2017 Leadfoot Festival, New Zealand, February 4-5, 2017
Like from the musical ‘Porgy and Bess’…“Summertime and the living is easy…” as it is the peak of the Antipodean summer and racing is very busy in New Zealand. Rod Millen is the famed “Kiwi” racer and an American motorsports icon known for breaking records at Pikes Peak, Mickey Thompson Stadium Trucks, the Baja 1000, and many other international Rally events. The 2017 Leadfoot Festival Hill Climb brought together International and New Zealand racing stars with rare cars that is staged up his ranch driveway in Hahei along the Coromandel Coast and fondly termed the “Millen Mile.” It was the most treacherous and challenging Hill Climb you can imagine with 4 big blind rises (all of the ‘hot cars’ were “catching air” over the rises) as one could not see over the rises, using “blind faith” as big trees lurked along the course. The challenge was with some very acute “hairpin” turns at steep climbs along with the need to carefully “Zig – Zag” though the dark shadowed forest sections. The Hill Climb road also had the legendary blinding New Zealand “Sun Strikes,” as they say here, when coming out of the dense dark woods into the shocking bright blazing sun at times. One GT40 crushed the entire front end and ripped off a wheel and few more cars went off into the trees, over the side, and into hay bales. Each grid or batch had a good mix of cars so fans enjoyed the non-stop viewing while sitting on the hillsides. The batches included Historic, Rally, Off Road, Pikes Peak, Drifters, Side Car motorcycles and even a huge truck that smoked the tires at each turn. Al Unser Jr. was the feature driver and he waved to the fans while racing the 1915 Stutz racer up the hill.
The driver’s “driver” had to be Kiwi Allan Woolf racing the ‘hill’ with verve with his 1958 Volpini Formula Junior, as Allan has been racing for over 60 years… and has even done the Pikes Peak event. The Old Yeller II and several Pikes Peak purpose built Racers were on the special invite list along with the legendary Altered Fuel “Rat Trap” to wow the fans with its “off the charts” decibels. A favorite car was the 1947 Bruce McLaren Stanford Special. Also, the rare American-built 1955 “Dick Jones Meteor Special” has been in New Zealand and it raced with a small block Chevy motor. The Old Yeller II has the monster torque of the Buick Nailhead motor, but a challenge for a hill climb and former driver Bill Krause always said racing the Old Yeller II was like“fighting a bear in the woods”… I think I saw the bear. Rod selected drivers for the “foot into wet concrete” (a la Graumans Chinese, Hollywood) moment and to sign salutations in the concrete for the future events, which was a nice touch.
The Overall 2017 Leadfoot Festival Winner was Alister McRae, the Scottish Rally Star, in his 850 hp Impreza WRX STi Subaru with a blistering 49.43 second run.
1965-1975 Group- Winner-Rod Millen, 1975 Mazda RX 3. It seems that the iconic racing legend Rod Millen can easily say each year…”Bring it,” as all of the notable challengers fall by the wayside each year in the Hillclimb trying to beat the Rod’s time.
Best of Show winner was Al Unser Jr. with the 1915 Stutz Racer and 3rd place went to the Old Yeller II Buick Special, which also made the Top Ten Shoot Out- Pre 1960 in 6th place.
A “bucket list” tour for vintage racers would be to race in New Zealand at Hampton Downs Festival of Motor Racing and on the Lake Taupo Races and finish with the Leadfoot Festival all within one month in brilliant summer weather… get your Carnet for your car and book your flights. The support for International drivers/cars is exceptional in New Zealand and shipping is not a problem.