Michael Pickens to Again Test with Roush Racing For the second consecutive year, New Zealand's top open wheel driver Michael Pickens has been chosen as one of 25 drivers to take part in the Roush Racing's 'Race For A Ride' that will take place...
Michael Pickens to Again Test with Roush Racing
For the second consecutive year, New Zealand's top open wheel driver Michael Pickens has been chosen as one of 25 drivers to take part in the Roush Racing's 'Race For A Ride' that will take place next month. >From a list of 1667 applications that the Roush Team received, Pickens, along with 24 other drivers, was chosen by Jack Roush, his crew chiefs and drivers to decide who will compete for a fully sponsored ride in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.
For the twenty two year old Kiwi driver the news of his selection comes just nine months after the Roush Team contacted him and asked him if he was able to travel to the USA to try out for the 2004 'Race For A Ride' that became known as 'The Gong Show'.
The call Pickens received on October 19th 2004 from Tony Price of Roush Racing is a call he will never forget. Price was calling from Charlotte North Carolina to tell him that he had made the short list of 25 out of the 400 applicants to test a Craftsman Truck for the high profile Roush Racing Team. Unbelievably, an almost unknown driver from another part of the world, with no asphalt racing experience was about to test with the race team owned by legendary racer Jack Roush.
Price had been watching Pickens' New Zealand form via racing papers for quite a while and noticed he had been winning races against some very good US completion. He also noticed how well he did when he raced in the US, including winning a midget feature race at Angell Park WI.
Pickens tested for the Team and Price was full of praise, saying that Pickens "really showed he has a tremendous amount of talent, his performance was unbelievable". Reality was that because of Pickens' lack of asphalt racing he was a long -- shot and just missed making the final cut of 8 drivers. The Roush Team were impressed with not only his driving skills but also his attitude, commitment, and marketability and he was told he would be 'on their radar screen'.
Whether he knew it or not, Pickens had now set the platform for bigger things to happen in his career. Early November at his home track in Auckland Pickens was unstoppable, winning the first two midget feature races of the season by wide margins. Pickens' fan base was now growing so much so that they rallied around and raised the money for his 2005 Chili Bowl adventure. Two days after turning 22 he repaid his fans with interest by making the A Main, starting from grid 19 finishing 6th and taking out the 2005 Chili Bowl Rookie of the Year honours. Considering the entry list of almost 250 drivers including almost all the best open wheel drivers in the USA, it was a remarkable achievement. Michael Pickens had well and truly arrived on the 'world stage'.
New Zealand's most successful ever midget team, Seamount Racing Team owner, Brett Morris was ready in 2005 to put his long term plan for Pickens into place. Morris had Pickens driving for him for the last five years and knew that his driver was now ready for some tough racing in Australia. Driving the New Zealand built Breka car Pickens and the Seamount Racing Team made a huge impact on the Australian scene not only for Pickens who had outstanding track form but also the completely professional way the Team conducted themselves. Glowing reports followed Pickens Australian performances with the local media labelling him as being' destined for greatness'.
Just as he did last year, Pickens, the apprentice Auto Electrician once again gathered his life savings and headed for the United States. Without any confirmed drives until the Australian Smith Hawk Team arrived in mid July, Pickens was prepared to do what any other hungry driver does and stroll the pits or hound car owners until they gave him a ride. The Kiwi made the long trek from his base in Indianapolis to Angell Park WI for four weekends straight and picked up a drive but the car suffered mechanical problems each time. With the cost of travelling between Sun Prairie and Indianapolis each week becoming a factor, Pickens decided it might be best to concentrate on staying in Indianapolis and try and pick up a Sprint car drive.
Picking up the drive in the Don Fike owned # 32 midget in the June 16th event at Limaland OH USAC midget event Pickens was at last given a chance to show some of the US racing public what race fans from down-under had seen. In his heat race he 'ran away' to win by a straightaway over 2004 USAC Sprint car Champion Jay Drake. The feature race didn't quite go to plan with Pickens describing it as "one of those really frustrating races when nothing went right". Starting from grid 8, shuffled back to 12th he did well to finish his first USAC A main event in 5th spot.
Early June 2005, Pickens heard the Roush Team were taking applications for the 2005 'Race For A Ride' and decided that he had nothing to lose so decided he would apply again. The 2005 version was widely reported as going to be quite different from the previous year's testing. This year, Roush Racing with America's Discovery Channel wanted to capture the excitement and drama of the competition as it unfolds, on film. Drivers will compete on and off the track, testing their skills behind the wheel as well as their marketability and fan appeal. The 13 part series will debut on the Discovery Channel in the NZ summer this year. (US Fall)
Mid June and Pickens, along with 1666 others had put their applications in for the chance to win the big prize of a fully sponsored ride in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. Because he still had not had any asphalt racing experience he knew that he was a 'long-shot' to even make it to the final 500 but it was now just going to be a case of 'fingers crossed and hope for the best'.
In early July Pickens was told the Discovery Channel wanted to film him as they would be filming the 'winners and losers' from the 'short list' that had been whittled down to 100. July 6 with cameras rolling, the show's producer phoned Roush Racing to see whether or not Pickens was going to be one of the lucky 25 finalists or one of the 1642 who were going to go home empty handed. It was a stunned Pickens who was given the news that he had been selected to be one of the 25 finalists who will take part in the TV reality show.
Soon after being told the great news Pickens was on the phone to family and friends back in New Zealand, telling them that he was just 'blown away' by the opportunity the Roush Team had given him again. "I thought that getting picked last October was unbelievable, then to make it to the last 25, I'm just absolutely stunned, I'm still shaking!". Pickens said that he is just so grateful to be given another opportunity and quickly pointed out that if it wasn't for his New Zealand car owners Brett and Karen Morris and all the guys on the Seamount/Breka Team, the Smith and Wood Team and all the other people that have helped him, he wouldn't be where he is today.
Michael Pickens has had a dream of being a NASCAR race driver since early childhood. The events of the last few days now see him getting just that much closer to that dream becoming a reality. This determined and committed young man is showing that when your dream is driven by passion, perseverance and patience, anything is possible.