Whilst Sprintcars dominated the Ausdeck Patios Archerfield Speedway schedule over the Christmas/New Year period, this weekend it is the Midgets who take centre stage with the first Australian round of the World Midget Championship. Staged over a series of races in Australia, New Zealand and the United States, the POWRi World Midget Championship is the only series of its type that brings the top drivers from all three countries together. More than 40 competitors will take part in the two nights of competition, which will culminate with a $6000-to-win feature event on Sunday evening (January 25).
Midget racing harks back to the 1930's and the basic concept has always been the same; place the greatest amount of power into the available space and put on an exciting show. Typically, a Midget engine can produce between 325 and 350 horsepower and there are a variety of engine types currently being used. Ideally suited to Australia’s quarter-mile speedway tracks, the Midgets consistently put on some of the most exciting racing and their open-wheel configuration leaves little margin for error.
The best credentialed driver in the field for this weekend's event is 25-year-old American Bryan Clauson. A two-time USAC National Midget Champion, Clauson has accumulated over 140 feature race wins, including some of the biggest Midget races in America; winning both the Belleville Nationals and the Turkey Night Grand Prix on two occasions. Clauson’s success in Midget competition has seen him named National Midget Driver of the Year on two occasions and he has also enjoyed considerable success in Sprintcar, Indy cars and NASCAR. In 2008, Clauson took Rookie of the Year honours in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, while 2011 saw him qualify on pole position in Indy Lights competition at Indianapolis. The following year, Clauson successfully made the step up to Indy Car and qualified into the Indianapolis 500, a feat he will attempt this year after securing a drive with Jonathon Byrd Racing. Clauson arrives in Brisbane on the back of four consecutive wins in New Zealand and this will be the only chance to see him in action in Queensland this season.
Also travelling from America for this event is fellow USAC National Midget Championship winner Darren Hagan from California. Like Clauson, Hagen is a prolific feature race winner in both USAC and POWRi events and has enjoyed considerable success in high profile races, including the Night Before the 500, the Rich Vogler Classic and the Gold Crown Nationals. In New Zealand recently, Hagen finished inside the top three behind Clauson in three events and the battle between these two will be something special.
The third American in the field is Oklahoma’s Tyler Thomas. In 2011, Thomas created history when, as a 15-year-old, became the youngest winner of a POWRi Midget Series feature race at West Plains Speedway in Missouri. In 2013, Thomas finished 4th overall in the POWRi National Midget Pointscore and spent last season alternating between his Midget duties and Late Model Stockcar commitments.
In New Zealand, Midget racing outstrips Sprintcars for popularity amongst both drivers and fans and it is no surprise to see a very large contingent of Kiwi racers in town for this event. Whilst current Polar Ice Archerfield Speedway Track Champion Michael Kendall, a five-time New Zealand champion, will be relishing the opportunity to represent his home country, it is Michael Pickens who possesses the most international experience amongst the New Zealand squad. Pickens, a four-time national champ, races professionally in America with great success and recently competed in the Chilli Bowl event in America as a teammate to Clauson. Pickens has raced extensively in Australia with great success, including a win in the Australian Grand Prix. Also representing New Zealand this weekend will be Chris Gwilliam, Chris McCutcheon, Leon Burgess, Peter Hunnibell, Ricky McGough and the experienced Brad Mosen.
Current and three-time Australian champion Adam Clarke from Newcastle headlines an Aussie contingent that will be determined to see off the international challenge. Clarke has been in splendid form so far this season and will be well supported by some of Australia’s very best. Nathan Smee, Mark Brown, Troy Jenkins and Michael Stewart are also travelling from New South Wales, while a very exciting entry is young West Australian Kaiden Manders who, at just 16 years of age, beat an international field to win the Michael Figliomeni Memorial in Perth earlier this season. Also making the long haul from Western Australia to take part are Lee Redmond and Nicholas Rowe.
There is no chance that the locals will kowtow to their interstate and international rivals on home soil, so expect plenty of action as the locals throw down the challenge and defend their territory. The likes of Michael Harders, Anthony Chaffey, Ken Stanaway and Brendan Palmer are proven front runners, with Matt Hefford and Darren Vine also very much on the pace this season.
With a big support program over the weekend that includes Compact Speedcars, Wingless Sprints, Lightning Sprints and Formula 500’s, all is in readiness for two fabulous nights of world class motorsport competition. Of course, Sunday night will also feature the crazy Car, Caravan and Dunny Derby and a spectacular fireworks show in addition to the World Midget Championship Feature Race. Bryan Clauson in action in New Zealand. Photo by: James Selwyn