Globe-trotting New Zealand midget car champion Michael Pickens gets his 2012-13 racing campaign started this weekend when he makes his first midget car appearance at Baypark Speedway.
Aucklander Pickens, 30, raced a borrowed sprint car at Baypark six years ago, but had conflicting commitments when the midgets made their first two appearances at the Mount Maunganui oval last year.
Saturday's season opener at Baypark features the opening round of the new Top Half Midget Series with Pickens seizing the chance for some valuable early season "seat time" ahead of more US racing commitments and a full season at Auckland's Western Springs.
"We've got a busy season ahead of us and we've been flat out in the last few weeks building cars," says Pickens, who is the general manager of BSL Racing in Auckland.
"This weekend I'll be driving the car that will be raced by one of our American drivers, probably Kyle Larson again, in the international series at Western Springs. This weekend is a good chance to give the car a shakedown run."
Next month Pickens will make his third foray into United States racing this year when he contests the annual Turkey Night Grand Prix on November 22.
The Thanksgiving Day event at California's Perris Auto Speedway is now in its 72nd year and is one of most notable midget car events in the US.
Already in 2012 Pickens has raced at the massive Chili Bowl indoor event in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in January and also in Australia. His most recent race outing was in mid-June when he raced at the United States Auto Club Indiana Midget Week.
"We had good speed during Midget Week but some bad luck as well," said Pickens, who achieved two heat race wins during the five-night series and was leading the final at Kokomo when he was spun out on a restart.
The midget field will race over two heats and a 25-lap final using a handicap system that requires the highest points scorer to start from the back of the grid and to choose which of their rivals starts second-to-last. There's a $500 bonus if the top qualifier wins from the rear.
With Pickens headlining the midget car field there will be three reigning New Zealand champions in action tomorrow night with Hawke's Bay racer Steve Flynn confirmed for the super saloons and Matamata's Jeff Barron heading a 24-car grid for the saloon car racing.
Also adding international flavour to the season opener at Baypark will be Queensland sprint car racer Alan Woods driving a car he will keep in New Zealand and race on a regular basis in coming months to meet eligibility requirements for the New Zealand Championship at Western Springs in early January.
Also joining the sprint car ranks this weekend are former NZ champions Jamie McDonald and Carl Wilson from Auckland. McDonald will be looking to win his fourth straight opening-night feature race at Baypark and has already made a practice day trip to prepare for the season.
Tomorrow's Labour Weekend opener kicks off a season of 18 scheduled race nights at Baypark with highlights being the New Zealand Sprint Car Grand Prix on December 27 and the 30-lap South Pacific Super Saloon Car Championship on February 2.