Auto Poster Ex-sports stars Nathan Astle and Whetu Taewa find adrenaline fix in sprintcar racing

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Apr 23, 2013
The staggering success of their sporting careers might not have crossed over to the speedway track, yet, but two former test stars say the buzz of just being in a sprintcar field makes up for a lack of chequered flags.

There's not tens of thousands in the crowd, no extensive media coverage and few, if any, autograph hunters but Nathan Astle and Whetu Taewa wouldn't have it any other way.

Astle, a record breaker with the bat for the Black Caps, and Taewa, the man who orchestrated the Warriors first ever try, are accustomed to success on the big stage, with the silver fern on their chests, but surprisingly they are getting more of an adrenaline kick from being strapped into a 635kg rocket ship that produces more than 900 horsepower.

Astle, who played 81 tests and 223 ODIs for the Black Caps, started in speedway back in 2010 but has undergone a stop-start career due to family commitments.

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He lives in Canterbury but races alongside Taewa out of Cromwell.


Nathan Astle celebrates his record-breaking double century in Christchurch back in 2002.

Due to restrictions in his New Zealand Cricket contract, Astle was unable to compete in speedway during his playing days but has been interested the sport most of his life.

"I've always followed speedway from a young fluff," he told Stuff.

"Dad used to take me out to Ruapuna when the bikes were there."


Whetu Taewa was a key man for the Warriors during their inaugural Winfield Cup season in 1995.

Astle started his own racing carer in modified sprints - effectively a baby sprint car - back in 2010 and following two seasons moved to sprintcars.

So what's the difference between facing deliveries from Shoaib Akhtar or Brett Lee at 150kmh to driving a sprintcar at 160kmh?

"Adrenaline difference between the two sports is probably not a comparison at all. Cricket's pretty laid back," Astle said.

He might not intimidate his rivals like he did at the batting crease but Astle is loving his time behind the wheel.


Former Black Cap Nathan Astle started racing at Ruapuna Speedway back in 2010.

"It's awesome adrenaline, a big buzz and pretty enjoyable.

"The adrenaline when you're out in a sprint car amongst 19 other cars, close together racing, it's something I keep telling people you can't explain unless you've sat in the car, been involved in it and actually had a drive," he said.

Despite his 16 ODI hundreds, Astle, who was always in a hurry with a bat in hand, is best known for his test match record-breaking innings of 222 against England in Christchurch back in 2002.

"That's one day I'll never forget. Something that will stay with me for a long time," Astle said.


Former Kiwis league player Whetu Taewa is cradled back to the pits by two tow trucks following a crash at Nelson earlier this season.

He scored 222 from 168 deliveries, a knock that included 28 fours and 11 sixes.

His double ton came from just 153 balls. That still stands as the world record for the fastest double century in test cricket.

"The 222 would probably be the closest to the sprintcar, that was an amazing day, it was fast paced I suppose for a test match game, the same as a sprintcar."

Astle, who is not a religious watcher of cricket nowadays, spent hours upon hours training for cricket but said the time commitment with speedway is also demanding.


Former Black Cap turned sprintcar racer Nathan Astle will contest the New Zealand championships at Cromwell on February 1 and 2.

"I've got a lot of respect for everyone in the speedway world. It's probably the cruellest sport I've ever come across with the highs and lows.

"But everyone, they get on with it, the hours, the travel, obviously the money that they spend to get out each week on the track for something that they love doing and don't get any reward out of is unbelievable and I think if a lot of people came behind the scenes and see what the guys do I think they'd be pretty blown away."

Taewa, who first represented the Kiwis when he was just 18, was a key figure in the Warriors' inaugural season back in 1995 and went on to play for the North Queensland Cowboys the following year.

In 1998, Taewa was playing centre for the Sheffield Eagles' in their 17-8 upset victory over Wigan in the 1998 Challenge Cup final in front of 70,000 people at Wembley Stadium.

But Taewa, a West Coaster who also represented Canterbury, agrees with Astle the adrenaline buzz of sprintcar racing is tough to beat despite his stellar career on the league field.

"The adrenaline is a lot higher and to be fair probably much more enjoyable too," Taewa said.

The six test veteran and New Zealand Māori representative also played for Hull Kingston Rovers during his time in England. He started competing in speedway around 2009.


Nathan Astle with Jason Scott, who has played a key role in Whetu Taewa and Astle racing sprintcars.

Taewa, who is based in Cromwell, was introduced to the sport via the production saloon grade by the late Daryl Ainsley.

He was later persuaded into sprintcars by fellow Cromwell racer Jason Scott.

Taewa, who still does a small amount of rugby league coaching, said the two sports are "totally different".

He always had an interest in motorsport in his younger days but was never hands on.

"Pretty much before I started, I didn't know anything about cars," Taewa told Stuff.

"I was a late starter you might say."

Taewa, who is also dabbling in other forms of motorsport, described his Kiwis debut, the Warriors inaugural match and the Challenge Cup victory as his career highlights.

Astle and Taewa will contest the New Zealand sprintcar championships on February 1 and 2 in Cromwell.

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