An 11-day stretch of six international speedway events will race into Mt Maunganui's Baypark venue tomorrow evening.
The United Truck Parts International Midget Car Series is headlined by winning Nascar racers and the top finishers from this year's United States Auto Club (USAC) National Midget Car Championship.
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But with two wins and two other podium finishes in the four previous Baypark international races, it's eight-time New Zealand champion Michael Pickens, of Auckland, who has a slight edge in pre-race favourite status for tomorrow night's 40-lapper.
Fresh from a busy schedule of races in the US and Australia, Pickens will battle a stacked field of dirt track talent — the best Baypark line-up of international drivers since the Outlaws sprint car event in January 2006 — for round two of the midget car series.
A seven-strong US contingent is headed by Nascar stars Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell. While they race at the elite level of American oval racing, they also return to their dirt track racing roots when the Nascar schedule allows.
Larson is making his fifth New Zealand visit and his 2019 scorecard includes a career-best sixth place in the top-tier Nascar Cup Series driving for Chip Ganassi Racing.
The Californian's form on dirt tracks is also red-hot having won the final three races of the USAC midget car championship and, just before boarding his flight to New Zealand, he won the Gateway Dirt Nationals indoor event in St Louis last weekend.
Bell, from Oklahoma, is a former USAC Midget Car champion and NASCAR Truck Series champ. He finished third in the second-tier Nascar Xfinity Series this year and will graduate to the Cup Series in 2020 with Leavine Racing.
It's Bell's third visit New Zealand - he won the 50-lap Midget Classic at Western Springs last summer.
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Also on the Team USA roster is Indiana's Tyler ''Sunshine'' Courtney, who won the 2019 USAC Midget Car title. Still only 19, Courtney has also become a regular visitor to New Zealand and won at Baypark in December 2017 and also finished second to Pickens last year.
The top of the USAC Midget Car rankings are well represented in the Kiwi series with 2019 runner-up Logan Seavey (California) and third-placed Chris Windom (Illinois) also in action tomorrow. And making his New Zealand debut is 17-year-old Zeb Wise (Indiana) who raced to fifth place in the USAC National Midget Car title in 2019.
Completing the US line-up is Illinois racer Zach Daum who has already won races at Western Springs and Baypark this summer.
Former Australian champion Kaidon Brown, of Sydney, makes his third Baypark appearance and is joined by Victoria's Travis Mills and South Australian Robert Heard.
Pickens isn't the only Kiwi capable of trading passes with the international stars. Former national champions Shayne Alach and Peter Hunibell, reigning North Island champion Aaron Hodgson and Auckland front runners with the talent and equipment to run at the front include Hayden Williams, Brock Maskovich and Hayden Guptill.
The six-round international series began last night at Western Springs and will also race there on December 30, January 3 and 5 plus the Huntly Speedway on January 1.
Racing starts at 7pm tomorrow and the programme also includes sprint cars, super saloons, stock cars and youth ministocks.