Berntsen Trophy battle heats up as memory of man lives on
Charlie Berntsen was a man ahead of his time.
As good a driver as he was, he was first and foremost an entertainer, who knew the value of sending spectators home happy and looking forward to the next meeting.
And tonight, at Fast Lane Spares Oceanview Family Speedway, the modern crop of drivers will keep Big Bad Charlie’s memory alive as they compete for the Charlie Berntsen Trophy.
Berntsen was one of the first true Kiwi legends from the gladiatorial world of Stockcar racing.
From the night when he chased Palmerston North promoter Ray New’s start jeep, his reputation grew.
Fans of the sport either loved or hated the genial block-layer, and that was fine with Charlie, who realised the fans were the lifeblood of the sport, and the more people who came along to watch, then the more he and his fellow drivers got paid.
When Oceanview Speedway opened in 1972, Charlie won the first race at the new facility, where his block-laying skills had been put to good use constructing toilet blocks which still stand today.
The following season he moved to Whanganui, contracted to Oceanview, and captained the very first Wanganui Warriors team.
His career highlight also came at Oceanview, when he won the New Zealand Stockcar Championship in 1982.
He was later elected as Patron of the Wanganui Stockcar and Speedway Club, a role he held when he passed away in 2015.
“The Charlie” is a sought-after trophy, and a large contingent of out-of-town drivers and cars will descend on Oceanview tonight.
Among them will be Les Hepworth from Huntly Speedway, who is an annual contestant in the event. Berntsen was Hepworth’s childhood idol, and his car carries the same number — 22 — made famous by Berntsen many years ago.
But the local drivers will not give the trophy away easily, and any visitor who sits high in the points going into the final heat can expect plenty of attention.
The last three winners of The Charlie have been multiple NZ champion Peter Rees (2015-16) and locals Francis Potaka (2016-17) and Dion Mooney (2017-18).
All three are entertainers, in the same mould as Charlie Berntsen was.
Receiving the iconic Charlie Berntsen Trophy last season, Mooney said he regarded his second win in the event as more special, given that Berntsen was no longer there. The Stockcars will compete over three 12-lap heats, and the highest points scorer after the third heat will claim the winner-takes-all purse of $1000.
It’s a busy night tonight, with support classes including Superstocks, Youth and Adult Ministocks and Production
In the Superstock class, a number of visiting drivers are expected, and veteran Kerry Podjursky (56V) will make his season debut ahead of the New Zealand Superstocks at Christchurch early in January.
Also on the card are Golden Oldies Stockcars, including cars that Charlie Berntsen would have raced against back in the day.
The metal-crunching action will conclude with the Gourmet Express Demolition Derby, where drivers will fight to be the last car running.
With such a big programme of racing, the meeting starts at the earlier time of 6pm. This is the final race meeting for 2018, with Oceanview taking a break until Saturday, January 12, 2019.
In the meantime, Big Bad Charlie Berntsen’s spirit will be evident tonight, and speedway fans can expect to be treated to plenty of action under the lights at Fast Lane Spares Oceanview Family Speedway.
ABOVE: Defending champion Dion Mooney has been in strong early-season form. LEFT: The late Charlie Berntsen, and the trophy that bears his name.