It's been two years since young West Virginia racer Jared Hawkins made his only - and winning - appearance at Baypark Speedway.
Hawkins, 26, arrived back in Tauranga on Christmas Eve for five Baypark outings starting tonight behind the wheel of an experimental super saloon car owned by Tauranga's Maurice Cowling.
"I jumped at the chance to come back again. New Zealand is the nicest place I've been to and I met so many great people the first time," said Hawkins.
Hawkins began his trip flying out of Pittsburgh at the weekend in sub-zero temperatures.
"We could ski at home with a foot of snow on the ground. I'm really looking forward to the next couple of weeks because you can't race at home unless you go to Florida in February and the racing around where we come from doesn't get started till March."
This time around Hawkins is Baypark's super saloon car drawcard.
On his first "down under" assignment he accompanied fellow West Virginia racer Josh Richards as a crewman and got a last-minute offer to drive Russell Donovan's car in the NZ Super Saloon Car Grand Prix at Baypark, taking an impressive win.
In the two years since that Baypark victory Hawkins' career has developed steadily. He raced at about 50 events in 2012 - mainly at West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Kentucky tracks and won five feature races.
His biggest win to date came in 2011 with a $30,000 pay day in the World of Outlaws Black Diamond 125 at Tyler County Speedway in West Virginia.
As with the other three cars which Cowling has fielded for US drivers in the past five years there's an experimental edge to the programme. The car has Speedway NZ approval as an official trial for alloy block V8 engines identical to those raced in US Late Models.
SNZ has mandated the car has to run 35kg of ballast to compensate for the advantage over a heavier cast iron block engine.
Because the engine is exactly the same as raced in thousands of Super Late Models throughout the US, Cowling says its biggest advantage is economic.
"It's a lot more engine for a lot less money," says Cowling.
"It's like what has happened in sprint cars in the last few years. There are so many of these engines available in the US."
The car is designated Pro-XL with the L designating its Late Model design while maintaining links to sister Pro-X chassis saloons and super saloons. Cowling raced the car briefly at the end of last season in a saloon car configuration.
The lower part of the chassis and the suspension layout duplicates a Super Late Model design while the upper roll cage structure is New Zealand legal.
"The jury is still out but I believe this style of car is at least as good and in some conditions superior to the cars we have traditionally built in New Zealand," says Cowling.
This time Hawkins is accompanied by his younger brother Jacob, who turns 23 today. And like his brother did two years ago, Jacob has also brought along his helmet and race suit just in case the offer of a drive crops up in the next fortnight.
Tonight' s Baypark meeting features the NZ Sprint Car Grand Prix with a 30-car entry headed by US racers Jonathan Allard, Peter Murphy and Ricky Logan, who have already made early season Baypark appearances.
Hawkins' opposition in the super saloons includes national champ Steve Flynn (Napier) along with Aucklanders Ben Harding and Craig Cardwell and top Baypark racers Matt Smith, Gavin Dyer and Dean Waddell.