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Dave Argabright - Down Under Diary

DOWN UNDER DIARY December 23, 2003 FISHERS, Indiana, USA - Tuesday, Dec. 23, 3:30 p.m. EST - We get on the plane that's bound for another world in six days, nine hours, and about 25 minutes. Not that I'm counting, of course. Well, yes, I am counting. This is the most ambitious, distant travel of my life, and I'm more excited than almost any moment I recall in recent years. Five days in New Zealand followed by three weeks in Australia, watching race cars and enjoying the summertime of the southern hemisphere. I'm excited about seeing another culture, another continent, another dimension of a planet I hardly know. And I'm thrilled that you're coming with me.

For many years I have dreamed of a trip to Australia and New Zealand. I have many friends-Aussies and Kiwis, they call 'em-who visit the U.S.A. during our summer, and each year the conversation is the same: "When are you coming down to visit us, mate?" "Oh, one of these days…" And then I put the idea on the pile labeled "one of these days," a pile that seems to grow each day. Why is it that we always make time for the things we've got to do, but never time for the things we want to do? But this year is going to be different. There is no more waiting, no more dreaming, no more "one of these days." The time has come.

I'm sitting here at my desk, chasing details. Yesterday was the first day of winter, but the weather is relatively mild, at 37 degrees. It is gray and gloomy and wet, and trying to snow. I can predict the future: it's going to get cold as hell soon enough. A couple of days ago I was on the phone with my friend Peter Physick of Sydney. "Do you know how warm it is today, mate?" he asked. "It's 102. Quite warm, I'll tell you." Quite warm, indeed. As I gaze outside at the dreary scene, I'm trying to imagine what I expect to see in the coming weeks. It's difficult to envision what New Zealand is like, because the only images I'm familiar with are scenes from the Lord of the Rings films, which were produced there. Such a mental picture can be quite misleading; imagine someone who watched old John Wayne westerns coming to Indiana and asking what time the stagecoach arrives.

I have a very vivid idea of what Australia will be like. Right or wrong, I just can't stop thinking about the Outback. Brown and dry and endless, I am fascinated by such a place. I'm certain that I'll see things that are vastly diverse and beautiful, just like the great diversity offered here in the U.S. But the Outback…I just can't stop imagining the Outback. I have no such difficulty predicting the people I'll meet. My guess-and this is indeed just a guess-is that pretty much everybody is happy. Have you ever met a grumpy, frumpy Aussie? Didn't think so. And they tell me that Kiwis are even happier. I know the people there have a powerful love for open wheel racing. Both countries feature midget and sprint car competition; New Zealand is better known for midgets, while Australia is more famous for sprint cars. At least that's my perception; we'll see if I'm right, won't we?

I'll tell you a secret: I'm not just going for the racing. Yes, that's how you pay the bills in this wacky business, but the truth is that I want to see so much more. I want to see as much of the country and the people and the customs that I can. So let this be our little secret, you and I: we'll pretend that this is all about the racing, but I'll tell you about everything else that I discover while I'm there.

The centerpiece of this trip, as far as I'm concerned, is this Down Under Diary. I've written about auto racing for more than 20 years, and I've been fortunate to have a number of loyal readers who have stuck with me along the way. This trip is probably the highlight of my writing career thus far; it is only appropriate that I share the experience with readers and friends. And, good Lord willing and the camera holds up, I'll include some digital pictures of some of the things I'm seeing. With just five days in New Zealand, I'll spend most of my time around Auckland. However, there might be time for a quick jaunt to the southern island, where the Rings films were made.

In Australia my travels will be limited to the eastern and southern regions; Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, and Warnnambool. The Sydney Opera House, the Great Ocean Road, there will be lots to see and do, no doubt about it. I would be remiss to say that the Down Under Diary-this entire trip, really-wouldn't be happening without the support of some great friends of ours (yes, they're your friends too, even if you haven't met 'em yet). Stu Murray of Wirtgen; Roger Johnson of the Kele World Challenge; and Tom Johnson and Randy Steenbergen and the guys at Team 6R Promotions/Hoosier Hundred are all ecstatic about helping make the Diary happen. (Well, actually, I just stuck the "ecstatic" part in there for effect.)

Also, the many websites which have agreed to carry the Down Under Diary; to them I owe a great deal of thanks as well. I will make every effort to post an updated entry here each day. I'll tell you about the sights, the sounds, and the people. Everything I experience, I'll share with you. There will be laughter and learning, scenery and solitude, interesting places and fascinating personalities. I'll be honored to be your eyes and ears as together we explore this fascinating land of 'roos and kiwi birds and adventure. And to you, dear readers, I promise it will be fun, and hopefully memorable. For now, I must get back to today's issues: gifts to wrap, errands to run, and lots of details to chase for the big trip. As I sign off, here's wishing you and your family the happiest holiday you can imagine. Until next time…g'day, mates.

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