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June 21, 2013

Erin Evernham Races at the 3rd Annual Leadfoot Festival


By Erin Evernham

The slogan on my souvenir shirt reads, “To some it’s a driveway, to others it’s a race course, but to Rod Millen, it is a dream.” Rod Millen is one of the most accomplished hill climb and rally racers ever. After Rod and his wife Shelly attended the Goodwood Festival of Speed in England a few years back, they decided to create their own version of the event in Rod’s home country of New Zealand. And they have done just that with the Leadfoot Festival (as they named it): they have built from scratch a first-class event that brings together classic cars, vintage motorcycles, old race cars, and motorsports legends.

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of attending the 3rd Annual Leadfoot Festival. It is a spectacular event: Each driver gets to run their car up the 1.2-mile long driveway for best time. As I write this I am struggling to find sufficient words to describe how well this event was put together and how “proper” everything was. Their property consists of 140 acres: The driveway starts in hilly green fields, heads up a pretty steep hill with switchbacks into the woods, and ends overlooking ocean cliffs. The course was lined perfectly with hay bales and every corner worker wore white overalls. They had multiple giant white tents for hospitality and other events. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before and I have been around motorsports and car shows my entire life.

Rod-Millen_Leadfoot-Festival_New-Zealand-and-Bora-Bora-040-Erin_Evernham-carsMy husband Ray and I shipped our cars over from the states. I drove a 1969 Chevy Nova that had raced in the NASCAR Sportsmen Series back in the 1970’s and was painted up as a tribute to Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s Sportsman’s car. Ray drove a 1930’s NASCAR Modified Coupe that has a fuel injected engine that runs on Methanol and throws big flames when he gets off the accelerator. We had a blast racing them up the hill. Each day we each got two runs, so over the course of the weekend, we each got a total of six runs. Both of our cars were built to be oval track cars so they were built to only turn left well -- which added a bit of a challenge on the sharp right handers. Ray did a bit of “off roading,”  so they nicknamed him “Hay Bale Ray” and they also gave him a hard time about his wife beating him by a few seconds!   :)

Rod-Millen_Leadfoot-Festival_New-Zealand-and-Bora-Bora-056-Erin_Evernham-landscapeIn addition to the racing events, many participants dress in vintage clothing during the festival. On Friday night the Millens hosted a welcoming party outside one of their incredible barns, and Saturday night was a Formal Ball to which participants wore pre-1970’s formal attire. The Ball was done so very well down to the very last detail. The Millens held the event in another one of their barns and lined the walls with black curtains and hung mason jars all over with candles burning in them. Unfortunately, my description is not doing this event much justice! They even had a surprise guest who got up and gave us a little private performace… Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. He is a good friend of theirs and a huge car guy!

Rod-Millen_Leadfoot-Festival_New-Zealand-and-Bora-Bora-014-Erin_Evernham-landscapeNew Zealand itself was breathtaking. The landscape where we stayed was like nothing I have ever seen. It was a combination of tropical rain forest and ocean cliffs with beautiful rock formations protruding from the water. I was amazed at how “undiscovered” New Zealand is. The country’s total population of 4.4 million people is just about half of the population of New York City. We stayed in a gorgeous beach town and “popular” vacation spot, yet the nearest grocery store was about 45 minutes away! We found the people there to be extremely hospitable. They would jump to offer to help you in anyway. We made some great friends.

As you can probably tell by now, we had a wonderful trip and I can almost guarantee you that we will be making the Leadfoot Festival an annual trip for us!

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Erin Evernham




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