Going at full throttle and lapping up the track

By Barnaby Sharp


Welcome to world of go-fast (not too fast) midget racers

It's the tingles that are coursing through your body. Like mini pins and needles, but in a good way, an adrenaline surge way.

The noise and vibration from the engine squashed between your legs is expected. The heat, pressing through your flame-suit, is also nothing to be alarmed at. But I never expected this when I agreed to strap myself in to a midget car with Bryce Thompson and his Open Wheel Experience.

I reached the track, tucked up behind Patetonga in Waikato, along some beautiful country roads and one-lane bridges that were more used to cows than a Camry.

The passing scenery was very much at odds with what I was about to do. Soon all these chirping birds and bleating sheep would be drowned out by the noise from a thumping pair of midget cars. Tiny machines that you squeeze yourself into, in my case through the top of the roll cage. Half a V8 strapped underneath you was how Bryce described it. And only one gear, so these machines are fast, if you can harness them.

Skim reading just before you sign your indemnity form is, in hindsight, short-sighted. But you never think the worst will happen, because it invariably never does. And Bryce's wife, Jenny, puts you at ease. She's organising the drive orders, so unless you sign, you're staying put.

Fresh from a successful tour of the South Island, Bryce and his team were on this day hosting a corporate event courtesy of Marley Plumbing and electrical supplier J.A. Russell. A nationwide competition gave 10 lucky guys a day out to remember.

Handshakes and introductions were followed by a safety debrief, one punctuated by gunshots. Basically don't get a yellow flag. You're now a liability, so slow down and get back in control. Another yellow and you may as well roll it in. Don't get cramp, especially in your foot, and throttle control is everything. If you master that then you'd be doing okay.

The driver order was done and I was pleased to find myself going last. That way I could pretend I knew what I was doing while watching the others.

All that was going through my mind was throttle control. But even getting the cars moving took a bit of concentration.

Hard on the brake, let the ute behind you push you, once you hear the horn let go of the brake. At the sound of the second horn, hit the ignition switch and it should fire up.

My first lap was tentative, slow even. The second was a bit more confident, but it's that throttle control. Trying to get that right was an art, especially when trying to rip it around the corners. The laps flew by, each time Bryce urging me to go faster; to push it harder.

And then it was all over. I could see immediately why anyone would come back. And there's more than a few wives and partners who will have to wait for that holiday or new bathroom.

Jenny says at least 10 guys have done an advanced 100-lap course and then gone out and bought themselves a midget car - something that wouldn't leave them much change out of $100,000.

Still, if you can land your helicopter in the middle of the track, as one guy did, do your hot laps and fly off again, that kind of cash is pocket money.

The Open Wheel Experience started at Waikaraka Park in late 2009 but since 2010 Bryce and his team have been based in Patetonga. And he has some serious credentials - he has been New Zealand TQ Champion twice, 2004 World 50 Lap Midget Car Champion, NZ test team captain and winner of the International Midget Series 2003. He has raced at home and abroad, claiming more than 80 feature wins in TQs and midget cars

And in that time he and Jenny have put V8 Supercar driver Shane van Gisbergen, Indy Lights driver Wade Cunningham, triathletes Bevan Docherty and Kris Gemmell and also Mark "Horse" Bourneville through their paces. And now me.

It was hard to say goodbye and drive back to Auckland, like a normal person. How could I, seeing as I was now a bona fide racecar driver. So thanks to Bryce and his team and to CRC for supporting people like me and letting us realise our dreams.

- Hamilton News

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