When the first shots of the 2020/21 sprint car wars were exchanged at Baypark Speedway on Saturday night, a refreshed Jamie McDonald fired the fastest bullet.
The Auckland-based 2007 New Zealand Sprint Car champion took a year away from racing last summer and just two weeks into his comeback he's already had reminders of the highs and lows of speedway.
He crashed at Christchurch on his first weekend back and repairs to have the car ready for Baypark's season opener were completed late on Friday. The effort was rewarded with an impressive feature race win.
"I needed a break to freshen up after 27 years in a row," McDonald said.
"We built a new home last year and I wanted to spend more time with my son before he started school."
Making a comeback wasn't a certainty, but McDonald found he missed racing.
"I thought it could go either way and maybe I'd had my lot. But as last season wore on, I watched in the stands, the bug came back and I couldn't wait to get out there and stand on it again."
McDonald was immediately fast and qualified on the front row for the 20-lap feature race alongside national champion Jamie Larsen (Kapiti).
The two Jamies had a fierce battle in the opening laps with McDonald gaining the edge and driving away to a commanding win. Larsen's run was interrupted by a half-spin which dropped him back in the field before recovering to fourth.
"This is really a win for the boys on the crew," McDonald said.
"They took time off work this week, worked every night and we finished the car at midnight last night.
"Surprisingly enough, after a complete rebuild, it rolled out the trailer and was fast in the first heat and we won the second heat. In the feature there was pressure from Larsen and Daniel Thomas on the restarts but the car was a bullet."
Although he had to cope with a dislodged front wing that led to several monster wheel stands, Michael Pickens (Auckland) chased hard throughout the 20-lapper and picked up second spot late in the race when he passed Kihikihi's Daniel Thomas.
Pickens also had success with a clear win in the Midget Car feature race leading home Hayden Guptill and Ryan Baker.
Tauranga's national champion Sam Waddell led the Super Saloon feature race until three laps from the finish when he slowed and pulled to the infield with a suspected engine problem. That handed the lead to Chris Cowling (Tauranga), who held off a fast-closing Peter Dickson (Tauranga) who charged from the rear of the field.
The next Speedway action at Baypark is the Guy Fawkes fireworks spectacular on Saturday November 7.