For the Brazil Times
PUTNAMVILLE--Four-time New Zealand Midget champion Michael Pickens has traveled halfway around the world to race in the eighth annual Indiana Midget Week, which makes its second stop tonight at Lincoln Park Speedway.
"It's where the competition is at," Pickens explained.
Pickens adds high-quality depth to the five-race series, a coveted mini-championship within the USAC Mopar National Midget schedule. The 29-year-old Kiwi won at Kokomo Speedway, was second at Lawrenceburg Speedway and finished fifth in the points in the mini-series a year ago.
Pickens has already had a big 2012. He captured his second straight New Zealand title and won the World 50 lapper, the closing race of a three-round international world championship at Western Springs Speedway in his native country, in early January. USAC stars Bryan Clauson and Kyle Larson were second and third, respectively, and Kevin Swindell and Jerry Coons Jr. were also in the field.
Pickens began his American tour by winning at Valley Speedway in Grain Valley, Mo., Friday and Springfield (Mo.) Raceway on Saturday in the POWRi Lucas Oil National Midget Series. The Bill Buckley-owned team shipped its Essingler-powered Breka and brought its crew from New Zealand and Australia.
Pickens also won two POWRi events a year ago headed into Indiana Midget Week.
"We were able to back up what we did last year and get the ball rolling for next week," Pickens said.
Clauson is a three-time National Midget Driver of the Year and twice has won the USAC National Drivers championship and the USAC National Midget title. The 22-year-old from Noblesville, who finished 33rd in his first Indy 500 in May, will be trying to win at Lincoln Park for the second straight season. He also took the Midget week title a year ago.
Hagen leads the USAC National Midget championship over East, 327-277, going into Wednesday's Midget week opener at Gas City I-69 Speedway. Larson, of Elk Grove, Calif., is third in the points with 262. Caleb Armstrong is fourth with 252, followed by Jones with 241, Clouser with 235, Hines with 225, Clauson with 217, Levi Roberts with 215 and Dalton Armstrong with 188.
Indiana Midget Week continues Friday at Bloomington Speedway, Saturday at Lawrenceburg and Sunday at Kokomo. The five events are contested on dirt tracks.
Larson will not be at Lincoln Park or Bloomington. He's driving in the ARCA stock car event at Michigan Speedway in Brooklyn. Clauson will miss Bloomington. He's driving in the Firestone Indy Lights event at Milwaukee.
Previous winners this season in USAC National Midgets have been East and Hagen at Ace Speedway in Altamahaw, N.C., Larson and Hines at Dodge City (Kan.) Raceway Park, Hines at Lucas Oil Raceway of Indianapolis and Brady Bacon at Tri-State Speedway in Haubstadt, Ind. Dodge City and Tri-State are dirt tracks, Ace and Lucas Oil are paved.
Practice begins at 6 p.m. and adult tickets are $20 for Lincoln Park and the other four Indiana Midget Week events.