It was with great interest that I read Michael Clark’s story in the January issue of New Zealand Classic Car magazine. The story relates to how the young Michael was smuggled into the pits at Pukekohe during the 1968 NZ Grand Prix meeting to secure drivers autographs, and how this event was a contributing factor to his lifelong motor sport addiction.
Fast forward 13 years to 1981, and I have a similar story to tell. I was the smuggler, and my young son Steve, who was six years old at the time, was the smuggled. We smuggled him through a hole in the fence in a back corner of the Pukekohe pit paddock. Even though he was growing up in a motor sport–oriented family, I am sure it was the allure and grandness of the single-seater racing cars he saw then which had the biggest influence on his future in motor sport. The winner of the NZ Grand Prix that day was our own Dave Mcmillan.
The same Dave Mcmillan that some 15 years later Steve would find himself working for in the US as a mechanic in the Toyota Atlantic series.
During his early years he helped with work in the garage around the preparation of my Rallycross Mini Cooper, and then at age 10 took to kart racing like a duck to water, and had many successes in this category over a 10-year span. After signing off on his karting career he switched to a mechanic’s role in the NZ singleseater scene. In 1997, with the help of people like Ken Smith, he was successful in securing a job in the US, firstly with Ralt America with Dave Mcmillan, as previously mentioned, and from there to Players Forsythe Racing, where he moved into the prodigious Champ Car series. During his time at Players Forsythe he spent five years as crew chief to Paul Tracy, and during this time was also escalated to operations manager. The highlight of his time with Paul Tracy, apart from their 12 race wins, 13 poles, and 26 podiums, was Tracy winning the 2003 CART [Championship Auto Racing Teams] Championship.
During the amalgamation of the Champ Car and Indycar series in 2008 Steve moved to KV Racing Technologies [KVRT] as crew chief, where he was instrumental in overseeing a smooth transition which also included a change from the Ponaz to the Dallara chassis. In addition Steve was crew chief on the car that Will Power drove to victory in the Champ Car race finale in Long Beach. He was promoted to operations manager in 2011, and then general manager in 2012 to oversee the complete running of the KVRT operation. In 2012, when the new Chevy engine package was introduced, he was appointed test team manager for the GM [General Motors] engine development programme, and worked directly with GM and the partnered GM race teams. As team manager in 2013 he had his, and KVRT’S, greatest success, winning the Indianapolis 500 with driver Tony Kanaan. It was also Tony’s first and only Indy 500 win to date.
Steve moved out of racing at the end of the 2015 season, and now runs a very successful car storage and classic vehicle restoration business in Indianapolis called The Car Vault, a business he founded in 2014 prior to his departure from KVRT, and a business that continues to grow rapidly today.
Steve now resides in Indianapolis with wife Rachel and children Aleya, Keegan, and Holden.
Yes, the 1981 NZ Grand Prix certainly did send a six-year-old boy on a great Kiwi motor sport adventure.