Indianapolis, Indiana native Tyler Courtney took the United Truck Parts International Midget Series lead and line honours in the World 30 Lap Derby after home town hero Pickens crashed out at Western Springs Speedway.
As heat racing got underway in hat was the final race of 2019, Harper Leonard Racing driver Ryan O’Connor took a Heat 1, Lap 1, Turn 1 tumble after jostling early for track position.
In front by Turn 1 of the back straight from his third row starting spot, Brock Maskovich went on to win ahead of 17-year-old Max Guilford and Australian ace Kaidon Brown now piloting the United Truck Parts car after American star driver Christopher Bell flew home early.
Sprintcar regular from Cromwell Jayden Dodge executed a low line pass on Aaron Hodgson in a lights-to-flag effort in Heat 2. Hodgson finished third after Courtney made his way past four cars to claim second.
Heat 3 saw Zeb Wise cross under Brett Jnr Morris in the Rush Sim Racing sponsored King – Esslinger and finish over three and a half seconds ahead of Pickens who carved through the field from his back row start to claim second.
The smooth track now widening out providing passing opportunities with most cars running around on the cushion in Heat 4. With eight laps remaining local driver James Cossey clipped the rear wheel of American Logan Seavey as the import driver slid in front.
As the two cars blocked the preferred top line Hayden Guptill, Australian visitor Robert Heard, and Hodgson all joined the wreck with Guptill and Heard tipping over gently. All out of the race with only six of 12 cars finishing.
Guptill’s BSL Racing team mate Hayden Williams went on to win over Matthew McCutcheon and Jayden Worthington also from the BSL stable.
The final 12-lap heat race was led start to finish by Pickens but not before Travis Buckley, in his first full season of a-grade Midgets, came unstuck on the lip. His car lifted off the ground and went into the wall with enough damage sustained to rule his team out for the night.
With eight laps to go, Dodge spun by himself, propelling his car down the track and into the path of Auckland’s Breyton Davison who, with nowhere to go, ploughed into the South Islander.
Jeremy Webb and Seavey came home second and third respectively but not before further carnage eliminated half the field.
With the top 16 in points transferring to the historic race the rear four grids for the 20-car field would be found from the 12-lap Semi-Main. This last chance dance of the desperate’s saw Guptill and Hodgson both go low into Turn 3. Guptill slightly ahead and Hodgson closest to the pole line. The cars made contact resulting in Guptill coming to a stop.
At the referee’s discretion Guptill was allowed to return to his fourth place position while Hodgson was sent to the rear of the field. With a handful of laps to go the race restarted and Webb took the point with American’s Chris Windom and Seavey behind. An unfazed Guptill racing with maturity to pass the professionals and take out the win. Also transferring to the main event were Webb, Seavey and Windom.
The preliminary race point’s accumulation saw Pickens earn pole position with 17-year-old first-time visitor Wise starting alongside. Courtney and Maskovich in row two and McCutcheon and Williams in row three.
By this stage of the night the racing surface was flat smooth and wide with the raised cushion of fresh clay now only a car length from the wall.
As the field took the green flag and travelled through Pine Tree bend and on to the back straight the front row pairing of Pickens and Wise looked to emulate the Guptill – Hodgson moment from the previous race. As the cars as near as touching with Pickens came out ahead.
The leading cars all chose the top and Daum in seventh pioneered a low line. With nine laps scored Courtney got to the bumper of Wise and used his momentum to fling his car across the face of Turn 3, allowing it to drift up in front of Wise who was forced to concede the spot to the Yale, SG Equipment King Toyota.
Wise, now third but far from content, got his slide-job calculator out and crunched the numbers. The equation being positive momentum + gap distance = payback. The seamount car reversing the position in a return slide job at the other end of the track.
As the race approached the halfway mark the leaders caught the tail of the field and the back row pairing of USAC champions Seavey and Windom had moved forward. Seavey into the top 10 and Windom to 15th.
The yellow lights came on with eight laps to race for Wise whose right rear tyre blew apart, ending his night while in a podium position.
At the two wide restart Australian Super Series winner Travis Mills found himself sideways in the path of Hamish Dobbyn and Nathan Howard. All three cars stopped. Mills’ night over. Guilford also ending his night on the hook separately.
Pickens won the next restart but came unstuck in a similar self-induced mistake to that of NASCAR stars Kyle Larson and Bell. The eight-time New Zealand Champ finding no grip or empty real-estate over the Turn 3 cushion, his car hitting the start of the back straight wall and flipping. His car taking a hard bounce off of Williams who had no choice but to watch an already rolling Pickens rebound of his chassis.
After leading the series and looking on track for a third consecutive series win the Pickens climbed out of his car that was slightly bend but repairable.
This put Courtney in the lead with Daum alongside for the Lap 22 restart, Maskovich and Brown behind. The leader went high and Daum went low.
Already a winner at Western Springs this season Daum was briefly ahead at the start-finish line for a lap however the fresh clay proving faster than the short way around.
Courtney winning by a comfortable margin over Daum and Brown with Webb first Kiwi home after starting deep in the field in 18th place. Guptill finished fifth from grid 17 followed by McCutcheon, Maskovich, Hunnibell, Morris and Worthington In 10th.
Of his first win at ‘The Springs’ Courtney said: “I wanted to duel it out with Michael [Pickens] obviously. He’s the one you have to beat down here. I’ve wanted this one for long time.”
Other winners on the night were Pickens in the Sprintcar, Ryan Baker in the Three Quarter Midgets and Mitch Osborne in the Formula 2 Midgets.