On the outskirts of Cromwell, Highlands Motorsport Park has more than a few pulses racing. Multimillionaire backer Tony Quinn charts its course with Shane Gilchrist.
Tony Quinn has big plans. There are pages of them, laid out in front of him in a building at present doubling as an office on the western edge of Cromwell.
Should he need more tangible images, he need only walk 50m or so to take in an animated scene that ranges from hard-hat-wearing engineering types to earthmoving equipment.
Just off State Highway 6, partially visible to the scurry of campervans, trade vehicles and the busloads of young and old heading to and from Queenstown some 60km away, the developments at Quinn's Highlands Motorsport Park have been turning more than a few heads of late.
Or to use the words of Quinn, the Gold Coast-based Scottish multimillionaire businessman whose conversational pace matches a love for cars that go fast, "Now this thing is coming out of the ground, everyone is going, `holy f ... '."
The 88ha Highlands development, due to officially open in March next year, has been described as a "Disneyland for motorsport fans".
Dwarfing the Central Motor Speedway, which sits adjacent on Sandflat Rd, it will boast three separate racetracks (which can be combined to create a 4.5km circuit), a kart track, a motorsport museum, a restaurant and wine-tasting facility, member garages and a mini-golf area.
The conditions of Highlands' resource consent allow for 16 race days a year as well as vehicle testing, driver training, and corporate and film industry-related activities. The development also has provision for an automotive-related commercial park.
Central Otago and its surrounds have reverberated with big talk before (whatever happened to the international air-freight link mooted for Alexandra more than a decade ago?), but what seems to have pulses racing lately is the pace at which Quinn's project has progressed.
As Cromwell Community Board chairman and deputy mayor of Central Otago Neil Gillespie said the day before a face-to-face interview with Quinn late last week: "I think there is a quiet buzz about it, but no-one quite knows what it's going to mean. We can't quite imagine it.
"I admire the balls of the man to say, `I'm going to make this thing work'.At this, Quinn emits a high-pitched laugh, which is only partly the result of his Aberdeen heritage.
"That's one of the problems I face. People look at me and think, `Is this guy for real?' But this is just my thing.
"Sure, it's a bit disproportionate to the average guy, but I can afford to do it."
Quinn is not boasting. The man behind V.I.P Petfoods, which has eight factories in Australia, 600 staff, a large export business and annual turnover of more than $A300 million ($NZ382 million), had an estimated worth of $A350 million as of May last year, according to the BRW Rich 200 List.
"I've done very well, to be fair. I've paid a lot of tax, done well ... and am always looking for a challenge.
"There is no difference between doing this and buying an office block in Sydney. Well, I already own one of those. I don't need another one. You know what I mean?
"I think, because of the quality of it, people are going to realise this is not a `Hendo's Hole' deal," Quinn says in reference to Christchurch-based developer David Henderson's failed construction project at Frankton.
(Queenstown Gateway recently had resource consent approved for a $125 million seven-building mega-mall covering the excavation for a two-level underground car park left by Henderson when his initial development on the site went into receivership in 2008.)
"I don't chase money. That's not what I'm about. I just want to chase the dream or the challenge or whatever. Money comes if you do all right, but it is about creating something that you are proud of."
Continuing on the subject of money, the oft reported cost of $A20 million for the Highlands project is put to Quinn.
"It's not accurate, but it's a good starting point," he says.
"An actual figure should never have been mentioned because I'm not one to talk in millions.
"I'm not doing this to get a return on investment. When I told my four kids - and I should say my youngest is 30 - that I was going to build a race track near Queenstown, they said, `What the ...?
'"I told them I'm going to do this properly and it's going to be something we are all going to be proud of. I'm putting up this money for it but after that it's going to have to look after itself.
I set aside a lump of money and that said, `That's it'."
Another question rolling off the tongues of more than a few is, `Why Cromwell?'
Well, it wasn't actually Quinn's idea.
Grant Aitken, of Queenstown, along with Ian Begg and Allan Dippie, both of Dunedin, came up with the plan for a motorsport park in the area about a decade ago (Cromwell Motorsport Park Trust Ltd was incorporated in 2004).
They spent seven years getting the resource consent. Joined later by Scott O'Donnell, of Invercargill, the quartet approached Quinn to see if he would be interested in being involved in the project.
"Grant Aitken rang me up and said, `We're building a track and would you be interested in being a shareholder'," recalls Quinn, who then, sufficiently enthused about the project, offered to buy the company.
Hence the 55-year-old is now sole director of Motorsport Park Trust Ltd, the founding quartet now holding roles as voluntary consultants.
Cromwell makes perfect sense to Quinn, who owns a house in the lower Shotover area near Queenstown. He and wife Christine visit two or three times a year at least; they like to escape the summer humidity of their other home, on the Gold Coast.
"Queenstown gets one and a-half million visitors a year*, many of whom would drive past Cromwell on the way to Wanaka. I want them to stop here and stay in Cromwell."
"Look, what I've built is probably 10 times what was originally intended. And the reason for that, really, is my vision is to have an international attraction," Quinn says.
"I want people to stop thinking about it solely as a racetrack. It's a venue, a motorsport-themed venue that can be used for a multitude of events.
"My vision is to have outfits like Michelin, Pirelli using it as a test facility, bringing new products and developments, as well as having it as a members' facility kind of like a golf course, where there will be 100 elite members who will be able to do absolutely whatever they want on the track."
Quinn claims the membership fee will be "minuscule" in global terms.
Too high, he says.
How about $30,000?
Roughly, he agrees.
"It's about having a bit of freedom, being a member of a club that doesn't have too many rules.
"There are a lot of Kiwis who have done well for themselves who find themselves pulled over by a cop for doing 104kmh in a brand-new car that has ABS, radial tyres, traction control, all the safety features. Guys like that need to come here and have a blast.
"The facility will also be open to local car clubs in a limited fashion, because we want to keep it a little bit exclusive. You can go to Teretonga, Levels or Ruapuna and have a day where you can do whatever you like, but this will be a bit special.
"We have also built this go-kart track that will be open to the public. The existing go-kart track will be superseded. We will have a membership whereby karters can come and use it; as well as a tourist thing, it will be something that can be used by locals."
Quinn is aiming to stage at least two flagship race meetings a year. Though he has already had meetings with Motorsport New Zealand, he makes it clear he requires no official sanctions to stage a race.
That said, he also has no intention of pinching business from the established racing tracks in the South Island, notably Teretonga (Invercargill), Ruapuna (Christchurch) or Levels (Timaru).
"They've got their own thing going on; that's not my gig. But what I do want to do is establish at least two iconic annual events."
It is likely the first race meeting at Highlands will be the Australian GT series in November next year.
"At the moment I'm building six 40-foot containers that will each house four cars. The plan is to bring an Australian racing category to Highlands every year. I'm not talking V8 Supercars; I'm talking GT cars, things like Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Porsches, cars you don't really see," Quinn says.
"We might also see the Masters Touring Cars or the little Aussie racing cars or utes.
I'd like to have a transtasman weekend where the local boys can race the Aussies. Then I'd also like to develop something that was the Bathurst of New Zealand, something that was a multidriver endurance challenge."
Though the official opening of Highlands is scheduled for the end of March, there will be a series of open days, including track walks (the next is on December 15) as well as a "soft" opening in January, when visitors will get to view the motorsport museum.
Clearly excited by the museum, Quinn strolls over to the site where, inside and out, dozens of tradesmen of various skills are clambering.
"This is of particular interest to me. And it's going to be relevant. It will have 30 exhibits of special things, modern stuff rather than an early 20th-century Bugatti, which means jack-s... to anyone.
"It'll have a V8 supercar, a GT3 car, Inky Tulloch's racing truck as well as Black Beauty [the New Zealand A1 GP car that is at present in a shed in Auckland]. Every six months, we'll look to change some of the exhibits."
Also on display will be Quinn's Nissan GTR, the vehicle in which he has won four Targa Rallies in New Zealand. Having started out racing Formula Ford single-seaters in Scotland, he has won the New Zealand Targa rally competition for the past four years. He has won Targa NZ five times.
He once owned the Porsche Carrera Cup series in Australia before selling that and buying the Australian GT Championship, in which he and 30-year-old son Klark have raced a Ferrari 458 Italia and Porsche GT3 R respectively this year. Oh, he has also sponsored teams in the Australian V8 Supercars.
In business, Quinn has made his fortune in what is known as fast moving consumer goods (cars don't officially qualify as such).
In short, food. To be more specific, pet food, though he also exports kangaroo meat to Europe and elsewhere for human consumption and recently bought troubled Australian confectionery firm Darryl Lea.
He keeps his family close. His four children, Kelda, Kent, Kristen and Klark ("they all start with K ... they are all very capable ..."; they are also all in their 30s) oversee day-to-day operations of the various businesses, allowing Quinn to take a step back.
Still, that doesn't mean he heads to the beach to watch the sun go down.
"I enjoy life by solving issues, talking to decent people about things ... it doesn't matter how much money you've got, you can still be a decent person. I think your reputation means more than how many millions you've made."
In both pet food and his family ties, there is a full-circle quality. One of four siblings, Quinn lived in a caravan until he was 14. When he wasn't at school, he worked in his dad's pet-food factory.
"We were very poor," Quinn recalls. "My dad wasn't a businessman, he was working guy who made pet food and sold it. It was quite hard for him.
"I thought, `I'm not going into this - it's too hard'. I was quite bright at school [he was high school chess champion for a time] and wanted to be an architect, but my dad was unwell and asked me to work in the factory.
I'd worked there most of my life but the difference was I was going to be paid to work instead of getting nothing.
"I left school to do that, but a couple of years afterwards me and a mate started making a bit of money by buying two smashed-up cars and joining them together.
"I then got into a signwriting business about the age of 20. I knew nothing about it but I could visualise things. Within two years, it had become the biggest signwriting business in the northeast of Scotland. I was doing very well."
Prompted by a letter from his Perth-based sister, who wrote about this "flash house she'd bought for $50,000, while I'm in Scotland in this s ... Coronation St-type house that we'd paid £32,000 for", Quinn left Scotland in 1979 with a heavily pregnant Christine and toddler Kelda.
He tried his hand at signwriting and ended up mowing lawns, building a $600-a-week job to the point where he sold it 18 months later for $18,000, then moved to New Zealand where, on seeing cows for the first time in several years, he was inspired to return to primary industry.
"To cut a long story short, we ended up in Whangarei, lived a year in Dargaville collecting waste fat and rendering, started up a wee pet-food business and doing very well. Big Fresh in Auckland asked me to send our stuff to Australia, then to go and have a look.
"I went to Sydney and loved it. I said to Christine that we should make a crack at this and she told me she'd only move one more time. We ended up on the Gold Coast because my parents had moved there and started up a small cattery. Our oldest kid was about 15 and we felt we needed grandparents to help," Quinn remembers.
"The first couple of years were a bit slow ... but now the pet-food business has an annual turnover of more than $300 million.
"I started with nothing in my life. Nothing has been handed to me. I've started from humble beginnings and I've done very well for myself. I'm not ashamed of that. My family are working people. I own several Rolex watches but I never wear them. I'm not pretentious."
Quinn says people often ask him how he has become so successful. The answer is simple, the result of lessons learned over his years in business.
"If you say you can deliver something, you'd better be prepared to back up the promise.
"That's the deal."
*A Destination Queenstown report published in June forecast annual visitor numbers would reach 2.1 million in 2016.