With his quick smile and aw-shucks demeanor, Scott Dixon, who cemented his IZOD IndyCar Series championship on October 19 by finishing fifth in a close race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, would pass for a Hoosier if it weren't for his Kiwi accent and dry sense of humor. Like a good Midwesterner, he likes to talk about fixing things – cars, planes, odds and ends around his house outside Indianapolis, himself – and is reluctant to brag.
Fortunately, his record speaks for itself. Over the unprecedented 10 years he's been driving for the Target-sponsored Chip Ganassi Racing team, Dixon has downed a bottle of milk at the Indy 500, won the IndyCar three times, and finished in the top three nine times. All that winning can take a lot out of a guy, so Dixon tries to recharge his batteries by heading back to his retreat at Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, when the season ends.
"My place down there is actually the first house I ever owned," says Dixon. "It was a big place for New Year's Eve parties and I liked that. Now, I just relax and catch up with friends."
The reason that "The Mount" is perfect for parties is exactly the same as the reason it is perfect for a racer looking to chill out in the off-season. The town sits on a sandbar at the edge of New Zealand's North Island so it is lined on both sides by beautiful beaches. The sands lead toward a dormant volcano named Mauao that looms over the cheerful downtown, which has more in common with shiny Honolulu than any place in the American Midwest.
"The hiking is really good there," says Dixon. "And in December I can go to the tests at the local track."
The Baypark Speedway, where stock cars duke it out on a dirt track, is a popular local stop with the kind of guys that instantly recognize Dixon. But the driver says his fame in New Zealand seems to fluctuate based more on the success or failure of the All Blacks rugby team, a national obsession, than his own victories. Still, he's quick to point out that Kiwis have been racing enthusiasts since legendary New Zealand driver and car designer Bruce McLaren won his first F1 race at Sebring in 1959. He grew up around men who wanted to race.
"I don't drive at the track though," Dixon adds – as though an insurance agent might overhear. "It's just fun to go with some guys and drink a few beers."
More information: By car, Mount Maunganui is two and a half hours south of Auckland. Check into the Oceanside Resort and Twin Towers, where $130-a-night rooms offer million-dollar views of the Pacific.