Squashed together like strips of bacon in a frying pan, fighting for room with the eggs that is our gear, the SDU Team and I are hurtling down the Southern Motorway towards Huntly.
With the sun beating down in the midday sky and the aircon only cooling the front two strips of bacon, us unlucky few in the back are well and truly sizzlin’.
For a moment I regret my tenacity for being prepared for everything as underneath my clothing I am wearing an additional layer of thermals in anticipation of the evening cold I was warned about.
With three adults in the back and me giving off additional heat like a furnace, we bathed in the lovely odour of human sweat, far removed from the comforting and salivating smell of bacon in which we were slowly turning into.
Long forgotten Pop Hits are blasting through the Corolla’s aftermarket stereo system via Ziffel’s (SDU Leader) flash drive and I begin to dance in my confined seat.
Calling it dancing is a stretch, think awkward arm flailing and you’re getting close.
The cramped conditions and the stark realization of knowing what the centre of the sun feels like are, in all honesty, forgotten before we even enter the motorway.
It’s Saturday, the weather’s great and we are all heading to Speedway!
There isn’t a straight face in the car (frying pan) as we’re all smiling and joking and guessing who’s gonna be the crispiest to eat first.
(All bets were on me since I was wearing the double layers of heating encasing clothing.)
While Huntly isn’t a long drive from Auckland it is still considered a road trip and so it comes with all the associated light-hearted fun and excitement that most of us get from travelling long distance.
We also get a taste of what most Speedway Teams experience when they travel across the country to follow the racing calendar.
A sudden shower outside of Huntly puts a dampener on our moods for a bit but it quickly clears as fast as it came.
Before the racing, we decide to fill up our tanks in Huntly so we have sufficient energy before the racing. Fortunately for me, the team decided I wasn’t fit for human consumption so they had to buy fast food instead.
Fresh Faced Newbie
This was going to be my very first time at Huntly Speedway.
I made numerous plans to go last season which all resulted in the meetings raining out, so it wasn’t from a lacking of trying that I was finally about to set foot here.
After making the turn off the main highway we travelled into the countryside for a spell before arriving at Huntly Placemakers Speedway.
It was hard to ignore the abundance of trees and the landscape in general around us as we made our way into the carpark.
Immediately I was beginning to like the place a lot and as we set up our chairs and basecamp for live race results and my photography I got a better look at the place.
From the track surface to the wide spectating area circling the track and the facilities, they were all better than I could have imagined.
It was only when I eyed up my arch nemesis from every track did my high spirits receive a blow.
Dating from back when the track first opened was a small rust coloured fence right in front of where we were sitting, on top of that fence were railings facing in wards that were added at some later date.
This fence obviously did its job for a while until the Speedway cars on which the fence was designed to keep them separate from spectators began to get more powerful and faster.
Fast enough to fly over the original fence that was installed at least, so right behind it was another fence, much taller and also decked out with inwards facing rails.
In case you didn’t know already, all the photos I take are done through the fence.
I lack the coveted title of being an “official track photographer” so stepping foot on the infield is as likely as me driving a Sprintcar.
The NZ Title.
Being sidelined forces me to make do with what I have and try to make the most of it.
With Western Springs Speedway I have managed to get passable shots through it’s single fence however even there I’ve had the fence ruin countless photos.
Now with two fences doing their best to make themselves the star of every single shot I take, I knew I had a challenge on my hands.
I didn’t give up last season when I had to learn to shoot through a fence, through trial and error I managed to forge out some passable results and get a handful of likes on some of them.
My efforts eventually resulted in me winning the Speedway Photographer of the Year Award so I wasn’t going to let double fences squash my enthusiasm at covering the racing action.
If anything, they made me more determined to overcome their intrusion and try to get some decent photos from the evening.
After a quick tour of the large pit area we took our seats and waited for the racing to begin.
Race Report and Highlights
The meeting at Huntly Speedway on a whole was very clean and trouble-free if one would compare it to the previous two meetings held at Western Springs Speedway.
With only a couple accidents and restarts, the racing was fast and flowed smoothly.
While the lack of notable events might make this report dull to some readers, I’m sure we can all agree that the less damage inflicted to these amazing machines the better.
In saying that, it wasn’t a drama-free meeting by a long shot so let’s get on with the details.
The first on track were the “pocket-rocket” TQ’s for their first heat race.
Scott Baker in the 88 car took an early lead and managed to hold it throughout the entire race, with a clean race and no restarts his lead eventually increased to almost lapping the rear of the pack.
The 85 car took a bump to the wall pushing him all the way to the back and while Scott Baker was battling in the front of the pack, Ryan Barry (16) waged a battle of his own and pushed his way from the rear starting grid to 4th place overall.
His performance was only the beginning of what he achieved as the meeting unfolded.
Next on track were the Production Saloons with a small field of car’s racing.
If you have never heard of this class before, their essentially the entry level of the Saloon series seen racing on other tracks.
Imagine your quintessential 90’s Japenese family sedan, stripped out, with a roll cage fitted and other basic safety features and your not far off.
Car 11 took an early lead and held onto it throughout the entire race.
The low power of these cars in comparison to full-blown speedway machines really made it difficult for anyone to overtake.
This certainly showed as the grid placings remained almost identical throughout the entire heat race.
It was great to see no heavy contact amongst the cars however car 49 exited the track early due to assumed mechanical failure.
After a few laps of Japanese powered fury, 63 take the win for the first heat race of the Production Saloons.
Next up were the mighty midgets featuring 5 time NZ Champion Michael Kendall in the 81 car.
Michael Pickens was also in attendance, back in the country after his American campaign and eager to remind us of his prowess on the dirt oval.
The 21 takes an early lead with Pickens in 1NZ hot on his heels, wrangling all the power he can from the Esslinger motor.
The track surface allows for plenty of slide jobs and the Midgets are taking full advantage of this to overtake the car in front.
Car 21 bravely holds onto the lead for a few laps with Pickens’ only a blink behind him on every corner.
Eventually the 7 time NZ Champion works his magic and takes the lead away from 21 and goes on to win the Heat.
Before we manage to catch our breath, the second group of Midgets are pushed onto the track for their heat.
The 68 car takes an early lead with the 31 car driven by Daniel Thomas quickly sliding his way into second place.
Within a few laps he has worked his way into pole position and holds it until the first restart of the meeting is issued.
The 39 car of Peter Hunnibell hit the concrete barrier on a corner which resulted in him hitting two cars and taking car 41 out of the heat.
After the restart, Hunnibell continues to struggle with traction and hits the wall again which takes him off the track for the rest of the heat.
Daniel Thomas maintains his lead after the restart and is showing all signs of winning the heat until he picks up a bogey on his tail.
American Zac Dahm driving the 9 Midget decides he deserves the win after hounding Thomas for most of the race and is quickly gaining ground on the Kiwi.
In a spectacular flourish, he overtakes Thomas in the final lap and takes the chequered flag for the win with a disappointed Thomas quickly following in his wake.
The armoured behemoths, commonly known as Stock Cars thundered their way in next and delighted the crowd with a carnage-filled first lap as the mightiest fought for dominance.
After a cacophony of metal pounding upon metal and roaring V-8 engines, car 51 goes on to take the first heat win.
This writer is still brushing up on the rules and intricacies of Stock car racing so coverage of this class has to be brief to avoid false information being spread inadvertently.
In the absence of written word, I provide a few photos to fill in the void.
Not to be outdone in providing a great show, the Modifieds come on track next.
Looking like a wild fusion between stock and sprintcar, these thundering brutes took to the track like bloodhounds on a scent.
Car 193 takes the lead with cars 37 and 4 pounding behind in his wake.
A yellow light quickly slows their charge as a collision on a corner resulting from cars 15 and 52 locking horns forces an early race restart.
Before the green flag has even had time to fall another restart is called after cars 37 and 119 collide and get their front wheels locked together in a tight embrace after coming together on a corner.
Before the safety crew nearby has even a moment to think their jumping out of the way as the two wrestling cars are thrown onto the in-field and eventually come to a stop where the crew was standing moments ago.
The events that happen next can only be desribed as automotive arm wrestling as both entangled cars try muscle their way out of their embrace with brute power and experience.
Car 119 eventually untangles himself and gets back on track as if nothing happened and goes on to get third place in the heat with car 4 taking second and 193 winning overall.
The final class on the agenda are the Saloons.
While they wear the sheep’s clothing of a production car on the outside its very easy to tell (and hear) these are truly wolves underneath.
Dripping with sponsors, lacking any unnecessary weight and packing beefed-up V-8’s these Saloons are not to sniffed at.
The track looked like an Auckland motorway during peak hour with 14 cars all tightly squeezed together.
Car 71 takes an early lead and manages to hold off the others until is eventually pushed back into the hungry maw of the main pack.
Sniffing out an opening, cars 8 and 95 move ahead and battle each other for the win with number 8 eventually coming out on top for their first heat.
With all classes completing their first heats, it was time for the TQ’s to come on track for Heat 2.
Ryan Barry proved he was still on form as he took an early lead during the heat and held onto it despite the best efforts of cars 46 and 77 following behind.
Barry manages to create such a lead that he’s snapping at the heels of the stragglers as he brings home the chequered flag.
Following another heat of the Production Saloons, the Midgets are out again for their back to back heats.
On a whole, they were clean races with not much to report on which sounds dull on paper but were a thrill to watch with uninterrupted racing.
After the Stock cars smashed their way through the heat the Modifieds were unleashed again for some eventful racing.
Car number 3 takes an early lead before is the field is reset for a restart after car 78 crashes out on the corner.
J.Fox has a superior drive and manages to set a new lap record for the track.
Saloons run again with the TQ’s following after.
Car 71 is out in front with cars 36 and 74 following on his rear, eventually, 71 and 36 increase their lead and battle their own race, leaving the others in their dust.
A restart evens the field again and this time 36 is pack leader with 71 being forced into second place.
Cars 9 and 44 retire to the infield and watch car 36 win the heat with 71 taking a second.
In between the Heats Michael Pickens is pushed out to test his engine before the main event. His crew have been experiencing difficulty with it all night and despite their efforts, they are eventually defeated and Pickens doesn’t run in the Midget Feature.
After the production saloons race the track is prepared for the night main event, the Midget 40 Lapper.
A tough battle of endurance for both the driver and the car with tyre management being a major factor on who brings home the win.
While the Midgets circle the field like angry hornets around their hive, Daniel Thomas in car 31 is getting last minute car repairs done on track.
Eventually, he gets cleared and the race gets underway.
With a field of 18 cars, it’s difficult to keep track of every group’s mini battles as their fight their way through 40 laps however there are a couple notable events.
Chris McCutcheon, hot from his feature win at Western Springs Speedway last weekend, takes an early lead with Zac Dahm and Daniel Thomas following.
Before the first corner is done Thomas suffers mechanical failure and has to retire to the infield in a disappointing end to his night.
McCutcheon maintains the lead with Dahm sticking close to his heels for most of the race.
A restart is called after a couple cars scuffle and McCutcheon flies off the pole to maintain his lead.
Car 69 looses control on the far corner and ends up scrapping the concrete barrier with his roof resulting in a massive flurry of sparks.
The resulting restart has McCutcheon out on pole again and is showing all signs of having another feature win under his belt until a minor collision with Dahm forces him into the infield early.
Dahm claims the lead and maintains an easy gap ahead of everyone else for the rest of the race, in one of the resulting laps he manages to set a new lap record as well.
His consistency to stay out in the front pack had paid off as he now had the lead and kept it all the to end, winning the Huntly 40 Lapper Feature with a convincing lead ahead of everyone else.
While the main event was over the nights racing was far from done with the rest of the classes running their features.
The race’s go smoothly until the TQ feature race.
On the first corner of the opening lap, a massive pileup occurs which promptly halts the race before it managed to begin.
9 cars are taken out in one fell swoop almost halving the field from 19 cars initially starting.
Ryan Barry staring on pole manages to avoid the scuffle and takes the lead for the TQ Feature.
Not even a race restart resulting from car 7 flipping manages to knock him off his form and he continues to maintain the lead.
Ryan Baker (15) follows behind and is giving it his all to avenge his brother Scott who awaits in the infield after being caught up in the pile-up.
Even with emotion fueling his TQ’s engine, it isn’t enough to overtake Barry and ends up coming in second.
Ryan Barry managed to maintain amazing form throughout the whole meeting and in the end, it all paid off with his first feature win this season after collecting a second place in the last meeting at Western Springs Speedway.
With the hour striking 11 the nights meeting was drawn to an end and it was time to make the midnight drive back to the big smoke.
Huntly Speedway gave us a great evenings entertainment with a generous selection of classes run to wow and entertain the spectators.
It’s definitely a track I will be returning to if I ever get the opportunity again, however, next time I go down I’ll be leaving the thermals at home.
Words and Photos: Les B
While every care is taken for all names and information to be correct in this article, please check official venue results in case of any human error.