Roll up and hear the old lady roar
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The Hampton Downs 101 was a great weekend of entertainment and racing.
Tony Quinn and the team that organised the whole deal should be proud of efficiently getting a huge crowd -- certainly the biggest I have seen at the track -- into the venue and out again with the new car parks full to overflowing. With the right show, the right promotion and an enthusiastic promoter, motor racing can still attract a good crowd.
Hampton Downs is developing into the premier track in the country, possibly in Australasia, and with similar events it has a bright future.
However, just 30km up the road is the "Grand Old Lady" of North Island tracks, Pukekohe, and that will be the scene of an even larger crowd this weekend with the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship (VASC) in town for the ITM 500.
I still prefer the title "V8 Supercars" but the realities of commercialism and the slow demise of the muscled, throaty, "hairs on the chest and petrol in the veins" roar of the V8 engine as the series enters a new age, mean that epithet will sadly soon be consigned to the history books.
Pukekohe as a track is like a sad old villa, bought leasehold, which the owners patch up now and again, and the tenants make the best of things when they need to do something.
If it were a neglected villa, the wallpaper would be peeling, the carpet just a little threadbare, the windows leaking, the cladding rotting and the deck creaking and cracking.
In the case of Pukekohe it is bumpy, has outdated grandstands, has a pitiful paddock area, it floods occasionally, and the pits and corporate hospitality are nothing more than temporary structures. The place is hidden in the back streets with visitor parking on grassy paddocks, or in deep mud depending on the weather.
I do not want to talk about the toilets.
So we have the one of the very best tracks in this part of the world just that 30km away from the very biggest motor sports event, an international series, that this country currently hosts in the "VASC" and that series is racing on a tired, somewhat rundown circuit.
In my opinion, that is just how it should be and how it should stay.
Pukekohe has, like many an old villa, a character, an atmosphere, an almost eccentric charm that Hampton Downs does not, as yet, even look like approaching.
For some indefinable reason Pukekohe suits those big brutes of heavy V8 race cars, bouncing around on the old lady's historic bumps and dips and they revel in what looks like a simple horsepower track but is in reality what the drivers call a "technical" track.
Difficult to master and a real thrill when you do.
Hampton Downs, for all its undoubtedly modern and superior facilities, seems not yet suited to hosting an event such as we see at Pukekohe with its wall of many thousands of people almost from the hairpin to the first turn, sitting under trees with all the merchandise stalls, food stalls and exhibitions behind them.
For all of those people, backed by the thousands more in the corporate tents lining the top of the hill, they can see almost all of the track as well as the pit area, and that is something that, as yet, is not totally possible at Hampton Downs.
To watch the VASC cars racing at Pukekohe is a total experience.
The racing alone is worth the money but the scene, the event itself, the venue, the "total" involvement is peculiar to that track and as much as Hampton Downs tries it will not capture that inexplicable "feel" or that boisterous, festival atmosphere.
As things change, the cars morph in to the new age of Supercars with smaller but probably more powerful engines, as the V8 era slides into the memory, as Pukekohe gets older and even less suited to modern racing cars, I guess Hampton Downs may well become the track of choice.
But when it does, I think there will be more than a few people bemoaning the loss of the "Old Lady" in the same way that they now bemoan the loss of the "old days" when many thousands went to New Zealand Grands Prix at places such as Ardmore and Wigram.
The annual Supercars visit to New Zealand at Pukekohe for the ITM 500 "SuperSprint", with Kiwi drivers represented throughout the field, should not be missed.
There is even the chance of seeing a new series champion, a Kiwi no less, crowned.
The Grand Old Lady will put on her glad rags, smarten herself up and take a deep breath as she tests all these young chargers to see if they can master her.
She will welcome thousands of friends, new and old, and have the best party she can organise.
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