UPDATE: August 29, 2012 – Greg Tracy has accepted an invitation from Rod Millen to attend the 2013 Leadfoot Festival. Greg’s inaugural run at the event was this past March. Here is his adventure at the Leadfoot Festival, in his own words, from 2012.
I am just getting back from the Leadfoot Festival in New Zealand. What an amazing experience!! Rod and Shelly Millen have been dreaming about creating the Leadfoot Festival, right in their own backyard, for years. I am lucky, as I have heard many a conversation with Rod and his son Rhys about how the course was being created; what corner was like some other famous racetrack and how the whole process came together while we worked as stuntmen on car commercials over the past decade.
The Millen’s trace their racing roots to the countryside roads that criss-cross their beautiful homeland of New Zealand. Rod’s racing began in New Zealand, took him around the world and ultimately he has gone full circle back to NZ where he has built a road that crosses his property with turns that mimic some of his favorite courses, even constructing one of my favorites, the W’s at Pikes Peak. The course and the festival is most definitely, a dream come true for Rod and Shelly. A kiwi version of “Field of Dreams”.
Last year was the inaugural year of the Leadfoot Festival and after hearing Paul Dallenbach talk about his experience, I knew I had to go….if I was ever so lucky (and fortunate) to be invited. Getting invited this year was a huge honor. I have so much respect for the Millens and their driving abilities, their records, their family history, their friendship, I just had to be a part of it. I knew that this was an invitation of a lifetime, one of the check boxes on any racer’s bucket list and it was most definitely on my list. After I received the invitation, I contacted Jason Chinook, Ducati North America, who was able to help me put something together by getting a Multistrada for me to race from Chris Haldane at Haldane’s Ducati in Auckland. I had all the pieces in place to be able to race. I was going to the Leadfoot Festival!
My dad and I hopped on a plane on Monday night before the event, for the 12 hour flight to Auckland, New Zealand. We arrived Wednesday morning and went for a drive to a famous beach in Raglan. It was amazing and so beautiful! That night we went back to Auckland and checked into the Skycity Hotel, had a few beers to relax, saw a bit of the town and went to bed. Thursday morning we went to Haldane’s and picked up a gorgeous, white Ducati Multistrada. The boys at Haldane’s already had it completely prepped and race ready (thank guys!) and we headed for the Millens on the other side of New Zealand. On arrival we were blown away by the beauty of the Millen property. The only thing I could compare it to, would be Pebble Beach and lets just say I would rather hang out at Millen Ranch.
We were able to drive up the road that we would be taking our timed runs on, during the festival and I was pumped. The start took you over a bridge to a right and then left-hander, followed by a straight that ran towards one of the barns named the “Black Barn”. Situated in the “Black Barn” were the motorcycle “pits” as well as Rod’s famous Pikes Peak Celica, a 1972 McLaren F1 car and a Formula 5000 race car. It was a race fan’s dream garage for sure, but I digress – back to the race course. From just past the barn, you went through an “S” turn before running into the Pikes Peak style W’s, which seemed oddly familiar in such a far off place. At the end of the W’s was a rock wall on the inside that reminded me of something from Isle of Man. From there, there was a combination of turns to the finish line, that ran through the trees. This section of road would be covered with the trees, which meant that this portion of the course would stay a bit damp during most of the three days. I was already starting to run the course in my head and plan on how we would prep the bike.
Ahhh….prepping the bike! Just a small detail and of course once we unloaded the Ducati, we realized that we had forgotten the gas can and the bike stands. Hmmmm….. Maybe it was the jet lag, maybe it was the beers, either way they were needed. It was at this point I started thinking about tire warmers and the fact that I did not have any. Another…hmmmmm……as I scratched my head, talked to my dad and discussed what we really needed to do, for the conditions and the course. The runs would probably only last 60 seconds or less, meaning the tires would never get any temperature in them, and the idea of running through the trees on a damp road, with cold tires, well…. seemed unwise. This is when we met Kevin Grant, a fellow racer and owner of some amazing motorcycles, including a Britten (one of ten) and the 1927 Isle of Man winning Norton. First let me say, Kevin was one one of the nicest guys I have ever met (I said that statement a lot in New Zealand) and he came to our rescue. When we started talking about what we were missing, he started making calls to see who could bring any of the needed items to us. By the start of practice we had stands, a gas can, tire warmers and two new friends. We were ready to race!
Friday’s practice was so fun! The bike pits were filled with some of the most famous riders and motorcycles in history. Stephen Briggs, a former KTM factory supermoto and 250 GP rider, was pitted next to us on a KTM 990. Stephen had brought the tire warmers and competition, a nice combination. I must say being a car guy as well, that there was an amazing assortment of race cars and it was hard to not just stop, watch and of course, listen. The Kiwis like to stuff big V8’s into small cars, so the sounds were great. There were Formula cars, World Rally Cars, the only surviving F1 car from the very first GP, Rhys Millen’s back flip truck, the Pikes Peak Celica and a bunch of other really cool vehicles.
At the end of the day, the Millens threw a welcome cocktail party at the Black Barn. We had a great time, meeting many of the participants and everyone was dressed up in pre-1970 clothing (a festival request) and dressing up in period costumes was such a really cool idea. It just made you feel like you had stepped back in time and were witnessing these cars, racers in their inaugural glory. Definitely, one of those moments in your life that is hard to explain. We all shared stories, lots of laughter and enjoyed the scenery. As the night wound down, discussions quickly started to turn to who could outdo the other and we were all ready to get on course and race.
Saturday morning we began timed runs. At the end of the day, I had the quickest motorcycle time, but for me the excitement was that I was 6th fastest overall. It feels good to be faster than some pretty outrageous machines, with four big contact patches which is a testament to the Ducati Multi’s kick-butt stock settings! After the runs on Saturday, we prepared for another event at the Millen Ranch. That Saturday night in New Zealand, will go down as one of the most enjoyable parties, in one of the most amazing places, I have ever been to. Starting with a cocktail party that was followed by a pre 1970’s black tie ball, we had a sit down dinner in one of the barns that looked out on the ocean. After an incredible dinner, we all went outside to listen to a popular New Zealand band play some old school favorites. It was during this point of the party that an announcement was made about a special guest. I could not imagine how things could get better, but then Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top stepped up on the stage. Billy sang many of the famous tunes like Sharp Dressed Man! What’s even better about Billy, is that he is also a car guy and loves racing. What a night!!
Sunday morning we were back for our final runs. I felt like I had run pretty hard, but the Rally Cars had been driving like Rally Cars do, two tires on the track and two off, so I had to be a little soft in the corners that were covered in grass and mud. At the end of the day, I was still in the top ten overall with the cars. The bike and I were in one piece and I had spent some wonderful time with my Dad and some amazing riders and drivers. It was such an honor to be part of the event and I am so glad that my dad and I could spend the time together. Thank you Shelly and Rod for an experience I will never forget. (Video of my full run below).
We flew home on Monday, the long flight gave me time to reflect on the event and life itself. First, I enjoyed spending time with my Dad. I have to say that spending time in New Zealand reminded me of the importance of chasing your dreams and also of giving back. Rod and Shelly Millen put their hearts and souls into this event and it showed. The hospitality was overwhelming, the festival itself was epic. Rod chased his dreams of being one of the best drivers in the world, set records all over the globe, achieved some of the highest honors in racing and and now he is giving back in a big way! The people of New Zealand are some of the nicest in the world. They also know how to go fast…really, really fast. So if you are looking for something to do next year, an adventure that mixes beauty, speed, great people and an exotic location.
Mark your calendars for the 3rd annual Leadfoot Festival.
One of Greg Tracy’s timed runs on the Ducati Multistrada at The Leadfoot Festival in New Zealand.
Some background – The Leadfoot Festival is a unique weekend bringing together a mix of classic cars, vintage motorcycles and motorsport legends. Limited tickets were offered to the general public with an invitation to Rod Millen’s private grounds at Leadfoot Ranch. The 140 acre, ocean-front estate features a long driveway that winds through the property designed to be the perfect hill climb. Guests were given one-of-a-kind experiences featuring unparalleled access to the drivers, pits and racecars. The Leadfoot Festival is designed for men and women, boys and girls. Visitors dress in period style clothing to step back in time making the Leadfoot Festival an incredible family experience and a true celebration of motorsports and all things automotive.
The selection of machinery on Leadfoot Ranch included a spectacular array of the world’s finest competition cars and motorcycles. From classic formula and road race cars to off-road machines and motorcycles, the Leadfoot Festival attracts drivers, riders and race vehicles reminiscent of many eras in an enthusiastic display of speed, style, sound, smell and color.
Rod Millen personally hand selects championship racers from around the world, to receive the coveted invitation to participate in the Leadfoot Festival. A collection of static celebrated vintage cars and bikes lined areas of the paddocks to add color to the weekend.