The rookie and the rancher

Joel Myers Jr was quickly marked as one to watch on the dirt oval in New Zealand upon arrival in late 2022. It’s easy to forget that the controller behind the machine that effortlessly weaves and dives through track traffic is barely legal to drive.

Once the helmet is on and the flag is dropped, there’s no holding back as the talented youngster battles it out against the best the country has to offer. It’s almost unbelievable that the slender and reserved teenager who climbs out from the car is the same person powering past the concrete wall at over 160kph, outsmarting many an unwitting opponent and withstanding every thrill and spill that comes in his path.

My first encounter with Joel was met with typical teenage nonchalance. This could be brushed off, albeit for the swirling comments of “the next champ” amidst groups of fans vying for a picture. This was no ordinary teenager. This was an incredibly driven and self-assured young man who, in just a few short months, would outdrive some of the best in the business.

Myers Jr graced New Zealand events over the 2022/23 summer images James Selwyn

In his first outing at CMS in Central Otago, he created the hype the sport needs, landing a podium from the rear of the grid in an incredibly challenging feature. Hearing his casual but well-versed responses at prize- giving barely masked the nerves in his voice.

There was no denying the headlines the next day: ‘Teenage Sensation Stuns in Sprint Car’.

Daniel Anderson, alongside daughter Courtney and partner Amanda, has not only been the force behind this secondment but also takes on the role of car owner, mentor, guardian, friend and even rival. The part of the rival was a grey area when, just a few short months later, Myers Jr’s War of the Wings title hunt would be saved by said rival.

Anderson is an unassuming man. Well-spoken and respectful, he has a proven history in racing and owns ‘The Ranch’, an iconic restaurant in Te Anau, on Fiordland’s doorstep. It was marathon sprint boats where his racing teeth were cut before fellow Sprintcar driver Jason Scott introduced him to the dirt arena.

His dirt track career has been incredibly successful. While juggling family, business, and, more recently, global pandemics, he has continued to always be at the pointy end of the field.

However, there is more to this man than trophies in a cabinet represent; his efforts to give back to the sport meaning New Zealand Sprintcar racing is forever benefited.

Joel Myers Jr. In the Ranch Bar and Grill Sprintcar. image James Selwyn

Myers Jr is the second American Wonderkid to grace our shores.

Following the successful campaign of Buddy Kofoid, he travelled to San Francisco and caught up with Kofoid’s car’s original owner, Doug Rutz.

Rutz has an eye for young talent, and Joel’s name was suggested as one to watch. With no convincing needed, it was a gentlemen’s handshake to seal the deal and bring another future star to our shores.

Myers Jr’s racing career officially began at 14 years old. That, combined with a recent pandemic, means his schooling is done via correspondence online. This allows some flexibility with travel and racing requirements, with a sense of self-discipline and maturity ensuring he stays on track with his education, even from the other side of the world.

Anderson takes these aspects of the arrangements very seriously, saying, “I think it’s important that he is coached to manage his emotions both on and off the track, [like] how to be a gentleman when you win and a gentleman when you lose.

“You know, not anyone can do this. To be good, you’ve got to have an edge. Controlled aggression, being aggressive but being in control.”

The learning never stops for Myers Jr. Image Blake Armstrong
Joel Myers Jr. Graced New Zealand tracks over the 2022/23 season Image Blake Armstrong

Courtney Anderson has also been a huge help, giving Myers Jr. someone closer to his age to relate to. He says he has thoroughly enjoyed his time with the family and can’t express his deep gratitude for all they have done.

Anderson believes that prior to the American visits, there was a significant gap between the South and North Island Sprintcar standards, and having youngsters like Myers Jr makes everyone up their game. It also ensures that the younger Kiwi counterparts stay humble, serving as a stark reminder to the older generation that they need to develop continuously.

There is no denying the kid can drive, evident from his War of the Wings title, the King of Cromwell victory, New Year’s Champs success, and an impressive fifth in his New Zealand title campaign. This shows what drive and motivation can do when coupled with incredible self-discipline and natural skill.

Heading into the penultimate round of War of the Wings at Riverside Speedway, Myers Jr was on track to take the series out. Having missed a round due to a trip home, the final two events were crucial for him. So, when he “took a wild ride and destroyed my car”, it all but spelled the end of his winning dream.

Your 2022/2023 War of the Wings Champion, Joel Myers Jr

The series is run under the more decisive American format, giving Anderson the option to give up his car and allow Myers Jr to contest the A-Main.

When asked why he sacrificed his racing that day, Anderson responds, “It was clear there was a huge fan base that had come out to Riverside to see the boy wonder do his thing. Did I want to give up my car? Hell no, but I did what was right for the sport and for the fans and boy, did he put on a show. It was pretty awesome to see how fast my car could go.

“You can’t deny that these American drivers encourage more new fans to Speedway. It’s not uncommon to have families make their first trek to a local club to watch ‘That American Kid’”.

Watching Myers Jr take the chequered that day, returning from such a massive crash and in a different car, spurred a real feeling of pride in Anderson. Whilst he shuns any credit for Myers Jr’s success, no one can deny that so many have benefited from his investment. Instead, he says he feels it’s vital that people do their bit to help improve the sport.

Myers Jr and Anderson both acknowledge Jason Scott for always finding a way to pitch in. The purchase of a trailer proves, yet again, that the unofficial “King of Cromwell” quietly and unassumingly does his bit to help raise the bar.

However, it is Anderson that has funded the entirety of these trips. From conception to completion, it’s the Southerner’s ‘can do’ attitude that has made it happen.

He credits Ruapuna Speedway with jumping on board to support Myers Jr on the track during his Kiwi campaign. It’s a circuit that both agree is their favourite in New Zealand. For Anderson, the same track which has caused him untold pain nowadays brings much enjoyment.

Overcoming his nemesis to feel the rush of the Ruapuna nuances feeds the fire for Anderson these days. At the same time, Myers Jr says he enjoys nothing more than being able to “run the fence” at his favoured Tulare back home in California.

“There’s just something that happens when you pull that helmet on; everything else just seems to go away,” says Anderson. “You know, I’d really like to keep racing. Joel has shown me how fast my car can go. I didn’t know it was that fast.

The 2023 King of Cromwell, Joel Myers Jr.

“Yeah, there are times where the old injuries remind me I’m not in my 20s, But I think I’ve still got a few good years in me yet. The grade needs a mix of young and older.

“The six-shooters have become a great feeder grade for us, but we need more car owners encouraging younger drivers into the seat. It’s just getting harder and harder to rely on sponsors, and we don’t want to lose these young guys from the sport.

“Recently, I’ve really enjoyed racing, especially against Joel, and it’s nice to have my Mum and Dad still travelling to watch, too,” he adds.

“It’s been a real privilege to have had Joel stay with us. To be honest, it actually meant that I can race more than I usually would. Owning a busy restaurant in a tourist town means that the summer months are my most hectic.

“Joel and Courtney have been a huge help with all the car maintenance and mid-week repairs, meaning I am able to focus on work and still get away at the weekend to race.”

Courtney Anderson is studying Sports Psychology at University, and Daniel suspects that it wouldn’t be off the cards to one day have her in the seat. She has a passion for it, as she helps crew for Anderson Race Team.

At just 16, Joel already knows the importance of respect. When asked whom he looks up to, he doesn’t hesitate to mention his Crew Chief Willy Kahne, car owner Steven Tiner, or driver Wily Croft from back home.

“Willy does all my set-up and makes sure everything is on, meaning I can just go out and go hard, confident that the car will do what I need,” he says.

“It’s also helped me to learn so much more about the finer details of setups and how we can make a significant impact with minor tweaks. I’ve learnt how to do my own set-up from him, and I really appreciate his input.”

From 11 starts in New Zealand, Myers leaves with nine wins, multiple podiums, one flip, one DNF, and a wealth of experience and knowledge under his belt.

He says he’s thankful for the help and support from the entire Anderson clan, Brad and Anna from Te Anau Top 10, Greg Hiddleston and Jason Scott, and credits the crew, Brad, Cody, Kev, Courtney, Lance, Leanne and Greg, for all their efforts in the pits.

Myers Jr graced New Zealand events over the 2022/23 summer. Image Blake Armstrong

Myers Jr reckons he’s had it pretty good as an adopted Kiwi. He calls Te Anau the best place in the country and rates anything on the menu of The Ranch as the best food in the country.

So, what’s next for the Sprint Car Sensation?

He’ll have pulled up to Merced Speedway in California just one day after arriving back in the USA, chasing the win, and looking forward to as much seat time as possible. He remains focused on his future in Sprintcars and assures us this is not the last we will see of the Junior Myers.

Leaving the final word for this to the person who made it happen, we asked Anderson for advice he shares with the up-and-comers to the grade.

“Car’s break, people matter,” he says, before offering some further wisdom by stating: “Celebrate every win; it can be a long time between drinks.”

“If you are willing to listen, then there is a wealth of knowledge out there,” he continues before concluding with a typical Anderson quote: “Take 5. Say it in your helmet. Control the aggression.”

The New Zealand Speedway community and the NZ Dirt Track Racing Magazine thank Myers Jr and his family.