A long airline flight (12 hours Auckland to LA) and several glasses of
wine are the perfect stimulants for logging some final thoughts. This will be the last Update on our wonderful adventure.
So, here goes.
New Zealanders and some folks we met
First on the list has to be the wonderful New Zealand folks we met. Without
exception, anyone you talk to who has visited NZ says the same thing — the Kiwis are the greatest. Who knows whether
it’s something in their genes or simply a function of a smaller, less complicated, less intense, society. Or perhaps
they just understand how to treat guests. Whatever. They are great. Everywhere we went, not just the racer community, their
courtesy was a refreshing breeze. (Anecdote: Coming back home, we'd only been in the LAX airport a few minutes when some snotty
customs agent reminded me to "Stay behind the line!" Welcome home! The contrast was stunning.)
While it’s totally insufficient to mention a just few people, certainly
tops on the list were John and Trish Crawford. Sure he was selling the Denver Gang race support services, but you always had
the feeling of having made a good friend out of the deal. No wonder Larry Detrich loves racing out of John’s shop at
Ruapuna. Before it was over, John and Trish had us and the Detrich's over for dinner and was offering us a room in their house.
Then there were the lads at John's shop. To a man they were fun to be with.
Elsewhere we've talked about and shown pictures of Ben, but all the guys treated us like family, not just customers. Thanks
to all of them for making us feel so welcome.
While examples are many, we met many others of note. Brian & Lorraine
Grant were at all the races, but we didn’t happen to spend any time with them until the last event at Dunedin. Brian
is the quintessential gentlemen racer, the epitome of what racing in the 60s must have been like and what vintage racing should
be today. He tows his lovely Lotus 11 look-alike in an open trailer, doing all his own work, and just plain nice and fun to
be with. Diane and Lorraine hit it off and we can only hope that sometime they can get to the states so we can reciprocate.
Then there was Colin
Barryman. This guy was amazing. During the first event,
we were struggling with the Webers on Diane’s car. This kindly older gentleman quietly asked if he could be of assistance.
Sure. Go for it. (I had no clue at that point.) Turns out he was a bona fide old timer who had even been to a formal Weber
school, wrenched all over the place, and knew his stuff. He bailed us out with jetting suggestions and tuning. Then, we were
also having some jetting issues on Terry’s (driven by Dean) Super 7. No worries, Colin to the rescue. Colin was just
a spectator, mind you. He typified the kindness and helpfulness we received from so many.
You may recall our story of how container #1 got all fouled up and our
Denver shipping agent couldn't really tell us where it was. In the process we got hold of an agent in Auckland, Alan Dryer,
who rescued the situation. Alan is a car nut and so Larry invited him to come down for the Ruapuna race and see the fruits
of his labors, which he did. Here's another instance of working with someone who easily becomes a friend. Alan and his significant
other, Lydia Hughes, were a blast to be with. Lydia and Diane enjoyed each other immensely and hopefully on Lydia and Alan's
planned trip to the US in June, they'll be able to come to Denver. We're certainly hoping so.
The list goes on. David Abbott, a F-5000 racer, entertained all the American
racers at a big party at his house. Then there was Karen Clearwater, another lady racer who personally saw to helping Diane
get into an appropriate run group. And Keith Cowen, head mucky-muck with the sanctioning Canterbury Car Club, was a great
help to us making all the race entry arrangements.
Their friendliness just seemed to be in their genes — a conspicuous
Kiwi trait. Thanks to all.
Our beloved race
Not to get mushy about it, but our racecars performed flawlessly for us.
We had a few Weber issues early on with Diane’s car, but soon got them sorted out, thanks to Colin. Beyond that, nary
a wrench was applied to the Miller.
And God love Formula Fords. During four consecutive weekends of racing,
I had the engine cover off once. Late in a practice session during the third weekend at
Teretonga, it started fluttering a
bit at high revs. I’d also just noticed it didn’t start right up as it normally does even though it was cranking
fine. Also, noticed the electronic tach jumping around at idle. Conclusion — the points had closed up. Took ten minutes
to reset them and that was the ONLY wrench applied to the Titan. Wait. I lied. Ten minutes were taken to install new rear
brake pads (Which should have been done in Denver!).
As to the other Denver racecars, and as noted above, we did have to futz
quite a bit with the Super 7’s Webers over the course of the first two weekends. Easy stuff, but irritating. Nevertheless,
the car made almost all its sessions. Terry’s Elan and Phil’s Elva never missed a beat that I know of. During
the third race weekend at Teretonga we had to adjust a tiny bit of slack out of the Elan’s clutch linkage and rotate
two tires. Big deal. And I don’t think the Elva ever needed a damn thing. That was it. Vroom, vroom.
As noted in a prior Update, however, Paul Morgan’s high-strung March
formula car did require some serious wrenching. But Paul’s no dummy. He brought along magic man, Bob
Hildreth, to keep
the thoroughbred humming such that Paul didn’t miss out on much.
But man! Those two cars of ours were golden. Just add gas and go. How great
is that! Now to get them home for a good cleaning and thorough going over. They deserve some serious TLC at this point.
The other NZ race cars, racers, and how they run events
"Classic racing", as they refer to what we’d call "vintage racing",
it a wee bit different down under. Well, more than a wee bit. First of all, the preparation of the cars and the support efforts
are nothing like we see in the States. It’s much more like what our vintage racing was in the early 80s. A bunch of
guys bringing out some old cars and just having fun. No over-restored cars. No fancy covered trailers. No big RVs. No big
money shows. Just a bunch of old racecars. Sure there were some significant cars there, but presentation was ever so casual.
Very few racers had any professional support staff. Those that did were mostly the out-of-country racers. I’ll take
some of that back. The F-5000 boys had a lot of professional support. But to keep those monsters running, you have to. Yet,
many of the 5000s traveled to the event in modest little trailers. Aside from the big F-5000 show, the club race cars and
rigs were quite modest. Quite a contrast to what we are now seeing in America's vintage race scene.
Also, they weren’t very rigid on what types of cars ran in these
"classic" events. All the events had grids for some fairly contemporary cars. Can’t give you examples because I didn’t
recognize what they were. And how they composed the run groups was a total mystery to us the whole time. Never did really
figure it out. No class designations were required on the cars so you had no bloody idea what something was. No doubt they
all knew what was what, but not these poor Yanks.
Very few sports racers (they call them sports cars down there). Diane usually
ran with open-top production sports cars and a slew of Super 7s or "club car" which are similar to a Super 7. I wound up running
with all kinds of open wheel stuff, but not that many Formula Fords. As already talked about in prior Updates, legality of
FFs wasn’t even considered an issue. Tweaked??? Most of
'em. They didn’t seem to care. Very strange.
And while they had AMB transponders, the gridding and timing results were
often a joke. But since nobody seems to be racing all that seriously, nobody got too excited about it. "No worries", as they
were fond of saying. ("No worries" being their equivalent of our "Not a problem".)
And some of the characters who raced! Update #10 talked of the two ex-hippies
(Can you ever really be an ex-hippie????), with an invaluable Alfa and an equally irreplaceable Ferrari. She wearing a leather
helmet and he in an open face helmet that must have been 20 years old. No worries.
Then there was the guy pitted next to us in a really beat old Super 7.
Since it was raining he simply donned his yellow rain slicker OVER his Nomex (or perhaps his Borax treated coveralls), and
went racin’. Any concern about wearing a rubber rain slicker in case of a fire??? No worries. In fact, once he came
roaring back into his pit (right next to ours), jumped out, slickers and all, dug a little fire extinguisher out of his pile
of junk, and put out a small engine fire caused by a leaking header. No worries.
Obviously safety measures were a far cry from what we’re used to.
While they had a tech inspection of sorts, it was mainly an excuse to make an entry in the car’s logbook or, as in the
case of one inspector, a good chance for him to inspect the logbook to see where the car had been raced. The Kiwis love their
paperwork and car "audit" (their tech) was really just to get the logbook signed by the guys in charge of signing logbooks.
The cars only had to go thru tech once at the first race and then again at Dunedin. The bodywork was never opened in either
case. In fact, at Dunedin, he didn’t even want me to take them off the double-deck trailer. Kind of nice, actually,
but surely not what we’re used to. Diane’s first logbook entry at Ruapuna was "Nice wee car". That was it. Cool.
The race track facilities were all wonderful. If only our replacement for
Second Creek could be so good. While Teretonga hosted major international events in the past, it’s a fairly modest club
facility. They are kept in excellent condition all with nice grassy pit areas and nice paved roads thru the paddocks. Since
they are club facilities, there is usually a nice clubhouse building with a bar and concession area and real bathrooms. All
very civilized. We should be so lucky to have a home track anything like any one of the three tracks we raced at.
We've mention that they run very, very short races! Often only 6 laps.
That was true of both the track and street race events. So, if you blow the standing start you're sunk right off the bat.
Not much time to make it up. Conversely, if you get it right, you're in the catbird seat quickly. And are those standing starts
fun or what? Got to really like them. A light system must like F1 races. Didn't seem to be too hard on the equipment. But
in the case of our cars, we had to put in a very low first gear (for better starts) meaning the spreads when shifting to 2nd
, 3rd , and 4th were much bigger than we're used to. Everyone, however, was in the same boat.
Language & expressions
"No worries" — our equivalent of "not to worry" or "not a problem".
However, as Larry Detrich and Paul Morgan concluded that often "no worries" could mean, "I have no idea and you’ve got
a real problem and will be lucky to ever get it solved." But at least the person uttering it usually has no worries.
"Brilliant" — They use "brilliant" to respond to anything that is
good or maybe even just OK. Like choosing something on the menu. "Brilliant choice" says the waiter. Oh? Didn’t realize
I was a friggin’ genius to have ordered the lamb. Or let say you just finished fourth place. "Brilliant." Well, not
really. OK, maybe. Not brilliant.
". . . .at the end of the day". I guess we use this expression here, but
they use it a lot! (Of course they pronounce "day" as "die".) What they most often append is "It’ll all work out." This
means we don’t have a clue how we’re going to get this handled, but somehow it will get done. And you know what?
It always got done. The ingenuity of the Kiwis is amazing. The best example of this was all the logistics of getting the Denver
racecars to the various events. It was never completely clear to me (or them) exactly how it was going to get done. But, you
guessed it, at the end of the day, it all worked out. No worries.
"Good on ya, mate." I love this expression. Much more common place than
our "good for you". It has a much nicer ring to it. A fellow could get real used to saying "Good on ya" as a compliment for
just about anything someone gets done.
Americanization of NZ
New Zealand is still a very special place. Some have described it as a
throwback to the 50s. Not any more. The pace has picked up a bit and more and more you see the signs of creeping Americanization.
Maybe it’s not Americanization, per se. Perhaps it's just a country that has a bit more going on these days. It’s
still a step back in time that is most enjoyable, but it is changing.
For instance, tipping. Four years ago tips were strictly not done, anywhere.
Even now, there is very little tipping, but it’s now become accepted in some instances. We noted the dinner check at
one large downtown hotel even had a place to pencil in a tip (like you ALWAYS see in the US). But it’s still optional
and then only maybe 10% and certainly not expected. Without trying to sound like a cheapskate, it just seems like a loss of
innocence or friendliness to start having to pay extra for what used to be standard practice with a smile.
We also noticed more and more American fast food chains in NZ. McDonalds
has been there for years, but now you see Burger King, KFC, and Subway. Apparently Subway arrived in just the last year —
They’re everywhere, but for a good reason. It’s a good, reasonably priced meal. Still, we tried to avoid the chains
when we could. Eating at McDonalds wasn’t real cheap.
They still roll up the sidewalks early in the smaller towns, but in Christchurch
there is a bit of nightlife. Not much, but some.
One thing HASN’T changed. There are still more damn sheep in NZ than
you can imagine. It’s like corn in the Midwest. It (they) go on forever! One time while driving in the country Diane
and I decided to see how long we could go and NOT have sheep in sight. Kilometer after kilometer – sheep. Once in a
while, "No sheep!", but it would only last a few seconds. Then more sheep.
And the scenery in NZ remains spectacular. It is beautiful and varied.
Bicycling, backpacking, tramping (hiking) really are national pastimes. You’ve never seen so many fit people out doing
stuff. I would seriously consider doing some hiking (day hikes) next time.
TV programming — Even with their satellite called Sky TV, programming
is very, very limited. Very few channels and many of them playing familiar US fare.
Seinfeld, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond,
and American movies are standard. Watching Rugby, however, was a real treat. Rugby puts our football to shame. No pads or
protection and almost non-stop action. It could be addictive (to watch).
Cricket you ask???? Don’t ask.
Costs. When were here four years ago it was like stealing. The NZ dollar
cost only $.45 US. And prices for things in NZ$ were below what you’d pay in the US. For instance, four years ago we
could go out for a very nice dinner for two (entrée, called "mains", about $20 each) with a bottle of nice wine ($10NZ) for
about $50NZ total (=$25 US). Since then they’ve had some inflation plus the NZ dollar now cost about $.70 US. So, that
same meal would be about $70NZ or $50 US, about twice what it cost four years ago. Still not expensive, but far from stealing,
as it used to be. A nice motel room was $80-$100NZ or about $60-$70. In other words, about the same as the US.
So, the bargain prices of four years ago were gone. We bought very few
things to bring home in spite of having a container that we could have stuffed with all kinds of things. But then we seldom
buy much stuff when traveling.
Places we really liked
It wasn’t all racing. We toured around and got to see some things
we didn’t see on other trips. We especially liked the Lewis Pass area, Hanmer Springs on the east side and a little
town, Reefton, on the west end. Beautiful road with constantly changing topography.
Further south is an area and town called Lake Wanaka. Queenstown is also
nearby, but Queenstown is a real tourist Mecca. Not without reason, but just a bit too much. You know, tour buses and the
whole nine yards. Wanaka, however, was just as pretty and not nearly so commercialized.
While we were pestered by rain in the Franz Josef glacier area, it was
nevertheless quite spectacular. Then end of the glacier is just a couple kilometers from the ocean and the area is a complete
rain forest. Yes, a rain forest cohabiting with a glacier. Go figure. Anyway it doesn't take a genius to know that rain is
to be expected in a rain forest (duh!). But even the locals were getting fed up. In the Franz Josef area, there were only
five clear days in February, supposedly one of their best summer weather months. Apparently one of the wettest February’s
By the way. Flooding in NZ, particularly the Wellington area, apparently
made the news here in the US while we where there. Yes, we saw a lot of rain, but it wasn’t all that bad and nothing
like the 100-year floods on the North Island where Wellington is located. All things considered, we were lucky. And as mentioned
in the Updates, we rather enjoyed learning to race in the wet. We’re better racers (albeit not necessary a better person)
for it. In spite of our bitching about it, it was kinda’ fun.
We’d do it again in a heartbeat, but probably won’t. It was
an expensive trip but a once-in-a-lifetime deal where we’d already concluded it wasn’t real money, only race money.
Cost really wasn’t an issue. No worries. We have other traveling to do and some other racing trips within the US that
we'd like to try. This will occupy us for quite a while. I can see going back to NZ to visit and/or to race, but not as an
So, Larry and Kay, you can relax. Your NZ stay next year will be a much
calmer time. Thank you so much for making it happen. You’re the best. It simply would not have been possible without
all your help.