By Pete McNae

As we approach Christmas, it is time to think about the spirit of giving. And one speedway driver who understands the blessings of generosity more than most is Canterbury midget competitor Glen Durie.

Durie started racing in the very early 1990s and has been a national champion and a two-time South Island titleholder in the three-quarter midget class. But the step into a top line midget comes at a cost. Much of that is down to the bespoke, one-off nature of many of the components. You can’t just nip down to the local Esslinger shop when an engine breaks. They are temperamental, volatile little race cars that have their roots in the very foundations of speedway. And they are expensive to own and run competitively.

Durie, who runs his own engine reconditioning business and who won round one of the South Island series when the class was part of the programme at the most recent meeting at Nelson’s Milestone Homes Top of the South Speedway, admits he wouldn’t be where he is today if it weren’t for Ross Pickersgill.  While Durie’s name is familiar in speedway circles (ovals?), that’s not the case for Pickersgill. But mention his business — Accessman — and the penny drops. That’s because Pickersgill owns and fields a team comprising the midget Durie drives and a pair of competitive TQs, one of which took out the prized Ryan Stone Memorial meeting last weekend.

Durie is thankful for the seat he finds himself in.

“I started at 17 and raced karts for a year before getting into speedway which was something I’d always wanted to do — in the TQs for a very long time,” Durie said. “I did have an older midget for a couple of seasons (ex-Paul Quinn VW from Nelson) but money was tight and I went back to the TQs because I could build a better car on my budget.”

That class swap culminated in Durie becoming a national champion on his home track at Ruapuna, despite getting slowed in a tangle in his first heat. After that, he put together two good heats and ran from eighth on the grid in the feature, working his way to the front and enduring an orange light delay on his last lap before finally getting across the line narrowly ahead of Hawke’s Bay’s Craig Todd.

“Getting that 1NZ is pretty hard to top — I knew we had a good car and had the advantage of knowing the track, but it still takes a lot to line up to win a national title,” Durie said.  “A few things fell my way but sometimes you make your own luck.”

The new national champion would have loved to travel and represent the 1NZ but then the earthquakes in Christchurch happened and engine reconditioning became a low priority for most of his fellow Cantabrians. Durie ran an affordable but modest campaign, qualified in Nelson to defend his title, but couldn’t repeat the feat after his car broke a valve spring. And then, having done pretty much all he could do in the class, TQs started to feel stale. Again, he went up a class to the midgets, starting in a basic car from Invercargill, updating the chassis and learning how to squeeze the most from the more powerful, heavier cars.

“Then Ross from Accessman got hold of me. He had bought a good rolling chassis and sourced a Mopar (motor) from the States and that’s how the current friendship began,” Durie said. “Ross keeps the cars at his place in a nice workshop and we base everything from there. The current car is a two-year-old King chassis with a Toyota engine out of the US and it’s good gear. I’m very lucky to be alongside Ross because, without him, anything I could afford would be old and ratty — or I wouldn’t be out there in this class at all.”

Durie expects between 10 and a dozen cars in Nelson on Saturday for the Absolute Energy South Island Midget Championships, a meeting at which he has had a second and a third, but is yet to win. “It would be great to get one for Ross as a thank you for all he contributes and I’d quite like one for me, too!”

He will have to head off the likes of Tom Lumsden, who was unstoppable at the second round of the series last weekend, and meeting runner-up Reon Taylor, who is learning quickly in the seat of the Everett Motorsport car. A wild card is national TQ champion Jeremy Webb, a master in Nelson who runs his midget when racing commitments in Auckland allow. He has confirmed his entry for Nelson this weekend.  The sheer cost of a competitive midget, when stacked up against a TQ, or even a sprintcar which retains a small measure of dinosaur US technology, keeps the fields fairly small at this end of the country, but the top five, including eight-times South Island champion Dave Kerr, can turn very quick laps on Nelson’s tiny oval.

Even with all his experience, Durie was impressed by the likes of multiple champion Michael Pickens and the visiting US drivers when Nelson hosted the 75th midget nationals in the 2016-17 season. With a track prepared to suit the big slide jobs the top competitors deliver lap after lap, it was amazing viewing, especially from Durie’s seat inside 66C. “I’ve been passionate about speedway all my life, to be in the same field as Pickens and the professional boys from the States was a cool thing to be part of. I won’t say I raced them because they were so classy — but I was in races with them and that was a highlight for me.”

At 46, and coming off a big crash that wrecked his last season and both his shoulders, Durie could be entitled to be thinking about life after midgets. Not so fast. Pickersgill is keen to stay involved, so is Durie’s wife Alison and the class veteran says he will keep doing his darnedest to stay in touch with the younger guys like Lumsden, Webb and Jack Low.

“There’s some talent coming through and while we don’t have huge numbers, there are guys emerging (he name checks Low and James Halliburton, along with the current frontrunners) who have a pretty big future. Some of those guys will be a big threat and they are under-rated now because they are young, but their time is coming,” he said.

Durie isn’t ready to yield yet. “I’d like to keep going, coming to Nelson is always something we look forward to. It’s an awesome track, my favourite, and I enjoy the atmosphere and the laidback attitudes — it’s fun for us as a family so, while I think I can do a decent job in the car, I’ll stick around for a while.”

  • Glen Durie is grateful for the support from Accessman and Ross Pickersgill, wife Alison (“my partner in crime for almost 25 years”), kids Kim and Brad and the crew guys; Rob, Matt, Al and Jason.
  • Other features on Saturday’s programme include the first appearance for the season by the super saloons who will race their open club champs (three heats) and Trackman Trophy (to be decided on the feature). The 10-car field, backed by Nelson Bays Roof Repairs, includes the first local appearance by Dave Manera in his ex-1NZ Osborne Hypermac with Isaac Russ, the new owner of Manera’s previous car, on debut. The superstocks will race their open club champs after five local cars competed in the New Zealand superstock grand prix in Palmerston North last weekend while the best pairs for youth ministocks are on after being rained out on PTS Superstock Stampede night and the sidecars will run round one of their club championship.

Photos by Rebecca Connor Maling, BM Photography