In my younger years, piling into the bro’s wagon and rolling down to Puke for a round of D1NZ was the highlight of the weekend — we actually lived for that stuff. In fact, school time would mean the better part of the day spent debating which driver could beat who, what car was the ‘sickest’, and the kinds of mods we’d do on our trash cars once we’d scrounged up enough pocket money.
That kind of absolute hype is what we fed off, and although over time my tastes and interests may have shifted away from hard-core dedication to the cause, I always kept an eye on the series as it developed.
More recent times have seen it develop into a serious and respected motorsport, not only among other disciplines in the motorsport world, but more so with the public, too. As such, there is a lot more money and entertainment value pumped into it to draw punters.
The more commercial something becomes often means a sacrifice to authenticity — but that’s where I’ll stop you, and tell you the reason why the Demon Energy D1NZ National Drifting Championship round three at ASB Arena Baypark, Tauranga, held over February 24–25, was perhaps the best round I’ve ever been to: it’s never forgotten its roots.
For starters, a month or so out from the event, no one had expected the lid to be flipped on the regular track found in the carpark outside Baypark Stadium to reveal a bespoke track crafted inside the arena walls to form a short but highly technical track, which would push drivers to the edge of their abilities, and beyond, in most cases.
Yet, with a media pass on my wrist and almost free rein (within reason), to move around the confines of Baypark Stadium, I more often than not found myself, among other media and the drivers, too, filling the stands alongside the fans instead of those special-entry-only zones.
Why? Because the viewing from such a spot and the intensity felt from the crowd during each battle was exactly like that feeling I remember from the younger years.
Take for example the battle between Gaz Grove and the Australian invader Beau Yates. It may very well have been the closest battle of the event, and it certainly had the biggest crowd investment after Yates progressed despite the on-the-door chase and strong lead by Grove — who was pinged by the judges for not following the correct lines
Although it was given to Yates, the crowd roared up with their disapproval and made it clear who they thought took the win. That’s the kind of protest and surge of dedication to the event that gives you goosebumps.
Or the moment Ben Jenkins leapt from the viewing deck he had been camping on, and legged it through the stands Usain Bolt–style after brother Troy knocked out Brad Smith to progress into the top 16.
Even the visible disappointment displayed by Calvin Clark — who would take out third — after a weekend of stellar driving only to be knocked off the road to the final by the eventual Pro-Sport round winner, Zac Barlass, after a hard-fought battle.
It was, and still is, all about what it has been from the beginning — the highs, the lows, and everything in-between. It’s all about the pure emotional enjoyment of the sport.
The people you meet at each event are what make the events what they are. You’d struggle to find a driver that is too high and mighty in their own ego to take the time for a quick chat — even when they have just broken something and only have a short window to sort it out for the next battle.
Also worth a mention is not only the level of development pumped into cars, even on the most shoestring of budgets, but the effort gone into making sure they are presented to the best of standards is massive — to the point of earning the highest commendations from MSNZ steward Ann.
Credit must be given to Brendon White and the rest of his team for keeping true to the series roots, and its fans, for all these years — while all the drivers must be acknowledged for staying humble and giving it their all, even if it meant being knocked out early.
To wrap up this ramble, congratulations are in order for Pro winner Tom Marshall, with his first round win, alongside runner-up Andrew Redward, and third-placer Adam Davies, with his first career podium.
And in Pro-Sport, congratulations to Zac Barlass for claiming a win only three rounds into his first season, with Cody Pullen-Burry taking second, and Calvin Clark in third.
We’ll catch you all at Hampton Downs, March 25 and 26, for round four.