Berntsen Tro­phy bat­tle heats up as mem­ory of man lives on

Whanganui Chronicle - - Sport - Speed­way Tony Stu­art

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

Sa­loons.

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.

PHO­TOS / SUP­PLIED

ABOVE: De­fend­ing cham­pion Dion Mooney has been in strong early-sea­son form. LEFT: The late Char­lie Berntsen, and the tro­phy that bears his name.

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