AUCKLAND, NZ—Don’t let the “NZ” behind the No. 2 midget fool you.
Zach Daum still considers himself a Pocahontas, Illinois, native.
He’s just found a second home in New Zealand.
“This is a different style of racing over here,” Daum said. “You kind of get an edge up on some of these guys that come here for the first time. And you get to drink a lot of beer and have a lot of fun over here.”
At 27, Daum has discovered a perfect life-work balance. The three-time POWRi National Midget Champion added the New Zealand International Series Points Championship to his resume last year in his fourth season Down Under with Wayne Green and the Greenway Racing team. He finished second overall in the 76th New Zealand Midget Championship--hence, the No. 2NZ.
“I love coming down here, that’s the thing," Daum said. "The racing is fun, for sure. But I think the people I’m associated with—and the party—not that it’s just all about the partying, but you have to remember, at the end of the day, you have to have a good time with this. And that’s something we do really well at.”
Powered by Toyota engines, Daum won three features on the way to the New Zealand title. He believes his Kiwi experience has proven beneficial in the United Truck Parts International Midget Series.
That was evident on Sunday Night at Western Springs Speedway where Daum won the semi-main and came from the rear in the feature to finish fourth.
“Running the B, I thought I had a vibration so I didn’t know if we were going to be able to run the full race,” Daum said. “I don’t know if we had a bent wheel, but something just felt a little bit off. We just threw something at it, and the vibration went away for the feature.
“I was fortunate there to get a couple of breaks. I should have charged ahead a little bit earlier than I did, but looking back, you never know what’s going to happen. Not a bad run. Just waiting for the 40 and 50 (lapper) now.”
Like Kyle Larson, who won Sunday night’s feature, Daum benefitted from the changes in the quarter-mile track’s surface.
“I think any time it gets slick and technical, I get a little bit better. I’m just not about going out and banging the cushion like some of these guys. I’m not wired that way. Once it gets slick and smooth like that, I’m probably at my best there—which still isn’t as good as some of these other guys—but once it got technical, we could start rolling through there.
“I thought the car was pretty good. I was comfortable in it. Once you’re comfortable, that means more than anything. I felt like I could find a goofy little line that I had there and just picked them off.”
Daum was solid when the series moved to Huntly PlaceMakers Speedway for Round 4. He won Heat 3, finished seventh in Heat 5 and fifth in Feature.
The tour returns to Western Springs on Thursday where Daum is currently fifth in the United Truck Parts World Midget Series, 51 points behind former NZ National Midget and Springs track champion Michael Pickens. Larson trails Pickens by 25 points, followed by Tyler Courtney and Christopher Bell.
Next week, Daum returns home to the United States to put the finishing touches on midgets he’ll run at the Chili Bowl Nationals. Daum will run four entries among the 352-car field—himself, Presley Truedson, Kyle Steffens and Ryan Foster.
After missing the A-Main for the first time in four years last January, Daum is determined to return to the feature on January 19.
“I’m coming back a little pissed off after missing it last year,” said Daum, who won his preliminary race on Tuesday but couldn’t advance past the C-Main on Saturday. “Hopefully, we can get a good run. Getting a good run on our prelim night (Jan. 15) will be the biggest thing and just staying out of trouble.
“Being over here definitely helps before going right to Chili Bowl. We’re still sharp. Our restarts are good. All the little things I’m doing right and don't forget. Then you go there, and you’re on your game.”
Daum is grateful for Toyota’s support of his team. Despite recovering from accident-related injuries from 2017, he still finished third last year in the POWRi Lucas Oil Midget League. In 2019, Daum’s focus will be on winning a fourth POWRi title. However, when time permits, he’ll run a variety of USAC shows, as well as winged and non-winged sprint cars.
One thing is certain. Daum will enjoy the process. Although the next generation might not appreciate the camaraderie in the sport, Daum isn’t willing to sacrifice a work-hard/play-hard philosophy. After Sunday’s comeback at the Springs, the driver didn’t hesitate to enjoy an adult beverage with his crew.
“All these young kids don’t know what beer is—they can’t legally drink beer,” Daum said with a laugh. “And that’s missing. That’s what’s missing in our sport back home. We could get in a tirade about all of that. But there’s a track in Jacksonville, Illinois, back home that has a bar under the race track. It feels like old school.
“After the races, we go down there and drink until the sun comes up. We sleep it off in our in truck and then we roll on to the next track. I love going there. The bar gets bigger every year. There are more people coming in. I feel like it’s a throwback to old-school days, and it feels a lot like this. I wish we could do more of it.”
Don’t let Daum fool you. He’s well aware of the task at hand. But he’s certainly an advocate of taking the edge off of the grind.
“It is a job--I understand that,” Daum said. “But at the end of the day, you have to have a little fun at it, too.”