The American Midget racing stars will be facing stiff competition from the local New Zealand drivers and the Australian trio of Kaidon Brown, Scotty Farmer and Matt Smith.
Kaidon’s father Mark Brown was in the 2005/06 Australian test team that secured their country’s first ever series win in New Zealand. He was teammates with Nathan Smee along with Brett ‘the jet’ Morris and Adam Clarke who ride shared during the series.
The younger Brown made his first racing trip to Western Springs last season as part of the three-man test racing team. Since racing in New Zealand previously Brown has had some success at home where he earned the coveted 1AU National Title but struggled this season but thinks his luck has turned around.
“It was an awesome learning experience on my debut campaign to New Zealand for the International Series,” Brown said.
“I came back to Australia, a much improved driver which was a key factor in me winning the Australian Title.
“We’ve had a rough start to the 2018/19 season, hurting an engine and a DNF after hitting the wall whilst running third but a podium in our last meeting before heading back to New Zealand was beneficial in gaining some much needed momentum and confidence.
“Hopefully we can build on this in New Zealand.
He thinks the Australians might have a better chance than last year with the tri-nations test racing series extending to five races held over the first five rounds of the United Truck Parts International Midget Car Series which takes in three tracks.
“The new format will definitely be beneficial for team Australia as it gives us time to come to terms with the difference in tracks and speed in New Zealand compared to Australia,” Brown said.
“It is also beneficial to have one campaign under my belt, and having the inclusion of Matt smith who is the man to beat in Australia and Scott Farmer who grew up in New Zealand.”
Sydney-based 28-year-old Matt Smith has been to Western Springs before but not to race.
“I’ve been to ‘the Springs’ when I was younger but never raced there,” he said.
“If the tracks like it was the last few weeks, nice and slick with a cushion, I think we should be near the front …hopefully.”
His thoughts on the test racing series are realistic given the stiff American competition and the local home track advantage.
“I think the Aussie team will be up against it as the USA and NZ teams are strong this year. The Australian team hasn’t really got much experience at Western Springs so it will be interesting to see how we go.”
The third Australian is Scotty farmer who was born in Warkworth, New Zealand and has an early connection with Western Springs Speedway.
“I grew up sitting on the hill watching as a young teenager.
“I used to go alone with the Sanford family when Brett Sanford raced Sprintcars but always loved the Midgets. I just remembered the racing from the Internationals and how fast they were.”
Farmer has also had a glimpse of Baypark and Huntly speedways when crewing for fellow Australian Brett Thomas and hopes to perform well there.
The New Zealand test racing team is selected based on early season performances in both heat races and feature races.
This seasons three test team members are seven-time national Midget champion and current 3NZ Michael Pickens, Brad Mosen (winner of the last three midget features including the prestigious New Zealand midget car Grand Prix title held at Kihikihi Speedway) and Brock Maskovich who has consistently past cars and placed well in early season competition.
Maskovich is making his 3rd test team appearance and knows beating the American team will be a big ask.
“I think we have one of the strongest Kiwi teams we have ever had with 3 of the best cars and motors you can buy,” Maskovich said.
“But you can’t go past team USA they are 3 of the best drivers in the world.
“I think the Kiwis will have a slight track advantage but once again it doesn’t take the visitors long to adapt quickly to new tracks. Local knowledge is big but nearly all of the drivers have been here and raced all these tracks before.”
Pickens has 17 international test feature wins to his name more than double any other competitor in the field. He finds the three tracks that the series comprises of to be similar enough to offer no advantage do any one competitor.
“All the tracks are reasonably similar so I don’t think one track will suit any driver better than another,” he said.
As for the test racing Pickens is ready.
“This year would have to be one of the toughest USA teams ever to be assembled at Western Springs so it’s not going to be an easy task. I’m looking forward to putting it to them and doing NZ proud.”
The rest of the New Zealanders racing have been dialling in their set-ups. Having contended with a mixture of rough heavy tracks and hard smooth tracks already this season most should have a fair idea of what it will take to qualify for the big money races.
With the quality of international drivers arriving qualifying spots will be at a premium.
Auckland drivers Hayden Williams, Scott Buckley, Shayne Alach and Chris McCutcheon have all shown good pace this season and will relish the chance to mix it with some of the world’s best in heat race and feature competition across the five-night series.
Buckley knows it will be tough to qualify.
“It looks like it’s going to be the toughest series ever. I’m looking forward to the feature racing, not so much the heat racing with the pressure to qualify.”
Mosens’ seamount teammates Breyton Davison and new father Taylor Clarke are in the best of equipment and hope to match their colleague’s recent form.
Clarke has some goals in mind.
“I’d like to run top 10 in all of the features and even potentially place in some of the major races.
“I’ve put big expectations on myself but I know the cars more than capable of winning with the new motor and Kaz Townsend on setup, so I just need to stay calm and focused on the task ahead.”
Second Generation driver and South Islands stand out Jeremy Webb has made the long tow north to compete in the series for the second year in a row but also arrives with a mixed form and luck.
“We have only ran 4 times with mechanical issues and a crash on the first 2 nights, meaning we DNF’d 4 heats and 2 features in a row.
“Since then we won the next 2 features at Nelson and Ruapuna. We have won 3 from 3 features with the TQ this season.”
The current South Island Midget car titlist Webb enjoys running on more than just Western Springs Speedway when he and his team make the effort to travel so far for their racing.
“I enjoy Huntly and Baypark tracks,” Webb said.
“I love the history and atmosphere of ‘the Springs’, not so much the track.”
When the series kicks off the busy schedule will see race teams hustle to prepare their cars and tow to the next track and repeat that continuously over the course of the next 12 days.
With Kids Quarter Midgets, TQ’s, Formula 2 Midgets and Sprintcars also competing the scene is set for some of the most anticipated Christmas/New Years race meetings of all time.