WESTERN SPRINGS, N.Z.—Michael Pickens thrilled the home crowd in Wednesday’s Boxing Day Bash.
The 35-year-old Auckland native—and seven-time New Zealand Midget Car champion—started on the front row for the feature and quickly took the lead from pole sitter Kyle Larson.
Pickens held the point for a caution-free 30 laps and beat Larson by 1.457-seconds at the finish. The victory marked his 145th-A Main win.
“I was waiting to see just a wheel—any thing—a slide job or something but I never saw him,” Pickens told RacinBoys.com. “Obviously, I knew he had reasonable car speed, I was just trying to nurse it and not rub a tire off of the thing. Managed to do that and brought it home in first place which was great.
“It’s awesome. Any time you can beat the best in the world like Larson and Bell and Tyler Courtney and those guys you can definitely give yourself a pat on the back because they are the best in the world without a doubt. Just to beat those guys alone is pretty special to me.”
Logan Seavey finished third followed by Christopher Bell and Hayden Williams.
“He just got a better start than I did,” Larson said of Pickens. “Got in front of me off of 2, got to the top and that was pretty much the race.
“I felt pretty much equal to him, it was just whoever got the jump.”
Earlier accidents relegated Bell and Seavey to the B-Main. They started the Midget feature 17th and 18th, respectively.
“We definitely had the speed to run with Pickens and Larson but when you start that far back and don’t have any yellows, it’s tough to run with guys that are that good,” Seavey said. “There are so many ‘what ifs’ but it is what it is. Just starting that far back hurt us.
“I can’t thank Wayne Green and their whole family enough for letting me drive such awesome race cars. We were a little bit off early in the day in practice, but they got this thing awesome for the heat races.”
Bell went for a wild ride between in the first midget heat and banged up his knees. While the team made repairs to his car, Seavey subbed for Bell in the International Team race, representing the American drivers against the New Zealanders and the Australians.
It was quite the experience for the 2018 USAC Midget champion in his Down Under debut.
“Excited to be out here in New Zealand, having a lot of fun,” Seavey added. “It’s an awesome atmosphere getting to race in front of a crowd this big. You don't get a lot of opportunities to race against that many people.
“Pretty cool to be on the podium. We have five more races here in New Zealand. If we keep this kind of speed, we’ll definitely be back on the podium again.”
Bell was running third in the closing circuits. However, his car evened out in the final five laps and he stopped gaining on Larson and finally gave up the position to Seavey. Bell’s consolation was winning the Sprint feature. Pickens finished second in that race.
“I won one, but I didn’t win the important one,” Bell said following the midget race. “It was a lot of fun this car has been really good. It’s won every time Shane has raced it.
“But bummed out about the midget race. I kind of gave it away there in the heat race. Just thankful these guys let me drive. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Except for Bell’s flip between Turns 3 and 4 in the first midget heat race. The team had to make repairs to the No. 21USA car in time for Bell to run the features.
“I think I’ve taken three really hard crashes in my life, and two of them have come here,” Bell said. “I don’t know what it is about this place but I seem to turn over quite a bit here.”
As the former track champion at Western Springs, Pickens is quite familiar with the quarter-mile clay oval. While Pickens wasn’t thrilled with the early conditions of the track, he thought the surface improved as the racing went on.
“To be honest, the track wasn't the greatest leading up to the feature,” Pickens said. “There wasn’t a lot of passing so you had to kind of tiptoe around your heat race a little bit—and make the most out of any pass you could get. But they did a good job with the track at the end.”
“I thought it was good for our main event,” Larson added. “They tried to keep the top competitive all night long and be there for the feature. It seemed like Mike and I could run the top and Logan and Bell were kind of moving around. So the track must have been pretty racy.
“There were multiple grooves, passing in the heat races. Passes all night long, so it was pretty good.”