Ken Smith says his lifelong passion for motorsport has left him relishing every year he gets behind the wheel.
Tomorrow will see Smith make his 50th New Zealand Grand Prix start. At 79-years young, that figure is unprecedented in the history of the event.
Smith is also a three-time winner of the Grand Prix, with his first back in 1976 when the race was run under Formula 5000 regulations.
His next came 14 years later in 1990 before he backed it up once more in 2004 – again another 14 years between triumphs.
Reflecting on five decades of running in the New Zealand Grand Prix, Smith picked his first win as his best highlight. But he said every year he gets the opportunity to compete in the event is what he enjoys the most.
“I have enjoyed every year I drive,” Smith said. “It is just a passion for motorsport.
“I love working with all the young guys that are coming up. But going back to my early days, 1976 was the greatest time, back when I won the New Zealand Grand Prix for the first time.
“The second one was good, but it didn’t feel like the first one. And the third one didn’t feel like the second one.
“It is just one of those things. You go out wanting to win a Grand Prix, but you never think you are going to and then things seem to come right.
“We had good early days, running with guys like Stirling Moss and Bruce McLaren. Admittedly, we ran Formula Junior-like cars and would probably get lapped every ten laps, but that didn’t matter. It was a privilege to run with the guys.
“We had the greatest names in the world out here, which we will never see again. Now we have these great guys here blowing me away. But I think it is a little too late for me to catch them.”
Smith opened his 50th New Zealand Grand Prix weekend with a 15th placed finish in today’s 20-lap race.
While he struggled to challenge his much younger rivals’ pace, Smith is adamant that he will finish tomorrow’s main act.
“The arms were starting to hurt halfway through, but I just blanked it out and kept going. The Double B corner was giving me trouble and trying to throw me out of the cockpit, but it doesn’t matter; we finished.
“The team did say if you could only make five laps, come in. But that won’t happen. We will be finishing the 28 [laps] tomorrow.”
The first of Sunday’s two Toyota Racing Series races will be at 11.40 am, before the New Zealand Grand Prix gets underway at 5.30 pm.
Main Image: TGRNZ