MEET­ING HE­ROES

THE LOCA L MO­TOR - R ACING C A L ENDA R I S G ENE R A L LY PACK E D FUL L O F E V ENT S AT THI S T I ME O F THE Y E A R , E S P E C I A L LY FOR M I CHA E L , WHO C ATCHE S U P W I T H A COUP L E O F MO­TOR - R AC I NG L EGE NDS

New Zealand Classic Car - - Report -

Kenny’s fes­ti­val

The New Zealand Fes­ti­val of Mo­tor Rac­ing at Hamp­ton Downs cel­e­brat­ing Kenny Smith, in late Jan­uary, was run on the In­ter­na­tional cir­cuit, and, for most com­peti­tors, it was a first. By all ac­counts, the track is cer­tainly chal­leng­ing — and was not helped by the schiz­o­phrenic weather, es­pe­cially on the Sun­day, when those of us in the com­men­tary box couldn’t be­lieve our screens when hail stones fell at a sec­tion of the ex­tended track. Kenny was rac­ing three cars over the week­end — his For­mula 5000 Lola, the Swift DB-4 At­lantic car that he reg­u­larly uses in For­mula Li­bre rac­ing, and a For­mula Ford bor­rowed off Phil Foulkes.

He did OK — he won all three 5000 races, won all four For­mula Li­bres, and three of the four For­mula Ford races, so 10 wins from 11 starts and a sec­ond — and one of the wins came af­ter he started from pit lane. That might be pos­si­ble in some cat­e­gories, but is un­heard of in the hurly-burly wheel-to-wheel rac­ing in For­mula Ford. But rac­ing was only part of Kenny’s du­ties over the week­end — there were cars to demon­strate dur­ing lunchtime pa­rades, book sign­ings, and the Satur­day-night din­ner in his hon­our. Three of his Aus­tralian bud­dies from the good old days made the trip — Kevin Bartlett, War­wick Brown, and Bruce Allison — and all spoke with warmth and hu­mour about the in­com­pa­ra­ble Kenny. To­wards the end of the evening, the MC got two of Ken’s old­est friends up on the stage — both are guys that Kenny says he could race with wheel to wheel with­out ever won­der­ing if there would be any ‘funny busi­ness’: Graeme Lawrence and David Ox­ton.

Graeme wrote the fore­word in the Kenny book, in which he de­scribes their re­la­tion­ship as be­ing more like that of brothers. Both he and David added fur­ther hi­lar­ity, com­bined with thought­ful re­flec­tion on just how much Kenny has con­tin­ued to im­prove as a driver at a time when many peo­ple his age are weigh­ing up which re­tire­ment vil­lage to move into. Tony Quinn also spoke on the

night, and sug­gested that Kenny should be em­ployed by the New Zealand Gov­ern­ment to go around rest homes and show peo­ple what they could be do­ing at 75. It’s a su­perb idea …

Near the end of the evening, War­wick Mor­timer si­dled up to me and said, “In your book, there is a sec­tion about cars Kenny would have loved to have raced — the first one is a Can-am Mclaren, and I won­der if he’d like to drive mine to­mor­row.” I pointed out to War­wick that Kenny was stand­ing close by and sug­gested he ask him, but he said, “I’d like you to.” So, that was the eas­i­est ques­tion of the night: “Kenny, would you like to drive Mort’s Mclaren to­mor­row in the lunchtime dis­play?”

Though the car did not quite fit him prop­erly, Kenny loved the ex­pe­ri­ence — de­spite a few specks of rain near the end. So, how was it out there? “I tell you, they’re men’s cars. A 5000 is a man’s car, but these even more so. It took a while to get used to all that body­work around me, but I just loved it. It got a bit slip­pery near the end, and there was no point be­ing a hero — fan­tas­tic, makes you think how it would have been back in the day, with two dozen of those things rac­ing.”

Taupo

The Taupo event the week­end af­ter the fes­ti­val was billed as a For­mula 5000 ver­sus For­mula 1 show­down, with half a dozen Ford Cos­worth Dfv–pow­ered Grand Prix (GP) cars on hand. Michael Lyons found his ex–ru­pert Keegan Hes­keth 308E not co­op­er­at­ing, so bor­rowed his dad Frank’s ex–james Hunt Mclaren M26 to go headto-head with Kenny. They were each the class of their re­spec­tive groups — Michael, tall and boy­ish, just turned 26, and Kenny — tougher than diesel. Just as he’d been at Hamp­ton Downs, where he set a new lap record for the long track. Michael’s lighter and more nim­ble For­mula 1 (F1) car just had the legs on the best of the 5000s. Next year, Frank Lyons ex­pects more F1 cars to make the trip, and one hopes that that will at­tract more spec­ta­tors to see, and hear, these won­der­ful ma­chines in ac­tion.

War­wick Mor­timer was also at Taupo with his Can-am Mclaren. On Satur­day, he put Bruce Mclaren’s daugh­ter Amanda into the cock­pit, and, de­spite never hav­ing driven any­thing re­motely sim­i­lar be­fore, she loved the ex­pe­ri­ence. On Sun­day, the car was handed over to Cary Tay­lor — it was a lovely ges­ture by Mort, be­cause Cary had been Denny’s me­chanic, not only on his world cham­pi­onship–win­ning Brab­ham, but also on his Can-am Mclarens from 1968 to 1970. Cary had raced a Brab­ham twin-cam in the early ’70s, and showed enough to in­di­cate he might be just as tal­ented with a steer­ing wheel as he was with a span­ner. He de­scribed it as “… an awe­some ex­pe­ri­ence, and brought back many mem­o­ries of my time as chief me­chanic on Denny’s cars …”

Cary and I will work on a spe­cial fea­ture for the October is­sue to com­mem­o­rate the 50th an­niver­sary of his and Denny’s fan­tas­tic achieve­ment.

Skope

I can’t re­call when I last missed the won­der­ful Skope Clas­sic at Rua­puna — it is one of the most en­joy­able meet­ings of the year, and this year saw over 300 en­tries headed by For­mula 1, F5000 and Ju­niors, but with the very spe­cial fo­cus on His­toric Tour­ing Cars. The or­ga­niz­ers, who seem to think of ev­ery­thing, in­vited over some celebri­ties from Aus­tralia in the form of Chris­tine and Fred Gibson, Allan Mof­fat and Jim Richards, and from much fur­ther afield, Gian­franco Bran­catelli and Ulf Gran­berg. The races fea­tured ‘Branca’ — com­plete with the Amon-styled crash hel­met that he has worn since the ’70s in hon­our of his boy­hood hero — in a Sierra Cos­worth RS500 up against Michael Lyons — the boy can drive any­thing — in an ex– Bri­tish Tour­ing Car Cham­pi­onship Nissan Primera. Although giv­ing away a lot of power, the Nissan is newer, and from an era de­scribed as “the For­mula 1 of tour­ing cars”.

Allan Mof­fat

Hav­ing agreed to in­ter­view some of the tour­ing-car driv­ers at the Satur­day-night din­ner, I was then told the Cana­dian-born­but-mel­bourne-domi­ciled Allan Mof­fat was also on the list. I re­called an in­tense and ex­tremely un­friendly be­spec­ta­cled Mof­fat as the driver of the fa­mous Coca-cola Mus­tang when he first vis­ited these shores in the early ’70s. His rep­u­ta­tion back then pre­ceded him to the ex­tent that even many dyed-in-the-wool Ford fans found him dif­fi­cult. He was easy to ad­mire on the track but hard to like off it.

I am, how­ever, de­lighted to re­port that he was ut­terly charm­ing, warm and full of anec­dotes. He’s now 77 and told me that his story is near­ing com­ple­tion and should be in book­shops later this year. Even Holden hard­lin­ers could not deny his place in Aus­tralian mo­tor-rac­ing folk­lore, just as Ford fans must rec­og­nize the con­tri­bu­tion of Peter Brock. Be­tween the two of them, they set a plat­form for vir­tu­ally ev­ery­thing that has fol­lowed — they both brought a new level of pro­fes­sion­al­ism to the sport in Aus­trala­sia, and the suc­cess of Bathurst is

Feild­ing is one of the nicest lit­tle towns in Manawatu and is just a stone’s-throw away from the city of Palmer­ston North. It also fea­tures the near­est race track to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, which is a two-hour drive away. On the bright side, the Man­feild race track is only a 10-minute drive for lo­cal res­i­dent Stephen Pick­ing, who is the sub­ject of this story.

In 2006, Stephen saw a group of Fraser 7s hav­ing a lot of fun at Man­feild, and was in­trigued when he learned that most of the driv­ers had ac­tu­ally built their cars in their garages. Once the event was over, Stephen de­cided to in­ves­ti­gate. Us­ing the in­ter­net, he dis­cov­ered the ex­is­tence of two com­pa­nies in New Zealand that man­u­fac­ture a 7-type car as a kit­set — Al­mac Cars in Up­per Hutt and Fraser Cars in Auck­land. The cars they man­u­fac­ture may re­sem­ble the Lo­tus 7 built dur­ing the ’60s, but that is where any sim­i­lar­ity ends. Many years of devel­op­ment and ad­vances in tech­nol­ogy have oc­curred since then. Builders of either of these cars will gen­er­ally or­der a chas­sis, then dial up the per­for­mance de­pend­ing on what me­chan­i­cal bits and pieces they pur­chase to get it mo­bile.

Fly in the oint­ment

Buy­ing a kit was tempt­ing for a brief mo­ment, but, be­ing a fit­ter/welder by trade, Stephen be­lieved that he could save sev­eral thou­sand dol­lars if he built the chas­sis him­self. The only fly in this oint­ment was that Stephen had no ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing a chas­sis de­signer, and his car-me­chanic skills were pretty lim­ited, too. At this point, the project could have stalled, as the more Stephen learned about chas­sis de­sign, tor­sional twist­ing, and tri­an­gu­la­tion etc., the more mind-numb­ing it all be­came — un­til, that is, he hap­pened to read a 2007 edi­tion of New Zealand Clas­sic Car, which solved this dilemma. In­side its glossy pages was an ad for a book pub­lished by Haynes called Build Your Own Sports Car — On a Bud­get, by Chris Gibbs. Chris had built his own car — a Lo­cost — us­ing a sim­i­lar book by Ron Cham­pion. The prob­lem was that Ron’s car was based on the MKI and II Ford Es­cort, and these, by the turn of the mil­len­nium, were quite rare cars. So Chris saw a gap that needed to be filled, and de­cided to write an up­dated ver­sion. Haynes is a pub­lish­ing com­pany that has as­sisted backyard me­chan­ics by pro­duc­ing car man­u­als since the

Key­word — ‘bud­get’

For Stephen the key­word was in­deed ‘bud­get’, and he im­me­di­ately knew he would need to pur­chase a copy of Chris’ book. An or­der was placed at his lo­cal book store. When the book ar­rived, Stephen was im­pressed with its qual­ity and the way that it broke the project down into doable chunks. The Haynes Road­ster used mainly Ford Sierra parts, which were still in plen­ti­ful sup­ply in New Zealand in the mid 2000s. The chas­sis plans were very de­tailed, with a full ex­pla­na­tion of how to cut and lay it out be­fore weld­ing. So 2mm thick 25mm RHS box-sec­tion steel was or­dered at the start of 2008, and the chas­sis was com­pleted a mere two months later. Dur­ing the con­struc­tion,

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