remains in excellent health with the roster firmly in the mid teens.
The 25 stockcars were slightly down on expectations but still a big muster. The aggression level was best described as moderately entertaining, attrition early in the evening robbing us of several drivers that could have raised the tempo somewhat. Wins went to 5H Dylan Marshall, 93M Marc Dunn and 422H Dylan Ashton with 23R Samuel Ashton, 186R Michael Keijzer and sister Kristen in the 681R in the minor money as was 3NZ Mitch Vickery, quickest of the locals despite being a target early in the evening. With the local ranks set to reach the late teens through an influx of new blood when everyone fronts ups plus visitors full sized grids should be a regular occurrence.
Sprintcars suffered with the postponement with a number unable to make it on a Sunday evening, the six down on what was expected, the racing processional as a result, but the spectacle of these beasts made up for this to some extent. Had 22A Dean Brindle’s car been running properly we might have seen a great battle between him and 73K Brian Edwards who was in lap record form to score two fine wins, but the former NZ Champion had reliability issues that saw him never turn a wheel in anger. 55K Daniel Thomas started the night with a win with 59K Mike Wheeler very consistent with a trio of third placings.
It has been as long as the 2005/06 season since midgets havelast appeared at a Kihikihi season opener and you have to go back to the early 90’s or even earlier to start the year with numbers reaching double figures so it was good to see them back this early with a modest but perfectly acceptable field of ten. The racing was reasonable and would have been better had local hero Michael Brunt in the 9K didn’t roll over in the second heat as we would have seen an excellent battle between him and former national champion Peter Hunibellwho was in fine form to score two wins over a admittedly weakish opposition. 84A Ben Cometti started the night with a win while 7M Travis Buckley was very consistent to score a trifecta of third places. After several years with Brunt as Kihikihi’s sole representative, the 7K of karting ace Rhys Tinney joins the Kihikihi ranks in a car owned by Paul Wade, and could be the start of a rekindling of Waikato based interest in the class after years of existing almost in name only.
It was most encouraging to see a baker’s dozen of youth ministocks carrying a K for this summer, breaking by one the all time record of registrations since the inception of the class in the 2002/03 season as this will be a great boost for the track’s adult categories in the years to come. The infusion ofgraduates from the grade has partly contributed to the rise in car numbers of recent seasons and the fine driving seen from the 18 strong field should maintain this trend. We saw a great battle between 95R Mitch Fabish and 212R Terrance Dorellall night at the head of the pack, each scoring two wins each.11K Kayden Barker and 25K Jake Belk were best of the locals with 92R Jayden Fraser and 88R Kohan Wright also showing good pace.
Quarter midgets also made a welcome appearance with a good line up of 11, and being the opening race to each round was like the small curtain raisers that used to be screened before the start of a movie. 10A Emerson Vincent was the quickest with two wins with 48A Jack Groenewald and 8A ShaydenAustin also victors.
A small bit of history was made as we saw the first TQ midget to carry a K in 26 years when the 56K of Regan Tyler made a few shakedown laps. Could this be the start of the long awaited TQ revival at Kihkihi that has been floated the past few years?
The programme moved so swiftly that an extra race for both youth classes was needed to be dark enough to let off the fireworks, and with the Waipa District Council this year partlykicking the tin in recognition of the value of organised displays, it allowed for the most lengthy and elaborate displayseen at Kihikihi. In fact it was more impressive than Baypark’s a week later and is getting almost to the standard of the Huntly and Paradise Valley displays. With only one standalone display remaining in the Waikato and Huntly too far for many south of Hamilton to travel these monster crowds of recent years should be here to stay. Overall a great way to blow off the Covid cobwebs that hints to a strong season ahead.