Kiwi sports hero Nathan Astle has swapped his cricketing whites for the thrills and spills of speedway.
Into his third season of racing speedway, Astle last weekend took out third spot in the hotly-contested South Island Sprint Car Championship.
His love of speedway was a closely held secret during a cricket career spanning 81 tests and 223 one-day internationals.
"I've always followed speedway and enjoyed the speed side of it," Astle said.
"I couldn't do it when I was playing cricket. So when I gave up [in 2007] I started thinking about it. [Former team-mates] have me on a little bit because none of them knew I was a closet speedway freak - or bogan. They were quite surprised.
"It is a big adrenaline buzz and that is hard to explain unless you have been in the car and driven it. It is one of those things you have to physically do to understand how big a buzz it is."
Astle, 41, first got behind the wheel of a race car in 2010, entering the modified sprint car category. After two years, he graduated to racing a high-octane sprint car for the 2012-13 season.
The greatest moment of his fledgling racing career was at Christchurch's Ruapuna Speedway circuit last Saturday, when he claimed third spot in the South Island championship.
"I have a lot to learn in those cars," he said. "But to get third, we had 22 cars [in the competition], is something I'm pretty stoked about.
The intense competitive streak he displayed while in the New Zealand cricket team was evident in his speedway racing career.
He was also replicating his on-field mental approach by clearing his mind as soon as he got into his race car.
"In the car, if your mind is at ease and you are not thinking about 100 different things, then you tend to drive a lot better," he said.
Astle can see himself being involved in racing speedway for several years.
"We don't make any money out of it . . . It is something that we do purely for the love of it," Astle said.
"That is what has amazed me - the passion and the money that people [who race] put into the sport. Behind the scenes, to see the time and effort people put into their racing is amazing.
"And for me being a newbie in the class, everyone is trying to give me tips and help to get up to speed."
A keen goal-setter during his 11 years in the New Zealand cricket team, Astle is already thinking about the 2014 New Zealand Sprint Car title to be decided at Cromwell Speedway early next year.
"By then I should have had a season and a half in this class and understand it a bit better than I do now," Astle said. "I'll definitely be going down there to have a crack at the title."
- Sunday Star Times
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