It's a story that is uniquely New Zealand: Kenny Smith, an iconic name and an ageless veteran of New Zealand motor racing, will compete in his 47th New Zealand Grand Prix, the final race in this year’s Castrol Toyota Racing Series at Manfeild this Sunday.
Smith,now 76 years-old, has won the race three times and first competed in the event at Pukekohe in 1964 in a 1500cc Lotus 22.
“I can’t remember where I came,” he admits. “It might have been last. I was certainly down the back somewhere.”
That race was won by the late Bruce McLaren in a 2.5 litre Cooper Climax. Serendipitously, Smith will race with number 47 on his car this weekend, the number used by McLaren when he raced in New Zealand.
“I have no expectations of how I will go,” said Smith of his first outing in a modern generation single seater with a paddle shift gearbox. “I’ll just do the best I can do.”
He has had to modify his driving style to suit. “I drive the old cars with one hand at times,” admitted Smith. “You can’t do that with paddle shift. You’ve got to keep your hands on the wheel to change gears.”
Smith is old enough to be the grand-father of all his rivals this weekend. The next oldest drivers in the race at Brendon Leitch (Invercargill) and Reid Harker (Albany), who are both 22 years old. The majority of the field is aged between 16 and 18.
Smith first won the Grand Prix at Pukekohe in 1976 in a Lola T332, during the Formula 5000 era. “Whenever you win it’s exciting,” said Smith. “But that one meant the most because of all the famous names on the trophy up to that time.”
His second win came in 1990 in a Formula Pacific Swift again at Pukekohe and win number three was at Teretonga in 2004 in a Van Dieman Stealth Formula Ford, when the category was the leading single seater class.
Smith reckons he has used about 18 different cars over six decades in his 47 appearances in New Zealand’s most prestigious motor race.
Smith last raced in the Toyota Racing Series five years ago and says the modern cars require a different approach from the Formula 5000 Lola he still races regularly.
“We can chuck those cars around a bit, but these new ones you have to drive smoothly. Brendon Hartley gave me some lessons a few years ago. They drive like they are on rails.”
Smith’s car will promote Manawatu with the signature line #thisismanawatu (one word). It will also carry the web address manawatunz.co.nz.
#thisismanawatu is realised by Manfeild, Central Economic Development Agency (CEDA), Palmerston North City Council, Manawatu Car Club and Capture Signs.
“We are delighted and honoured that Kenny Smith, a legend of New Zealand motorsport and a fantastic supporter of our venue, will race for the Manawatu for his 47th appearance in the New Zealand Grand Prix,” says Manfeild chief executive Julie Keane