From Pukekohe to Miami Vice

If you were to compare the golden years of New Zealand motorsport, then the Formula Pacific & Atlantic years were the Bee Gees to the Tasman Series Beatles.

It is hard to complete with the hit parade of Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Jack Brabham, Jackie Stewart, Bruce McLaren and Chris Amon - but there was plenty of flair…and flares from 1977 onwards, starting with the first of two NZGP wins for Keke Rosberg.

Rosberg wasn't the only future 'F1 Dad' to feature, with Jos Verstappen also racing in New Zealand.  Other names like Davy Jones, Bobby Rahal and Roberto Moreno all raced here against kiwi stars like Craig Baird, Ken Smith and Paul Radisich. Few drivers, however, can match the story of Danny Sullivan…both before and after his run in the 1978 NZGP.

Sullivan arrived in New Zealand after years spent working as a cab driver, lumberjack and even a chicken ranch hand. A latecomer to motorsport, he raced in the UK before trying his luck down-under.

Colin Giltrap saw enough to sponsor him, and he would finish third behind Rosberg and Larry Perkins in the 1978 NZGP at Pukekohe.

He would again dice with Rosberg in the 1983 race of champions at Brands Hatch, but his F1 career never took off. He raced in several classes, before becoming a CART champion in 1988. But it was his 1985 Indy 500 victory that cemented his place in motorsport folklore as he spun on lap 120 while leading and recovered. He then held off the challenge of Mario Andretti to 'spin-and-win' at the brickyard.

Sullivan had gone from shovelling chicken manure to being the superstar of American racing. In 1986 he guest-starred in an episode of Miami Vice, which at the time was one of the biggest show on Television. Other roles followed, both on the small screen and as a model in fashion magazines earning him the nickname 'Hollywood.'

While his star rose, his performances on the track fell away, in 1987 he didn't score a single victory. The following season he gave Hollywood the flick, leading to four wins and the Indy Car World Series title.

Sullivan though had already achieved immortality because since 1985, any time a driver recovers from a high-speed spin, you'll hear US commentators describe it as 'Doing a Danny".

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