Motorsport: Kiwi hot rod part of movie

By Colin Smith


The 1960s drag racing rivalry between Don "The Snake" Prudhomme and Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen is being filmed for the big screen and two Kiwis and an ape are helping to re-create the era.

When Mt Maunganui's Craig Mullan bought the Nitro Ape fuel-altered in late-2010 he also bought into a slice of US drag racing history.

Nitro Ape allowed Mullan to fulfil his ambition of gaining his National Hot Rod Association racing licence and then competing at the March Meet nostalgia event in Bakersfield, California.

Mullan and partner Andi Whitley left for California today and will take Nitro Ape to the set of Snake & Mongoose as one of several correct-era cars being used in filming work.

Mullan says it's a dream come true.

"I read the Snake and Mongoose book a couple of years ago and it was one of things that inspired me to go to America and buy the car," he said.

Since racing at the 2011 March Meet nostalgia meeting the car has remained in storage in California with plans to race one more time in the US before shipping it to New Zealand and begin racing it locally in 2013.

Mullan and Whitley had already planned their latest trip Stateside when the chance arose to be part of the movie.

"The timing is pure fluke. We have a lot of contacts in the 'States and with Facebook and the internet it took about half an hour to organise the details."

The movie will tell the story of a drag racing rivalry that raged through the 1960s in early 1970s after McEwen adopted the Mongoose nickname to create a match-racing rivalry with Prudhomme.

The two drivers teamed up in 1970 under sponsorship from Mattel's then-new Hot Wheels brand in what is recognised as one of the pioneering sponsorships by a non-automotive brand in motorsport.

"They were fierce competitors but also good friends and the promotion they did with Hot Wheels really put drag racing on the map," says Mullan.

Actor Jesse Williams - who plays Dr Jackson Avery in Grey's Anatomy - has been cast as Don "The Snake" Prudhomme with the part of Tom "The Mongoose" McEwen being played by Richard Blake. Snake & Mongoose is set to release in mid-2013.

The two Kiwis and their nostalgia racer will be part of filming at Famoso Raceway in Bakersfield, California next week and also when the production shifts to a car park near Pasadena where the movie makers are re-creating the pit area of the now defunct Lion's Dragstrip and Indianapolis Raceway Park.

It won't be the first film appearance for Nitro Ape. The car makes a brief on-screen appearance being towed into the pits of a drag strip in American Graffiti II.

The drag racing couple also have a second altered - the Fiat Topolino previously campaigned by Te Puke's Dave Gauld - and plan to put both cars on the track for some nostalgia match racing.

"In 2013 Nitro Ape will have been racing for 50 years," said Mullan.

"Hopefully we'll have it home in New Zealand about the same time the movie is being released here and it will help to promote what we're planning to do with the team."

Drifting in China

Tauranga drifter Cole Armstrong is getting some international experience this weekend in China.

Armstrong and fellow Kiwis Shaun Falconer (Hamilton) and Carl Ruiterman (Auckland) are part of an international contingent at the opening round of China's World Drift Series at the Tianjin Olympic Stadium near Beijing. Japanese and US drivers are also competing.

"Carl and Shaun have been going over to China for a couple of years and this year there's been an opportunity for me to join them," said Armstrong.

Armstrong finished fifth in the D1NZ national drift series and his V Energy sponsored Nissan Skyline sedan was air-freighted to China last week. He flew out to begin practice for the May 18-19 event, which is the first four rounds in China.

"We're going to do all four rounds over there. I'm not going with any big expectations, I just want to learn and gain experience against international competition," he said.

Cooper moves up

Sunday's fourth round of the Australian Motocross Nationals near Perth saw Papamoa's Cody Cooper move up two positions to fifth on the leaderboard in the Pro Open class.

Cooper, who rides for the Motul Pirelli Suzuki squad in Australia, began the day with a ninth in the opening 20-minute moto and followed up with a fifth in the second leg. The 30-minute final race saw him finish fourth.

Rotorua's Michael Phillips (Honda) delivered top-10 consistency at Perth with three 10th place finishes in the Pro Open Class.

Kiwi Josh Coppins (Yamaha) was in top form at Wanneroo with a 1-2-1 scorecard in the three races to win the day overall and extend his lead in the Australian series over Honda's Brad Anderson 42 points. Round five is at Murray Bridge in South Australia this Sunday.

Bay motocross

There's local motocross action this Sunday with the BOP Motorcycle Club running the second round of its Winter MX Series at Awakaponga.

The series began last month with a strong turn-out of riders across the junior, senior and veteran grades. Whakatane's Mitchell Rees set the pace in the senior racing and Tauranga's Matt Kenyon was the leading junior rider.

Further rounds are scheduled for June 17 and July 15 with reserve dates in August and September in case of bad weather.

The Awakaponga MX track - the home of the annual Summercross Spectacular - is located at the intersection of Caverhill Rd and Braemar Rd near Matata. Sign-on is from 7.45-8.45am followed by riders' briefing with practice from 9am.

Waihi demo derby

The Waihi Beach Dirt Track Club brings its racing season to a close this Saturday with a fun day and demolition derby starting at 11.30am.

There is still one more event scheduled for the scenic hillside track with Saturday of Queen's Birthday weekend set for the now traditional low-key speedway meeting with saloon cars, minisprints, stock cars and ministocks in action.

Kartstars 2012

Two BOP Kart Club competitors are contesting the six-round Right Karts Kartstars 2012 Rotax Max Challenge of New Zealand.

Round three of the series - which offers winners a trip to the Rotax World Finals - was completed at Hamilton on May 6 and the next round is at the BOP Kart Club's Fagans Valley track on July 28-29.

Tauranga's Niki Urwin finished second in the final of the Rotax Max Heavy division at Hamilton and is third in points chase behind Zac Zaloum (Hastings) and Andrew Grant (Auckland).

Papamoa's Josh Adlam, 13, is contesting the Rotax Challenge for the first time in the Formula Junior class that has attracted 30-strong fields and produced intense racing.

Adlam is ninth after three rounds and achieved his best finish of seventh in the final in round two at Tokoroa.

The Rotax Series offers four airfare-paid trips to a Rotax Grand Final in Portugal running between November 28 and December 01. The winners of 125cc Rotax Max Light, Formula Junior and the Masters (over 35) class plus the runner-up in Lights will represent New Zealand.

Last Sunday the BOP Kart Club wrapped up its half-year points series with 59 competitors racing in some changeable weather conditions that finally improved to allow the finals to be staged on a dry track.

Cadets provided the biggest field with 19 young drivers in action and some hard-fought racing between Joseph Terry, Callum Hedge and Reece Hendl-Cox. Terry won the day but Hendl-Cox took the series win by one point from Terry and Hedge two points further back.

Formula Junior provided an all-day battle between Mitchell Sanders in his KF3 class racer edging out Blake Harris in a Rotax Junior Max by three points.

BOP Kart Club half-year points series - final standings:

Cadets: 1 Reece Hendl-Cox 34pts; 2 Joseph Terry 35pts; 3 Callum Hedge 37pts.

Unrated Cadets: 1 Abbey Simcock 47pts; 2 Roman Harker-Ferguson 48pts; 3 Conrad Knight 71pts.

Juniors: 1 Brandon Grant 23pts; 2 Chrisden Lee 24pts.

Formula Junior: 1 Blake Harris 29pts; 2 Josh Adlam 48pts; 3 Jordon Valentine 51pts.

Yamaha Light: 1 Corey Green 16pts; 2 Deon Symes 29pts; 3 Andrew Barber and Glen Dovaston 66pts.

Yamaha Heavy: 1 Stuart Gould 29pts; 2 Darren Walker 32pts.

Rotax Light: 1 Fulton Penny 18pts; 2 Warrick Parkes 56pts; 3 Bailey McIntosh 68pts.

Open: 1 Mark Swetman 19pts; 2 Zayne Martin 46pts.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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