Photos: Fast Company/Geoff Ridder.
Good things can take time. Just ask Kiwi motor racing legend Ken Smith.
In an unbroken career which now spans 60 years the just-turned-77-year-old is finally getting the chance to compete at the famed Laguna Seca motor racing circuit in the United States.
“I’ve actually been there a couple of times, but not to drive,” the three-time New Zealand Grand Prix and Lady Wigram Trophy winner and four-time winner of the SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F500 Tasman Cup Revival Series, said on Tuesday. “I went to a meeting there when I was buying my first Formula 5000 car back in the day, and I was there more recently with Scott (Dixon) when he was running in the Indy Lights class.”
This time Smith is part of a 14-strong group of SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series drivers who have signed up for the 50th Anniversary celebrations of their category this and next weekend at the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion meetings at the recently renamed WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in northern California. With local man Eric Haga (Lola T190) he will also enjoy the distinction of being one of only a handful of drivers competing at the meeting who also raced in a category first time around.
The meeting has drawn interest from many period F5000 drivers from the area – amongst them Australian Kevin Bartlett – but Smith and Haga are the only two period originals who are still racing, and Smith is the only one who has an unbroken record of competing at a national level since the 1960s.
The ‘main event’ at the Rolex Monterey Reunion fortnight is over the August 25/26 weekend. But in honour of their anniversary celebration year – and the fact that car owner/drivers like Smith and crew chief Barry Miller have shipped their cars to the US for the occasion - the organisers have also given the F5000 category a spot on the programme at the ‘Pre-Reunion’ meeting this coming weekend (Aug 18-19).
The stock block 5.0 litre wings-and-slicks Formula 5000 category is one of a number selected to feature at the annual Rolex Monterey Motorsports meetings. It is the only one, this year, however to be celebrating a major anniversary, its 50th.
Joining Smith and his Lola T332 on the Kiwi squad at both meetings are current SAS Autoparts MSC series title holder Andy Higgins (Lola T332), former title holders Brett Willis (Lola T330) and Steve Ross (McRae GM1), Glenn Richards (Lola T400), father and son Peter (McRae GM1) and Aaron (Talon MR1A) Burson, Michael Collins (McRae GM1), Dave Arrowsmith (Lotus 70), Russell Greer and Tony Galbraith (both Lola T332), Grant Martin (Talon MR1A), Frank Karl (McLaren M10B) and Tim Rush (McLaren M22).
UK-based SAS Autoparts MSC Series regular Greg Thornton (Chevron B24) is also entered, as are Australians Paul Zazryn and Adrian Ackhurst (both Lola T332), Phillip Lewis (Matich A 50), Bill Hemming (Elfin MR8), Frank Harris and Dean Camm (both Chevron B24).
At least 41 genuine, period-correct Formula 5000s are set to line up for the Pre-Reunion meeting and as many as 47 at the main Rolex Reunion meeting which starts on Wednesday August 22 and finishes on Sunday August 26.
There is a strong New Zealand link with both the F5000 formula and the Laguna Seca track, and the visit to the Rolex Reunion meetings is actually the second by members of the New Zealand F5000 Association.
The links go back to the heyday of the category. Three-time original Tasman Cup (Tasman Series) champion Graham McRae raced there numerous times in period (between 1972 and 1975), a highlight winning the Monterey Grand Prix race at the circuit on his way to earning the 1972 L&M Continental 5000 championship in a car of his own design, the Leda (later McRae) GM1.
The first contemporary visit by a group of SAS Autoparts MSC NZ F5000 Tasman Cup Revival Series drivers came in 2015 when 12 Kiwi drivers entered the first F5000 races held at the circuit since 1976. Like this year’s 50th Anniversary races on the Rolex Reunion meeting programmes, the 2015 ones were planned and organised with the assistance of the US-based Formula 5000 registry.