Crowds even bigger than rugger

PETER LAMPP
Last updated 12:00 14/02/2013

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OPINION: That a sport could attract about 17,000 spectators on each of the two days of the superstocks teams champs last weekend was mighty impressive.

Nothing else held in Palmerston North this year will come close to that, not even the Super Rugby match between the Hurricanes and the Stormers in April.

The stockies have the advantage that their event is not televised live, so to see it, you have to be there.

Many in mainstream motorsport dismiss stockcar racing. But for sheer thrills and crowd numbers, it is hard to beat the annual teams champs held every February.

They were started in 1981 by promoter Bruce Robertson. His idea was to copy the Ranfurly Shield format, for the winner to take the event home, but no-one from the other tracks concurred so it has been held in Palmerston North ever since and has grown out of sight.

One unofficial estimate had the teams champs bringing $7 million in to the city's economy each year, beaten only by Boxing Day and its sales.

When it comes to the other one, the New Zealand Stockcar Championships, the winning team does get to host the following year's race. But Palmerston North have won that event for the past three years since taking it from Wellington and that too looks like it has a semi-permanent home at Arena Manawatu.

Superstocks, as distinct from stockcars, these days cost about $150,000, which is greater than many cars involved in tarmac racing. Many of the drivers' rigs are worth more than $500,000.

The engines play a big part in the cost and many of them are built by Bryan and Nelson Hartley at The Head Shop and by CSL in Palmerston North.

Building stockcars and superstocks represents the biggest part of Peter Rees' business at Himatangi, where he has built more than 115, not to mention the repair work he does.

Total Sheetmetals built the latest Scott Miers tank and supplies much of the steelwork for the stockcars. The city's signwriters do very well out of it too.

It will take a stupendous effort by another team to overcome the two Palmerston North teams in future years.

Some visiting fans, laden down with envy, get no pleasure out of seeing their teams dwarfed year after year. Others just get pleasure out of seeing top-class teams racing.

There are more than 40 superstocks in Palmerston North and so the racing is the toughest there.

Nelson, for instance, is also strong in the class, with about 16 active cars, but Cook Strait is a barrier to them getting regular, tough racing.

Most weeks, Palmerston North attracts the best stockcars from the central and lower North Island. There are more than 100 stockcar drivers registered in Palmerston North and weekly fields of 50.

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The young kids coming through are as good as any in the country, have no fear and have obviously learnt the tricks of driving in heavy traffic from their illustrious fathers, most of whom have ample resources behind them.

■ Much ado was made about the abbreviated Sonny Bill Williams boxing bout in Brisbane.

These celebrity jousts are merely unsanctioned exhibitions and shouldn't be taken seriously. This one had less cred than Shane Cameron's "world title fight" against Danny Green in Melbourne in November.

■ Crazy-season reports suggest so many rugby players are skipping between Manawatu clubs this year they're keeping pace with the number of scruffs who wear their socks down.

As one coach said this week, "players shouldn't need money to play club rugby". But so many have their hands out.

■ There's nothing like the thunderous roar of a full field of V8s exploding downhill in a rolling start at Manfeild.

But last weekend, with only four of the new V8s and 11 of the ancients, it wasn't the same. The whole meeting hinged on Toyota and its single-seaters.

- Manawatu Standard

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