Panthers in class of their own
Palmerston North's dominance of the national teams champs looks set to continue for many more years after the Panthers beat the Manawatu Mustangs in the final on Saturday night.
This was the Panthers' third consecutive win and their seventh in eight years.
The Panthers had easily beaten Great Britain in the semifinals while the Mustangs' young guns sealed their win over a cocky Baypark Busters in the other semifinal.
In an entertaining final it was the all-round experience of the Panthers team that proved the difference in an awkward match-up against their younger, less experienced Mustangs.
Auckland commentator and infield announcer Barry Brown, who has been coming to the ENZED teams champs for 25 years, said while the capacity crowd of more than 16,500 come for the entertainment as much as following their own teams, it was difficult to see an end to the Palmerston North superiority.
"They've got a fantastic breeding ground with the racing here every week; it's like a North champs each week," Brown said. "Then there are so many youngsters coming through that it makes it difficult to see where it will end."
Brown is not concerned that the heckling of the Palmerston North Panthers is over the top.
"I think everyone respects the Palmerston North Panthers as drivers but you have to expect some banter," he said. "It's New Zealand and we all love to see the favourites get beaten, especially when they're at the top for so long."
Brown agreed that when every visiting fan comes to the Robertson Holden Speedway, they follow their own team but ultimately support every team that races against the Palmerston North Panthers.
"Saying that though, the crowd are knowledgeable and they'll applaud outstanding performances from anyone."
Brown does have a slight concern that too much of Palmerston North might weaken the appeal to fans. "But in the end I think the fans come to Palmerston North to be entertained and the atmosphere and so much action in teams' races guarantees that."
Baypark were made to pay for not running off against the Panthers for top spot on Friday after the two were level top, a win that would have given them a semifinal against the Great Britain Lions rather than a hungry Mustangs team.
The Mustangs semifinal prospects did not look rosy early on when Simon Joblin, who had been outstanding on Friday night, rolled himself and then Kerry Humphrey, the team's blocker, was taken out.
But taking a leaf out of their much vaunted fathers, the semifinal became an Asher Rees and Jack Miers show as Rees smashed his way around the field and Miers blocked brilliantly for him.
It was clear they had studied their fathers, Scott Miers and Peter Rees, carefully with Asher Rees driving flat out around cars even when fired into the wall. A more strategic Jack Miers protected him with a series of careful blocks that left the four-car team of Baypark little opportunity to take Rees out.
The standing ovation the Mustangs received guaranteed that most of the crowd would be on their side for the final. Unfortunately, Adam Joblin had a problem at the first corner and despite a huge Asher-Rees hit on his father, Peter Rees got away while Asher was out.
Simon Joblin and Jack Miers did their best but Scott Joblin and Shane Penn cruised to the win, although it had taken strong blocking from Scott Miers and Peter Rees to get them there.
The Panthers had earlier battered Great Britain, but not before Miers and Peter Bengston had done a lot of blocking.