Tony Stewart, the bad boy of NASCAR racing and one of the biggest names in American motorsport, will make his New Zealand debut at Western Springs on Saturday night.

The 46-year-old arrived in New Zealand this week for the three-meet Porter Hire International Sprintcar Series and will compete at the Springs this weekend and next as well as a midweek meeting in Palmerston North.

The appearance of the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has been 20 years in the making.

"In 1995 when we won the USAC triple crown we got booked to go to Australia," Stewart told The Herald. "The promoter at Western Springs was Willie K and he tried to get me to come over for the 1996-97 season but just timing-wise it didn't work out. After 1995 I got my first NASCAR ride and the same with an Indycar drive so there was no way I was going to have the time to come back over.


"It has been a long time coming to get over here but we are pretty excited about the chance to come out."

Stewart began his career in karts and speedway before progressing to Indycar and NASCAR. He retired from NASCAR last year and has moved back to his speedway roots.

He is renowned as a passionate and determined racer that will do everything he can to win and he knows there will be a lot of expectation here in New Zealand to do well.

"Obviously the fact that I was a NASCAR driver and have won a lot of races in sprint cars there is a lot of hype about us being here so the last thing we want to do is run at the back of the field," Stewart said.

"There is a lot of pressure, I feel, for us this week.

"I got back in a sprint car after two and a half years and did not have a very good summer. I think we won two races all summer, which isn't very good by our standards."
He's shipped his own car over to New Zealand for the series.

"I am running the same sprint car that we raced in the US. It is a 410 cubic inch winger sprint car. I am pretty excited – it is what I am doing now that I'm not a NASCAR driver anymore. I am back to running sprint cars a lot.

And to be in best possible shape for the trip he has studied video of previous race meetings at Western Springs.


"I have seen a lot of videos of Western Springs – videos from this season even just so you have an idea of how the race track changes through the course of the evening. We are not coming here blind but until you get on each race track you really don't know what to expect.

"Michael Pickens is a huge name over here and he is a big name in the US as well running speedway cars. I haven't seen him run a sprint car a lot but I know he is very, very good. I don't know much about the other guys I am racing but that is not uncommon in US - going to places and not knowing much about the guys you race."