King Kenny’s still chasing NZGP glory at age of 76
The New Zealand Grand Prix has a long and storied history with many of the world’s best drivers winning the annual race.
It reached its zenith in the 1960s and 1970s during the Tasman Series era when the likes of Sir Jack Brabham, Sir Jackie Stewart, Sir Stirling Moss, Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Keke Rosberg wowed the crowds.
A lot has changed in the time since. The world’s big names stopped making the annual pilgrimage Downunder and public interest waned as a result. But two things have remained constant — the famous trophy is still up for grabs each summer and legendary Kiwi racer Kenny Smith is still competing.
Smith raced against the best and had three wins over the years — his first in 1976.
He walked among the legends and went toe to toe with the best we’ve produced — Bruce McLaren, Chris Amon and Denny Hulme. His name belongs in that iconic company.
This weekend, as the 76-year-old lines up for a staggering 47th crack at the country’s premier motor race in what is his 60th consecutive summer of racing, he reflects on his first Grand Prix in 1964 when he lined up at Pukekohe in a 1500cc Lotus 22.
“It was a thrill to do it because it was among some of the greatest drivers of all time,” Smith told the Herald on Sunday.
“It was quite a thrill to drive, even though we only had small cars compared to them.
“They were in Formula One cars, while I was racing a number of others in Formula Junior cars, so they lapped us a bit. It was an honour to be among those guys.
“You could talk to Graham Hill just like anybody. Same with Jim Clark or Stirling Moss. All those guys were just ordinary people. They weren’t full of their own shit — they were ordinary people.”
Smith was good friends with McLaren, who died six years later in a practice crash at Goodwood in England. Others such as Clark would also perish in competition.
Back home, Smith continued to race and had his first Grand Prix win in 1976 in a Lola T332 Chevrolet Formula 5000 car at Pukekohe.
“The ’76 one was the greatest memory of all time,” he said. “It is something you could never forget. It is just so good to be on a trophy with all those great names.”
He would go on to win five Gold Star Drivers Awards in the 1975-76, 1983-84, 1984-85, 1986-87 and 1989-90 seasons and two more Grands Prix in 1990 and 2004.
The second Grand Prix win came in 1990 in a Formula Pacific Swift DB4 at Pukekohe. The third triumph was
Mixing with younger people keeps you going. The only thing that will stop me is if I stop breathing.
in a Formula Ford in 2004.
He lines up for the 47th time at Manfeild this weekend at a distinct disadvantage compared with his rivals — not because of his age but because he is coming in cold, driving the TRS car for the first time while the rest of the field have had all summer.
“I will give it 110 per cent but I know I am up against it for the simple reason you have young kids that are 16-22 racing. I can be as sharp and crafty as them but they have had the miles [in the car] over you.
“I feel the same as I did 30-40 years ago,” he said. “Still sharp — I don’t feel like I have lost reflexes. People go on about when you get older, you lose time in doing things but that is rubbish.”
There is every chance Smith will add to his 47th Grands Prix in the future as he has no plans to slow down any time soon.
“What else can you do? I wouldn’t be sitting at home knitting or playing bowls because that is a way of getting old. Mixing with younger people and living like they do keeps you going. “The only thing that will stop me is if I stop breathing.”
Kenny Smith with his Formula 5000 car.