Tony Stewart (Smoke) is finally getting around to fulfilling a 20-year-old racing invitation.
The three-time Cup champion, now one year removed from his NASCAR racing career, is heading south of the equator to play in the New Zealand dirt.
Stewart will compete in three sprint car events over the next two weeks, two decades after his NASCAR and IndyCar careers kept him from racing in the country.
On Saturday, Stewart will compete in a Porter Hire International Sprintcar Series race at Western Springs Speedway in Auckland, which has hosted racing since 1929. Then on Tuesday, he’ll be part of the series’ action at Robertson Holden International Speedway in Palmerson North. He’ll then make a return visit to Western Springs on Dec. 16.
“The promoter at Western Springs was Willie Kay and he tried to get me to come over for the 1996-97 season but just timing-wise it didn’t work out,” Stewart told The New Zealand Herald. “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 made his return to sprint racing in February following a nearly three-year hiatus. Stewart stepped away from the sport after an August 9, 2014 accident when Stewart’s car struck and killed Kevin Ward Jr. during an Empire Super Sprint Series race at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.
Stewart earned his first win of the year in April in the United Sprint Car Series Spring Speed Xplosion finale at Bubba Raceway Park in Ocala, Florida.
The co-owner of Stewart-Haas Racing said there is “a lot of pressure” on him during his New Zealand tour. He’ll be racing the same 410-cubic inch winger car he races at home.
“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,” Stewart told The Herald. “We are not coming here blind but until you get on each race track you really don’t know what to expect.”
The New Zealand tour will be another chapter in an already eventful offseason for Stewart, which includes Tony getting engaged recently.