USAC: Pickens Carries Kiwi Pride & Support To Indiana Midget Week

RaceChaser Staff Featured, USAC 0 Comments

Seven-time New Zealand midget champion Michael Pickens from Auckland begins USAC’s Indiana Midget Week at Montpelier Motor Speedway. (Brendon Bauman photo)

INDIANAPOLIS — Fresh off winning the POWRi Illinois SPEED Week championship, New Zealand’s Michael Pickens is aiming to make it two titles in two weeks as he and his team tackle USAC’s 13th annual Indiana Midget Week.

Pickens’ team is not like some that travel up and down the highway, going from race-to-race with massive haulers akin to a race shop on wheels, or others that have enough room to fit their car, a few spares and tires to get by for the night.

Those aren’t exactly viable options when your race team is based in the Southern Hemisphere and your plan is to bring much of your equipment to the United States.

So the seven-time New Zealand midget champion and his Seamount Racing crew, after stretch-wrapping their car and tool chests, loaded their operation onto a cargo plane that made the long-distance journey to the U.S. for a daunting stretch that will include 11 races in 12 nights by the end of the week.

Pickens has an entire throng of supporters who played a large role in making it happen. Much of the entire right side of the car is adorned with the names of hundreds of individuals who donated their money to the team to make the trip possible.

But said trip isn’t all about the driver, either. Pickens brings with him a deep pride of his homeland.

Underneath the names, in big, bold lettering are the words New Zealand. In addition, the New Zealand script is emblazoned over the gold leaf No. 1 on the nose and the tail tank. A miniature New Zealand flag, fastened to the back of the roll cage, adds a finishing touch to the true Kiwi machine.

Pickens is one of the few foreign-born drivers in American dirt track racing, period. Even more, he’s one of the few to truly make a name for himself in the States over the years.

Despite spending much of his career competing a quarter of the world away from America, Pickens has become a fixture on the dirt tracks of Indiana and in USAC for well over a decade.

In fact, it was Indiana Midget Week where Pickens cemented his status as more than just a novelty in the States. He became a proven winner by beating the best the country had to offer.

Among those immediately following him to the finish line in 2011 at Kokomo were USAC National champions Tracy Hines, Brad Kuhn, Bryan Clauson and Chris Windom. Not to mention, he passed current NASCAR star Kyle Larson with two to go to win the race.

Michael Pickens at speed during POWRi Illinois SPEED Week competition. (Rich Forman photo)

Despite his status in the U.S., Pickens hasn’t crossed the sea to compete on Indiana dirt since 2014, when he secured a full-time deal to run the USAC Midget National Championship tour for car owner Don Fike.

But returning this year, Pickens wasted no time getting down to business, with his Illinois SPEED Week title coming in dominant fashion — on a tiebreaker by virtue of a pair of wins at The Dirt Oval at Route 66 in Joliet and at Macon Speedway.

The Indiana Midget Week schedule consists of tracks ranging from a quarter-mile to three-eighths in length, with varying degrees of banking from mid to steep. Pickens has become accustomed to the Hoosier bullrings over the years, but admits there’s still a learning curve to face each time he’s here.

“We don’t have anything like the American tracks back in New Zealand,” Pickens said. “All our tracks are flat quarter-miles, so you’re never pounding the fence back home, which is something that always takes a bit of getting used to.”

With the Kiwi racing season over due to colder weather, Pickens had just one option to continue his midget racing season: load his gear up, buy an airline ticket and head for the warmer climate of the States, where racing is plentiful during the summer months.

And as this two-week stretch shows, that’s exactly what he’s done, en route to results that have allowed respect to transcend the cultures of two very different regions of the world.

“Most of the guys up here (in the United States) are professional, and that reflects in the way they race,” Pickens said. “Back home, you don’t have the same competition … because they only race 15-20 shows a year.”


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