As young speedway drivers progress from the ranks of youth ministocks into senior racing and become familiar faces among the ranks of winners it can be easy to forget how young they still are.
Baypark racer Matt Smith started out as a 15-year-old with a special Speedway NZ dispensation to race a sprint car after completing the ministock apprenticeship at Huntly Speedway. After a season and a half he took a short break from the sport and decided he wanted to try super saloons.
Now Smith is starting his second season in the super saloon car division and is such an established part of the Baypark racing scene it's hard believe that he only turned 20 last week.
But the Thames racer who swept all three super saloon car races on Saturday night has to be considered as more than just a driving talent. Smith built his own car to his own design and after some careful study of the rule book put together an unconventional engine package that is delivering the goods.
Smith was in top form at Baypark on Saturday and after two heat races wins he duelled with two-time national champ Dean Waddell before making a decisive break to win the feature race.
The hat-trick - plus another race win on debut at the second meeting of the season - make it four chequered flags from six starts in the car that Smith designed and built himself.
Go back six months and an impressive rookie season had seen Smith quickly established among the super saloon front runners driving one of Shane McIntyre's HyperMac designs. Then the season ended with a big final night crash at Baypark.
"The car wasn't completely wrecked but there was enough damage that I saw it as chance to build a new car with some of my own ideas," said Smith.
"It's 100 per cent my own car and what we've tried to do is get more of the weight further back in the car."
That's important because of what's under the bonnet of the Corvette.
Smith has taken a different route by using a big-block Chevrolet V8 engine. Although the displacement is the same as small-block V8 engines - about 7.1-litres - components such as crankshaft are considerably heavier.
"It's heavier but it makes up for it with performance," Smith said.
"The horsepower and the torque are really good and with Trevor Rodgers at Flowtech we've done some more porting work and it's got more horsepower than last year. It's probably got about 100 horsepower more than most of the good small-block engines out there."
Rodgers, who has worked with Smith since he was racing in youth ministocks, says he's an example of the talented drivers who are coming through the ranks.
"Now you're seeing young drivers come through and get into good equipment and they're having success. That's not always been the way in speedway," he said.
"But the difference with Matt is he's very clever. He's an innovator and he comes from a family of innovators. Matt's done the research, come up with the ideas and done the work himself."
The big-block horsepower was put to use, with Smith running the high groove in the feature race to ease away from Waddell.
"I know if I can keep up with him [Waddell] then we're running well," Smith said.
"Last year was pretty good and the main thing for this year is to get better on the slicker tracks because it's nearly always a slick track when the big championships are decided."
Chasing the big titles is looming on Smith's horizon but he says he hasn't decided whether he'll make the trip to Nelson for the New Zealand champs in January.
But the North Island Championship at Baypark on February 4-5 is a prime chance for Smith to offer a threat to the established super saloon big names.
Stanaway crashes out
A frustrating weekend for Tauranga driver Richie Stanaway at the Formula 3 Macau Grand Prix came to end just a few seconds after the start of the race on Sunday.
Driving a Dallara-Volkswagen Stanaway lined up 15th on the 30-car grid for the 58th Macau Grand Prix but was involved in a four-car start-line crash when another driver stalled on the grid.
Wet conditions on Thursday allowed Stanaway to be ninth fastest in the opening practice session on his first taste of the demanding 6.1km Guia St circuit. But his pace didn't transfer into the dry running from Friday onwards.
He qualified 23rd on Friday and started Saturday's 10-lap qualification race from grid 18 after several drivers were given grid penalties for rule infringements. In spite of losing several places at the start, he finished 15th.
Stanaway and the Van Amersfoort Racing squad made some radical set-up changes for the main race but the startline collision meant no chance to discover if they had made progress with the car.
The race -which finished behind the safety car - was won by Spaniard Daniel Juncadella ahead of newly-crowned British F3 Series champ Felipe Nasr (Brazil) and Saturday's preliminary race winner Marco Wittmann (Germany). New Zealander Mitch Evans was involved in an early accident and didn't finish.
Stanaway's next outing will be a test in a Formula Renault 3.5 car with the Gravity-Charouz team at the Motorland Aragon circuit in Spain.
Cody wins again
Suzuki team leader Cody Cooper (Papamoa) claimed another title on Sunday when he dominated the MX1 class at the Auckland Motocross Champs.
Cooper was unbeaten at the Mr Motorcycles Raceway near Pukekohe and took the MX1 title ahead of Yamaha rider Hayden Clark (Auckland).
There was a top quality MX2 field for the Auckland Champs with Luke Burkhart (Masterton) winning all three races ahead of Hamilton-based national champ Darryll King (Yamaha).
Tauranga's Peter Broxholme (Honda) made his first competitive outing for the new season and finished third in the MX2 title while Papamoa's Rhys Carter (Suzuki) was sixth.
In spite of a practice crash Te Puke's Logan Blackburn (Yamaha) came through to finish third in the 125cc class behind Aiden Kiff and Chase Smith.
The best of the local junior riders was Aaron Wiltshier (KTM) who backed up his recent Taupo success with another win in the 12-14 age group for 125cc riders on Saturday with fellow Tauranga racer Matt Kenyon (Yamaha) third.
The next big motocross event is the Summercross meeting hosted by the BOP Motorcycle Club at the Awakaponga track on December 27-28.