Laid-back Sydneysider Chris Holder had a rough start in the opening round of last year's world speedway GP in Auckland, finishing 12th in the 16-man field.
But the season went a lot better from there, with the 25-year-old becoming the youngest world champion. Holder and the world's other top speedway bike riders return to Western Springs on March 23 for the first race of the 2013 series, which is otherwise raced on European tracks. Holder talks speedway with the Weekend Herald, including his spat with the fiery Dane Nicki Pedersen, who he beat for the world crown.
What was the feeling when you nailed the title in the last race in Poland?
You set out to be world champion but it was a bit of a surprise since it was only my third season in the GP. To walk away with the win was an unbelievable feeling - hopefully I can do it a few more times.
What do you put the breakthrough down to?
A bit more experience ... and my partner and I have our little baby son Max which meant I have had to grow up pretty quick. I'm not out all the time running amok. You celebrated the world title by getting smashed up a few weeks later ...
I tore a ligament in the back of my left knee which was a bit of a bummer. I didn't do surgery because I couldn't run the risk of missing the beginning of the season. The ligament isn't attached any more so I've got to be careful. I've been told a lot of rugby players and sports people still do their thing without that ligament attached. I'm good to go.
How did you start off in speedway?
My dad raced a bit in Australia and he was also friends with a few guys who had raced in England.
What's the inside word on the Western Springs track?
It's probably the biggest on the circuit. I really enjoyed it, as bad as I raced. It wasn't one of my better days - I was freaking out afterwards. We've made a few changes to the engine and I'm looking forward to getting some redemption. We've all learned about the traction we get there - last year we all went in blind. It's not a real technical track - it comes down to the set-up of the bike. If you are racing the right lines, you are hard to catch.
Your favourite track?
Torun, my home track in the Polish league. It has a lot of great lines. You can go everywhere on it with cool ways of getting around - any track where you can pass easily is good.
What about the Pedersen rivalry ...
We had a couple of little run-ins - that's his style of racing and he gets into a few things with other riders. We had one go in Copenhagen and another at the end of the year in Torun where we almost came to punching each other. I knocked him off in the semifinal and he came back to the pits and couldn't help himself. These things usually do come out again on the track. We've had a long break but it could come out in the first race. Everyone gets on away from the track but when it comes to racing, we turn into completely different people.
Is there anything you would change in speedway?
Air walls should be mandatory at all levels, not just the top leagues. A lot of guys get badly injured hitting timber fences and even concrete walls.
Motocross ... and when I get home I'll go surfing when I can. I go down Wollongong way - we're closer to Wollongong than Sydney. Are you looking forward to Auckland?
Everything is about to start again which is exciting. Everyone was really happy with Auckland last year - the riders talked about it for ages. We were blown away by the stadium, the way it is set into the hills. We have to pay for the lot at all the other GPs - getting there, the hotels, transport. In Auckland, the organisers pay for everything including plane tickets. It's amazing. None of us can believe it. It's on the other side of the world but it's the cheapest one we do.