King Kenny’s still chas­ing NZGP glory at age of 76

Herald on Sunday - - SPORT - By Dale Budge

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.

Kenny Smith

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.”

Photosport.nz

Kenny Smith with his For­mula 5000 car.

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