Not so fast.
U.S. drivers led a podium sweep of Thursday night’s leg of the Lucas Oil POWRi Midget World Championship at Quincy Raceways, a 16-race series that began in December in Australia and New Zealand and concludes with four races this week in Illinois.
Darren Hagen, Tanner Thorston and Zach Daum made up the American trio who stole the thunder from the Down Under boys in front of a World Cup-esque crowd that saw Australian and New Zealand contingents waving several of their countries’ flags.
Hagen, who calls Riverside, Calif., home and is nicknamed “The Hawk,” could only talk about the crowd after beating Thorson to the finish line by .557 of a second.
“We thank you guys,” said Hagen in a post-race interview on the track, pointing to the appreciative crowd in the stands. “Without you, we wouldn’t be here. And I can’t thank the fans enough who came from New Zealand and Australia.”
Those New Zealand and Australian fans, who probably numbered about 30 or so, had fully expected to see New Zealand superstar Michael Pickens gain the victory. Pickens, who lives in Auckland where crowds of 10,000 are commonplace for the midgets, looked well on his way to the victory through the first half of the 30-lap feature. He dominated the first 15 laps.
Hagen gradually wore Pickens down, passed him and controlled the race for about 10 laps until a late caution bunched the field together for the restart. Shortly after the restart, Thorson and Pickens — who are teammates — got tangled up between turns and one and two on lap 27. Pickens got the worst of the deal and was forced from the race.
AMERICA THE BEAUTIFUL
Ironically, it is that kind of spirited racing that attracts the 31-year-old Pickens to America. There is no better feeling than being behind the wheel of a race car in the United States, he says.
“It’s the competition, it’s the intensity,” said Pickens, who once had a shot at landing a NASCAR ride with Roush Racing, but was the last driver cut from the team’s development program in 2005.
Surprisingly, Pickens was the only Aussie or New Zealander to make the 23-car lineup for the feature. The rest of the handful of foreign drivers who were in the pits were all eliminated during the prelims.
Ironically, it is Thorson, 18, who may be on the fast track to some sort of NASCAR ride. He’s moving through the ranks at a rapid pace, already having “four or five years” of outlaw karts, plus the world-class POWRi and USAC (United States Auto Club) series on his resume.
“I’ve been able to adapt pretty fast,” said Thorson, who is from Mendon, Nev. “I’d eventually like to reach NASCAR.”
Thorson apologized for the incident with Pickens and accepted the blame.
“I don’t what happened, but I’m sorry about going over top of Michael,” he said.
THORSON, REDDICK FROM SAME MOLD?
Thorson reminds some of another teenager, Tyler Reddick, the “California Kid” who raced a late model twice last year in Quincy. Reddick and his family moved to Illinois specifically to race on the dirt and hopefully attract some attention from NASCAR. He did just that, landing a contract to run more than half of this year’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.
Daum, 23, is the defending POWRi champ who will likely end up second this year to Christopher Bell of Norman, Okla. Bell was not in attendance in Quincy, but is expected to rejoin the tour later this week.
Daum, who hails from Pocahontas, Ill., could eventually wind up in a winged sprint car or even a late model. He enjoys both.
“I love the midgets, but they’re a lot more expensive,” Daum said.
A typical midget weighs about 1,000 pounds and produces up to 300 horsepower from its four-cylinder engine. They are intended to be driven for races of relatively short distances, usually 2.5 to 25 miles.
DAUM AGREES WITH PICKENS
The POWRi (Performance Open Wheeled Racing, inc.) cars are part of the Lucas Oil National Midget Series and a rival to the USAC National Midget Series.
Daum also sides with Pickens when it comes to comparing the overall racing experience in Australia and New Zealand to what is found in America.
“It is totally different over there,” Daum said. “We take it more seriously here. It’s like a job. Over there, it’s more like a hobby.”
There were 35 midgets, 39 micro sprints and seven Quincy Raceways UMP modifieds on hand Thursday night.
The midget drivers represented 10 different states.
Frank Flud of Pryor, Okla., won the 20-lap micro sprint main event, holding off Chris Openshaw of Bessemer, Ala. Seven different states were represented in the lineup of micro sprint drivers.
LONG TAKES MODIFIED FEATURE
Michael Long won his second modified feature of the season, taking the lead of from Dave Wietholder on lap 14 of the 20-lap finale. Long and Wietholder battled door-to-door for more than half the race.
The victory helped soothe the memory of last Sunday when Long was leading comfortably in the feature, only to bow out late in the race.
“We broke an axle and we had to put a new rear end in the car (before Thursday night),” Long said.
Long, a two-time track champ, lauded good-friend Wietholder afterward.
“We run each other hard,” Long said. “It’s always fun to go against him.”
Wietholder, who has finished second the last two mod features, ran his streak of consecutive feature starts to 264.
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