Lotto multimillionaire Trevor Cooper's colossal win has given the former supermarket worker a global motor-racing ticket to ride.
Cooper, who last year collected $26.5 million after striking first-division Powerball, will next week fly to America to kick-start a race season which will see him line up in some of the most famous sprint car, midget and off-road races in the US.
The 35-year-old will also compete in the Chili Bowl at Tulsa - the "Super Bowl of midget racing" - in January, 2014.
"You could say I am living my dream," Cooper, from the Waikato township of Te Kauwhata, said. "My dream and passion has always been racing.
"I have always been amongst it working on other people's gear - so now it is time to have me own."
After his whopping Lotto scoop last March, Cooper - who had been working at a Huntly supermarket - made no secret of the fact he would invest some of his winnings into creating his own race team.
His race collection now includes a wingless sprint car he will compete with in the US, two international midget cars, a racing go-kart, and two open class off-road buggies he has been racing in New Zealand.
Cooper also has two Pro 2 off-road trucks he is racing in the prestigious Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series in America.
The Pro 2 trucks are two-wheel-drive full-size race trucks, boasting 700-900 horsepower.
The Kiwi's race team are also building a Pro Lite truck - a two-wheel-drive mid-size race truck with 300 horsepower.
And he has bought "a huge Nascar hauler to haul them [his race vehicles] all around" in the US.
Cooper has also tapped into a wealth of motor-racing skill and expertise.
He has had training sessions at the prestigious Cory Kruseman Sprint Car and Midget Driving School in California.
And Cooper has enlisted the help of Kruseman - a two-time Chili Bowl champ, sprint car champion, and former IndyCar and Nascar driver - to help with his race team.
"Cory Kruseman does all the prep and maintenance of my [vehicles]," Cooper said.
"The guy, when it comes to speedway racing, is just a wealth of knowledge . . . from car setup, to track position, throttle control and brake control, he knows it all.
"He lives and breathes the sport . . . he lives how I want to live. It is a dream come true to go up there and do two or three driving schools [with Kruseman] every trip, just to hone my driving skills a little bit better."
Cooper has enjoyed some gains and endured some pain in his budding race career.
He broke a thumb during the New Zealand Endurance Championship for off-roading near Nelson last June. But he went on to finish seventh.
"I am still learning . . . it is a big learning curve and it's about time on the track," Cooper said.
"In America, while racing in the trucks, we're coming up against some of the biggest names in off-road racing up there. And we are holding our own, we're not getting lapped.
"We had some pretty good finishes up there last season. It's just a matter of honing those skills."
Cooper made his debut in the Lucas Oil Off-Road Racing Series in the US last May.
His No 89 truck finished a creditable seventh in a field of 18 racing trucks at his first meeting, at Speedworld Off-Road Park, in Surprise, Arizona.
He was only able to race in half of the season's meetings, but in his debut season still finished 15th overall out of 26 drivers.
"This year we will start the [whole] series . . . we are going to go in a lot stronger and with a lot more knowledge of the truck," Cooper said.
"We have some really good people working on the truck, prepping the truck, and they know it inside out. We are going to be more of a challenge for the bigger guys."
Cooper's off-road trucks will continue to be proudly emblazoned with the words ‘NEW ZEALAND'.
"We love running with our country on the side of the truck," he said. "We are an outsider coming into their sport, and it shakes it all up with a Kiwi coming in and getting in amongst it.
"And we've made friends with some of the biggest names over there [the US]. They've accepted us into the sport, it's not because of our fortune."
Cooper said he especially enjoyed the Pro 2 off-road truck racing.
"It is a supercross track we race on the cars jump up to 40 feet in the air," he said. "It's spectacular racing."
He was also a big fan of sprint car racing.
"The sprint cars are just unbelievable . . . they are like a big old bus to drive but when you put them into a corner they sit really nice," he said. "They are absolutely flying. They have like 800 or 900 horsepower, it's like a midget car but going at three times the speed."
Cooper has also competed recently in several midget car meetings in New Zealand.
Cooper's race team are also developing a new 900 horsepower off-road truck for a series of events around New Zealand later this year.
"If it works out right, we are hoping to do the New Zealand National Off-Roading [champs], as well as the Woodville 100 and the big international Taupo 1000 . . . we hope to also bring some big international drivers down to that race as well," Cooper said.
"We are hoping some of the big drivers from up in America will come down and have a play with us in our own backyard."
He hoped his Boy's Own story would encourage other Kiwis to do what they loved.
"Any message [to New Zealand] would be is that you have to follow your dreams," he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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