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February 24th, 2009

After a rocky start, the quintet of amateur drivers representing the United States in the USA-Kiwi Driving Challenge have rebounded with back-to-back wins to knot the victory count at two apiece with four races still to contest. The New Zealand segment of the competition represents the second half of the competition--the first half consisting of five races on American soil in September. At that time, the Kiwis raced at Northfield Park, Scioto Downs, the Red Mile, The Meadows and Delaware, Ohio on Jugette Day. The tally at "halftime" was USA 123, New Zealand 87.

The Down Under amateurs got off to a quick start on New Zealand's beautiful South Island, however, winning the first two races at Addington Raceway in Christchurch and at rural Banks Peninsula Raceway. The first race was a marathon 2600 meters (1-5/8th miles) event; while the second was a 2000 meter contest over a grass course. The best Americans could do in both contests were second place finishes by Trackmaster president David Siegel. The U.S.'s 36 point advantage had slipped to just 16.

The series moved to Ascot Park in Invercargill, New Zealand's southernmost (and coldest) point for the next two races. In the first, Hoosier Park Race Secretary Gregg Keidel notched a one-length wire-to-wire win with Seldom Gets It over 2200 meters. The second race was won by Siegel, who finished a long neck ahead of Kiwi Steve Phillips, the organizer of the New Zealand segment of this competition. American Bob Troyer hung on for third after a parked-out journey (not at all unusual in the longer, larger field N.Z. races). With teammates Steve Oldford and Kelly Walker also garnering valuable points (using the European scoring system), the Americans reassumed command of the friendly competition by a 202-176 count.

During a two--day break in the racing action, the entire American troupe visited Queenstown, the thrill-seekers capitol of the world. All ten of the drivers and their significant others enjoyed one or more of the following: bungee jumping off a bridge over raging waters, para-gliding off a 12,000 foot cliff overlooking the picturesque resort town, luge racing down the side of a mountain, jetboating over whitewater rapids through a gorgeous narrow river gorge, and horseback riding (on standardbreds) for two hours through magnificent fields, streams and forests.

With the South Island half of the trip completed, the Americans have now landed in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city and the headquarters for the North Island completion to the contest. Two races will be contested today over another grass track at Te Rapa; while the final two heats will be raced at Alexandra Park in Auckland, the site of the $600,000 Auckland Cup a week later.