SATURDAY night sees the opening of the annual international midget car racing festival at Auckland's Western Springs Speedway.
The Boxing night meeting is the first of three rounds in the Tip-Top Tri-nation test series between the United States, Australia and New Zealand.
The series is held under lights over nine races on three nights (Dec 26, Dec 29 and Jan 2) at the 428 metre clay surface oval track. Each race is eight laps and a rotation system sees each driver start once from each grid position.
The points system is 9-8-7-etc down to one for ninth place and combined results are tallied to decide the team award with a separate award also made to the highest individual points scorer.
The United States won the series in 1996-97 and 1997-98 with New Zealand second and Australian third on each occasion. Last summer a very close final result saw the USA with 140 points, New Zealand 132, Australia 127.
The teams for the 1998--99 series are: USA: Ricky Shelton (Huntington Beach, California) Stealth-Fontana. Clay Klepper (Caruthers, California) Stealth-Gaerte. Steve Paden (Downey, California) Stealth-Esslinger.
Youth is the key ingredient for Team USA. Shelton turned 21 this week and is a former United States Auto Club Western States champion in Three-quarter midgets (1996) and midgets (1997). Klepper is 23 and Paden just 18. All three are racing at Western Springs for the first time.
Australia: Craig Brady (Sydney, NSW) TCR-Esslinger. Jason Gates (Sydney, NSW) Alach-Esslinger. Darryl Bonnel (Toowoomba, Qld) Stealth-Esslinger.
Brady raced in New Zealand two years ago and then returned home to win the 1997 Australian title. His 1998 campaign included a stint of racing in the United States. Gates is the track record holder at Sydney's Parramatta City Raceway while Bonnel is the current Queensland champion. All three of the Aussies are in their 20s.
New Zealand: Graham Standring (Auckland) Harris-Canaday. Michael Kendall (Auckland) R+W-Esslinger. Justin Insley (Auckland) Stealth-Gaerte.
Standring and Kendall are the top guns at the `Springs and after six nights of early season domestic racing have won three feature races each. They are experienced test match campaigners while Insley is a hard charging 22-year-old who headed off national champion Kevin Hyde to gain selection for the first time.
In addition to the Tip Top test series the international drivers will also contest feature races as individuals against full grids of local drivers.
On December 29 there is the Barry Butterworth Memorial Race (25 laps) while on January 2 the feature event is the World 30-lap Derby. The premier event of the midget racing festival is the annual Western Springs 50-lap midget classic on January 9.
Colin Smith. http://motor.sport.net.nz