Boxing Day at Western Springs Speedway sees the green flag drop on the United Truck Parts International Midget Car series, where arguably the best crop of on-form American drivers are about to breach our shores .
All six of these drivers are entrenched in top local equipment and want the lion’s share of the $100,000 prize pool.
International midget racing contests have been conducted at Western Springs Speedway since 1937.
Only a World War has stopped this proud tradition which continues through to present today. Australian and American drivers used to arrive by passenger ship with their often hand built cars on board. The trip out would take several weeks.
Even though a quick lap time was 21 seconds the massive crowds on hand were thrilled by the midget car action, the likes of which had never been seen before.
The list of lead-foots to land in New Zealand for midget action is truly world-class. Indianapolis 500 starters and winners, American national midget champions, record holders and household names the world over we’re among the mainstay to travel to New Zealand.
AJ foyt, Mel Kenyon, Merle Bettenhausen, Bob Tattersall, Duane Carter, Rich Vogler, Parnelli Jones, Stan Fox, Larry Rice, Billy Boat, JJ Yeley and Brian Clauson among many.
In present day the little cars have evolved into hi-precision instruments of speed. Ripping around the quarter mile oval at a quick time of 13.2 seconds. The New Zealand owned cars are now of equal quality to those abroad which means many an overseas driver brings only their helmet suit and seat and arrives within hours by aeroplane to drive for a local owner.
This year NASCAR front runner Kyle Larson is making his fourth trip but third appearance at Western Springs. His whistle stop one night only appearance of 2017 could hardly count as he only performed to qualification laps before the show was rained out.
Larson is the owner of a staggering eight New Zealand victories on only 11 appearances. including winning his first night out at Western Springs in 2011.
The following seasons he took everything on offer white washing the competition in four from four. Last season he claimed three of the four contested events and must be considered favourite in his bullet chassis Toyota powered car owned by former driver and Midget class supporter Harley Taylor.
Following Larson’s route to NASCAR via the dominant Keith Kunz Motorsports team Christopher Bell returns to New Zealand with a 2017 season Camping World truck series championship under his belt. This season finishing fourth in the xfinity series he notched up a rookie record seven wins.
Bells seat will be bolted to the coveted United Truck Parts team car. This teams winning history throughout the International Series is one of the most successful ever with top American driver Bryan Clauson establishing the team on the world midget racing map.
Bell has not raced in New Zealand since the 2013-’14 International Series where he picked up his solo win.
“I’m really excited about racing in New Zealand. Last time I came over the schedule wasn’t as nice as I would of liked so I didn’t enjoy all the downtime,” Bell said.
“Now with having more races, it made sense to come back.”
Bell will surely enjoy the busy race schedule and also what downtime he has as travelling with him is his freshly proposed to fiancé.
“Morgan has never been out of The States so she’s super excited about seeing a different country.”
Another returning for his second time but in a row is Tyler Courtney. Current USAC Sprintcar National Champion and winner of last season’s Baypark portion of the series.
Courtney and the Yale SG Equipment sponsored team ran up the pointy end of the series but failed to convert all of their efforts to success.
“We went pretty good last year just didn’t get the finishes we wanted due to part failures or just unfortunate incidents,” he said.
“We plan on having hopefully better success this year as we are bringing back the same car, engine and team.”
Courtney is also looking forward to being part of the international test series and the new extended format.
“I wasn’t on the American team last year but I’m excited to be on it this year. I think the new format will bring on a new exciting portion to every meeting and I’m proud to be a part of it.
“Hopefully I can represent my country and team well in all of the meetings. I love New Zealand and am super excited to be back.”
These three drivers will represent America in the test racing portion of the series against New Zealand and Australia that will span five nine-lap races over the first five meetings giving the fans an injection of excitement that builds meeting after meeting as points accumulate and tension mounts, culminating in all out on track war for pride of country on the second to last night of the series at Western Springs.
The talent that hasn’t made the test team is good enough to form a 2nd Yankee team and win.
In a team car to Courtney, USAC Silver Crown and Sprintcar National Champion Chris Windom makes his first visit South. His diversity and skill behind the wheel is witnessed by NASCAR drives and laps at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an open wheeler in May combined with a pair of prestigious ‘Little 500’ wins in 2011 and 2015.
This former Kokomo track and Sprint Week Champion also has a pair of Midget car podium finishes in Chili Bowl preliminary night features and arrives off the back of a 59-race season sharp and looking forward to his first night at Western Springs.
Windom said; “actually I rode around with Bryce Townsend today and got to see the track for the first time so that was awesome. Obviously I know there has been a long history there since I think the 30’s?”
“I’ve been wanting to make the journey over for a few years and so excited to finally put it together to get here. I think we have an awesome team with great people behind me so I’m looking to come here and pick up some wins,” also remarking ”what’s better than being in summer climate when it’s winter at home?”
Current 2NZ and former POWRI Midget Series multi time Champion Zach Daum on his fourth time here will continue his extended racing season in New Zealand for consecutive seasons for the Green Way Environmental race team.
Last season he notched up regular seasons wins at Huntly, Baypark and ‘The Springs’ and has more laps down under than all his fellow countrymen.
The final of the Americans is Daum’s Green Way team mate Logan Seavey. The 21-year-old from Shutter California is the reigning USAC and former POWRI National Series Champion.
In 2018 he branched out and also has NASCAR truck races and ARCA podiums on his resumé. This is Logan’s first time racing abroad and having the current USAC Midget Champion thrown into the mix of drivers during this period sets the tone for what should be a great series.
United Truck Parts International Midget Car Series
26th December – Western Springs Speedway – Auckland
28th December – Baypark Family Speedway – Mt. Maunganui
30th December – Western Springs Speedway – Auckland
1st January – Placemakers Huntly Speedway – Huntly
3rd January – Western Springs Speedway – Auckland
5th January – Western Springs Speedway – Auckland