Victory in the Sprint Car and Midget Car Feature races was decided in the last corner of the last lap at Auckland’s Spring Speedway last Saturday night.
American Ricky Logan snatched the Sprint Car 20-lapper win from Dean Brindle in Town Bend; and in the Midget Car thriller Michael Pickens made a dive down the inside on the run to the line to wrest the win away from the on-form Brad Mosen.
There were fewer spectators at the Springs than there were on opening night a week before when there was the added lure of a spectacular fireworks display.
But the fans that turned up at the city fringe quarter-mile oval were treated to one of the best nights of racing in the past couple of seasons.
The weather wasn’t as mild or short-sleeved balmy as it had been on opening night – there was a chill to the breeze and a nip to the air – but the on-track action was red-hot.
The track was fast and bumpy, the latter taking its toll on the light TQ Midgets which were frequently tipped into roll-overs, especially in Pine Tree Bend, and their stop/start feature race was dotted with caution periods.
But the on-fire Mosen had it under control, and during a Midget Car heat early in the night, set a new one-lap record of 13.93 seconds.
Mosen won that heat and took his good form into the Feature, losing by just 0.034 seconds to Pickens.
The Midget action was hot all night, with Shayne Alach also in top form, declaring the bumpy, fast track to his liking and then falling victim to it in the Feature when a rut in Pine Tree Bend flipped the Breka on lap one.
The Midget Car Feature was hard-fought and torrid, with Mosen, Scott Buckley Bryce Townsend, and Pickens running at the sharp end, with Michael Kendall fifth in the Hell Pizza car.
At a restart after Carl Worboys flipped in Town Bend, Pickens then went after Buckley, passed him and set off after Mosen. He took the lead with an inside line pass in Town Bend, with Mosen chasing hard.
After another full-course yellow, Mosen survived a near-spin in Pine Tree Bend, recovering to pursue Townsend who was closing in on race leader Pickens.
Pickens had the Little Rippers Midget’s wheel off the ground out of Town Bend as he fought to keep Townsend at bay.
Townsend got the yellow Midget right on to Pickens’ fuel tank before bobbling on the Pine Tree Bend bumps, allowing Pickens to open a small gap.
A restart with five laps to run set up an absolute nail-biter of a finish. Mosen surged past Townsend as they raced for two laps till the final full-course yellow was called.
Three to go – a little over 40 seconds, but what an amazing 40 seconds.
There were now 10 cars left running of the 18 that started the race.
Pickens and Mosen raced millimeters apart for those three laps, and as they entered Town Bend for the final time, Mosen shot past the Little Rippers car.
Pickens stayed high and wide and as he entered the straight, nailed the throttle and shot past Mosen on the inside to take his second Feature race win of the new season.
Townsend was third behind Mosen, and then came Buckley, Kendall and Lance Beale.
Eighteen winged Sprint Cars make the Springs oval look like a small place, and the potential for disaster looks great, but Saturday’s Sprint Car feature ran from flag to flag without a stoppage.
And what a race it was. Multiple champion Allan Wakeling didn’t make the start after his Koken Tools Sprinter hit the wall in a heat race after the right rear tyre blew as he exited Town Bend.
The team worked to repair the car and Wakeling came out on to the track, but was soon pushed to the infield.
The front row was made up of the winners of two of the heat races – American Logan on the pole line with Brindle on the outside.
A betting man might have wagered the start as a foregone conclusion – all Logan had to do was win the start.
The betting man would have done his dough.
Brindle charged to the early lead, looping past Logan on the outside line and leading the thundering pack out of Pine Tree Bend.
Tommy Rusher – another heat race winner – was third.
The other heat winner, Carl Wilson, caught and passed Rusher.
Logan closed in on Brindle, but Brindle brushed off a passing attempt before Logan got held up by the #63 car of Brindle’s team owner Ron Salter.
Logan lost fractions of a second when the #10 Sprinter bobbled in Pine Tree Bend before coming back at Brindle.
And then came the last couple of laps and an amazing display of skill as Brindle, leading, threaded his way through the bunched lapped traffic.
On the last lap he jinked this way and that as he found ways to pass cars on the pit straight, Logan doing the same.
And then, for a fraction of a second, Brindle left a gap. It was one of those gaps that opens just momentarily, but it was enough for Logan. He pounced and was through, leading Brindle across the finish line.
Ossie Sokol was third, ahead of Greg Pickerill, Jamie McDonald and Kevin Hinchcliffe.
It had been an absolutely classic race, Brindle and Logan displaying dazzling skills and Brindle showing real composure under immense pressure.
Steve Harker won an exciting, though stoppage-marred, TQ Midget Feature from Ross Linklater and Zahn Turner.
Nick James took the F2 Midget Feature, followed home by Nathan Iles and Jason Bunney.
Racing resumes at the Springs on December 1 with the first night of international Sprint Car racing, where Logan will be joined by fellow Americans Joey Saldana, Craig Dollansky and Jac Haudenschild.