FULL-sized fun with midgets

TAKE IT TO THE LIMIT

Written by Pete McNae

It was the hands-down success of the Nelson speedway summer last season. There were plenty of cynics who doubted whether the Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway was the right venue to host the 75th New Zealand Midget Car Championship – the track rarely ran midgets, it didn’t have the history of Western Springs or Ruapuna, it was known to be slick and smooth instead of drivey with a big cushion. Then racing began and the cynics stood there, breathless, with the rest of us.

A fantastic field, led by former (and eventually successful NZ1 Michael Pickens) and four young Americans, turned in unbelievable racing on the Friday qualifying night, then threw the set-up book out the window and started again on a changed track for the finals. It was close, spectacular and blindingly quick. Game, set, match, Nelson Speedway Association.

Canterbury driver Tom Lumsden won a heat race and qualified comfortably for the A Main to decide the championship and, while he concedes that this Saturday’s round of the Stables Restaurant and Tavern Southern Midget Series can’t match that title meeting, he says the midget class enjoys the occasional trip to Nelson.

“It’s one of those tracks that, if you get your head around it, you will love racing it. But, if you go there hating it, things are pretty much guaranteed to go bad and you will hate it more. It’s a technical track with the tight bottom corners but when you get it right, it’s a really satisfying night,” Lumsden says. “Personally, I really like it. There’s a lot of passing opportunities, if you are willing to push the limits a bit.”

When we caught up with Canterbury-based builder Lumsden, he was in the midst of piecing together a spare chassis, having tested the limits of the first-choice CP3 frame at Ellesmere while lapping a slower car. Tom and his dad, Wayne, have already had one or two all-night rebuilds this summer, making it to Nelson’s Trackman Trophy meeting for the class after buttoning up the race car at 3am.  The number one chassis should be back in use for Nelson this Saturday after having bent bars replaced in Auckland. With close to 400 horsepower in a 450kg race car, midget accidents tend to be sudden – and violent.

Lumsden came from a successful background in modified sprints, competing with the car in Australia as well as being a pack leader here. He also raced TQs, but the end goal was to get to a midget. He’s driven a sprintcar and enjoyed the experience but the volatility of a midget appeals. “I like the way they move around. On a good track and with good drivers around you, it’s a great class to drive in — and to watch.”

The Southern Series does struggle for numbers, though, despite the best efforts of organisers and supporters. The option to drop the worst round in the points series appeals to some who want to reduce their travel expenses, others are facing time-consuming rebuilds after big crashes while Lumsden says some of the car owners are tied up with businesses and race on a “when we can” basis. Early indications were for a field of between seven and 10, although that was before round four at Ruapuna which could have forced more changes of plan.

Lumsden is always keen to get his CP3-Esslinger out there to honour the support of his sponsors, many of whom have been there since his modified sprint days. “Without them, I’m not racing – it’s as simple as that. These cars aren’t cheap to buy or repair – that’s one area where the sprintcars have the edge on us although sometimes I look across the pits at all the bent wings and I’m glad we are not facing that each week. But without Dad putting in the crazy hours and my sponsors backing me, I couldn’t afford to be running a competitive midget.

“That was something that really stood out for me at the national meeting in Nelson – we were competitive with the Auckland cars and the American guys. Winning that heat was a huge personal highlight, because we don’t have the budget and we don’t have the track time and the car numbers to really see how our driving and our car package stacks up. We saw South Island cars who could hold on in that field for a few laps, at least, and it restored the faith a bit, even though we are realistically at a different level.”

Lumsden will have another crack at the nationals again this summer (on the Huntly track in Waikato, where he has never raced before) and is also keen to return to a big memorial meeting at Kihikihi. Otherwise, it’s the Southern Series, plus the South Island title meeting (also in Nelson) and regular weekends around the South Island.

“There’s not too much drama in our class – it’s a pretty small group and we are trying to keep the class alive until maybe a few guys choose to come over from TQs and get cars. It’s going to be a battle with so many people choosing sprintcars for the big fields and the fact you can get some engine parts off the shelf that are a bit harder to source – and more expensive – in a midget but good midget racing, like the fans Nelson saw last season, is a great spectacle. I’m hoping I get to be in the middle of it for a few more years – I had to watch [last weekend] and I’m not great at being a spectator.”

  • Tom Lumsden races with the support of Hang Up Entertainment, Brian Humm Contracting, Shands, Corey Duckmanton Ag Drilling, Springston Hotel, Brian Dixon Building, Ellesmere Engineering, A & S Motors, The Diff Shop, Burke’s Metalworks, HPE, Warren’s Equine, Tuffnell Drainage, Seaview Custom Engineering, D R Britten, Exide. In the shed and in the pits are: Wayneo, Andre, Pete, Tristan, Corey, Richard, Katie, Rome, Matt and Andrew.
  • Backing the Southern Midget Series this season are Stables Restaurant and Tavern, Accessman Christchurch, Glen Durie Engine Reconditioners (Christchurch), City South Van Spares Christchurch.
  • Saturday’s other scheduled feature, The Hits 89.6FM Streetcar Race, has had to be cancelled due to a lack of entries. The handful of cars prepared for the event will still be compliant and eligible for The Hits 89.6FM derby in late January.
  • Super saloons have also been cut from the programme due to a lack of a viable field. In response, the Nelson club has called back stockcars, who were on stand down with the Dean’s Truck Services Tasman Thunder in Auckland for the teams nationals. Now, remaining available stockcars will be invited to run with any superstock drivers who are keen to join in, rather than take a stand down on Saturday.

Tom Lumsden images by Craig Mulqueen and TJ Photos