THE QUEEN OF SPEED

WE SIT DOWN WITH NEW ZEALAND’S FIRST LADY OF SPEED FOR THE TELL-ALL STORY WE’VE ALL BEEN WAIT­ING SO LONG TO HEAR

NZV8 - - CONTENTS - WORDS AND IN­TER­VIEW: TONY JOHN­SON

THE LIFE AND TIMES OF FAYE GRANT

What turns a mid­dle-aged woman’s eye to­wards drag rac­ing with such pas­sion that she sud­denly launches her­self into the fran­tic dog-eat­dog world of Com­pe­ti­tion Elim­i­na­tor, and then, af­ter a brief foray there, throws her­self head first at the multi-thou­sand-horse­power ranks of Top Al­co­hol? What drives some­one to be­come so suc­cess­ful that it takes an­other 25 years be­fore her achieve­ments can even be matched? And what makes some­one, af­ter be­ing ab­so­lutely at the top of her game, walk away with­out so much as a glance over her shoul­der at the sport that once con­sumed her so com­pletely? Faye Grant’s jour­ney to star­dom was lit­tered with ob­sta­cles and challenges that few saw the ex­tent of, and the fi­nan­cial and emo­tional cost to her and to her hus­band Den­nis to get to their des­ti­na­tion was as­tro­nom­i­cal. As tends to hap­pen, big things start from hum­ble enough be­gin­nings …

Power­boats and Road Cars

As a young man in his 20s, Den­nis Grant — born in 1944 — to­gether with a brother and an­other part­ner, had a fledg­ling com­pany in Whangarei called Grant Devel­op­ments. The house and com­mer­cial build­ing busi­ness gave Den­nis enough in­come to build and race power­boats dur­ing the 1960s and 1970s in the many lakes around the North­land re­gion and be­yond. Den­nis loved power­boat rac­ing, and he had a par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est in the me­chan­i­cal as­pects of the sport. De­spite no me­chan­i­cal trade be­hind him, he picked things up well, be­com­ing a skilled tin­kerer and very adept at car­ry­ing out the me­chan­i­cal and fab­ri­ca­tion work nec­es­sary for keep­ing his boats com­pet­i­tive. Sadly, Den­nis’ pas­sion for boat rac­ing wasn’t shared in the slight­est by his young bride, Faye. “I hated the boats,” re­calls Faye with a per­cep­ti­ble curl of her lip as we chat some 50 years later. “God, I hated them. I hated ev­ery minute of them. I got so tired of trav­el­ling around the coun­try.” The less-than-en­thu­si­as­tic wife did, how­ever, seem to har­bour an in­ter­est in V8-en­gined cars, and the first sign of this be­came ev­i­dent dur­ing a trip to Auck­land in 1975 to buy a new car. Faye, to­gether with their son Kerry and daugh­ter Debbie, went on the test drives with Den­nis, and both Faye and Kerry com­plained bit­terly to Den­nis about the “smelly old Daim­ler” that Den­nis was be­com­ing en­thu­si­as­tic about. They con­vinced him to try an­other car yard and look for a “de­cent car”. Den­nis took on board the family protes­ta­tions and, later that day, he was proudly driv­ing back to Whangarei in a de­cent car, ap­proved by both Faye and Kerry — a mid’70s Chev Ca­maro. This was soon fol­lowed by a V8 Holden Monaro. These two ve­hi­cles would set the scene for the Grants’ then-un­known ex­cit­ing fu­ture.

Club­bing in a Mus­tang

Den­nis’ in­ter­est in en­gines rubbed off on their son Kerry, and, by the late 1970s, Den­nis and Kerry had been power­boat rac­ing and then go-kart rac­ing to­gether. As soon as age and funds al­lowed, a teenaged Kerry bought a T-bucket with a 265-inch small block Chev in it. The engine had sup­pos­edly been re­built, but, in fact, was well and truly poked, so Kerry bolted in a 327 Chev that was sit­ting in a cor­ner of Den­nis’ shed and des­tined for a race boat, and began rac­ing the T-bucket at Cham­pion Drag­way. By 1980, sup­port­ing their son rac­ing his bucket had got Mum and Dad to the drags on nu­mer­ous oc­ca­sions, and Faye quickly found that, un­like the boat rac­ing, she en­joyed ev­ery as­pect of this new, straight­line en­vi­ron­ment — so much so, in fact, that she en­cour­aged Den­nis to buy a 1976 Mus­tang Co­bra 2 for him to race at low-key events such as the an­nual Mus­tang Club drags. At one stage dur­ing the three years in which the Mus­tang was raced, beloved son Kerry killed the engine when he helped out a mate whose car needed to be towed some­where on a trailer. Kerry wasn’t sup­posed to have taken the Mus­tang in the first place, so, when he not only had to own up to tak­ing it but also had to ask Den­nis to come and col­lect it be­cause he’d bug­gered the engine, Kerry was less than pop­u­lar with the old man! “Oh, and you’ll have to col­lect the car that I’m tow­ing be­hind the Mus­tang on the trailer, too,” Kerry added. Iron­i­cally, this oc­cur­rence be­came the cat­a­lyst for the drag rac­ing bug to bite more deeply. Den­nis used the op­por­tu­nity to build a stout small block Ford that would even­tu­ally pro­pel the car into the low 13s. Faye re­calls, “We spent so much money on tyres and en­gines and lower diff gears and torque con­vert­ers and trac­tion bars and things to make that damned 17-sec­ond slush box into a 13-sec­ond win­ner.” Den­nis would run in the main class, click­ing off 13s, then one day, af­ter giv­ing it a shot her­self and lov­ing it, Faye — then in her late 30s — began con­test­ing the ladies class, typ­i­cally run­ning within a tenth or two of a sec­ond of Den­nis’ best times. “I loved it,” says Faye, still re­mem­ber­ing her first drag rac­ing buzz all this time later, “re­ally loved it. I thought, I can do this, and, af­ter a cou­ple of club race meet­ings, I was ab­so­lutely hooked on drag rac­ing.”

Al­tered Think­ing

But race what? That was the ques­tion. “We’d done this for three years, and the Mus­tang needed a roll cage if we were go­ing to go faster. Denny wasn’t in­ter­ested in do­ing that, and I’d de­cided by then that I wanted to go faster than that any­way,” Faye re­counts. Faye had seen a car at the drags that caught her eye — a 305ci small block Chev–powered Fiat Topolino–bod­ied B/al­tered called ‘Zig Zag’, run by Welling­ton’s Gra­ham Chris­tiansen. Faye had made the de­ci­sion that she wanted to step up into the big league, and this was the car that she wanted to do it in. Den­nis, bless him, was 100 per cent be­hind her and told her to “give the man a call”. Gra­ham’s ini­tial re­sponse was “Not for sale”, but, af­ter eight months of be­ing pestered by an un­re­lent­ing Faye, he fi­nally caved in, and the Grants bought the pretty B/al­tered com­plete, run­ning, and race-ready. By now, Den­nis was done with race boats, and Kerry had be­come good mates with a guy by the name of Mike Sin­clair — an engine builder based in Whangarei, who was mak­ing a name for him­self build­ing rac­ing en­gines. Mike soon found him­self in­volved with the whole Grant family, form­ing a strong friend­ship with Den­nis — a bond that would prove to be a crit­i­cal in­gre­di­ent in the fu­ture of the Grant family. The Zig Zag al­tered was re­painted in a beau­ti­ful cus­tom candy red and gold paint scheme by Kerry, still in his teens, and aptly named ‘Di­a­mond Girl’ af­ter one of Faye’s favourite songs — Di­a­mond Girls by Neil Di­a­mond. The me­chan­i­cals were left alone, in­clud­ing the clutched TH400 trans­mis­sion. This was the hot set-up back in the ’80s be­fore goodqual­ity high-stall con­vert­ers be­came main­stream, and it con­sisted — ba­si­cally — of the con­verter re­placed with a home­built clutch, usu­ally made from a cir­cu­lar-saw blade with pieces of fric­tion ma­te­rial, such as brake discs, at­tached to it. Some guys made these set-ups work, oth­ers had less suc­cess. In Faye’s case, it was less suc­cess. “That clutch was a cock-up if ever there was one,” re­calls Kerry, sit­ting with Mike Sin­clair on the couch be­side his mum 30-some­thing years later as we talk about her rac­ing ca­reer. “The first few times out with the al­tered were a com­plete abor­tion. Ev­ery time Ma left the line, the car jumped and bucked and then usu­ally stalled. It was hope­less! We per­se­vered for a sea­son and fi­nally got rid of the clutched auto and put a nor­mal Pow­er­glide and high-stall torque con­verter in it, and then it started to go good.” By then, Mike Sin­clair had be­come heav­ily in­volved; as well as be­ing Denny’s good mate, he was the team’s crew chief. Mike’s mem­o­ries of that pe­riod are all pos­i­tive. “That car went great,” says Mike. “It was a big learn­ing curve for all of us, Faye in­cluded, but there weren’t many real prob­lems. We dam­aged a few valve springs from Faye over-revving the thing all the time.” “Oh, bull­shit!” comes a quick re­sponse from Faye, beam­ing with de­light at re­call­ing the fun times they had. “You guys didn’t put the engine to­gether right — that’s why we broke valve springs.” The laugh­ter from Mike and Kerry shows that wher­ever the faults of the day lay, it doesn’t mat­ter. Af­ter two good sea­sons, the era of the Di­a­mond Girl al­tered drew to a close when, at a sea­son’s end meet­ing, a rear drive­shaft uni­ver­sal let go, caus­ing the engine to over-rev and fire chunks of rod through the block with such force that they caused sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to the chas­sis. There was noth­ing in the engine to sal­vage. It had been a great pe­riod in the Grant family’s life — good re­li­a­bil­ity, con­sis­tent low ni­nesec­ond passes with a best of 9.2 sec­onds, and great ca­ma­raderie with fel­low com­peti­tors such as John Cole, Steve Hil­dred, War­ren Brown, Terry Rogers, and Chris John­ston. It’s ob­vi­ous from the way in which Faye now talks about the peo­ple as­pect of her rac­ing that those friend­ships re­main some of her fond­est mem­o­ries. She loved the com­rade­ship and the peo­ple she raced with. “CJ was the ar­se­hole who made me red-light and lose the points-score series,” quips Faye. “No one made you red-light, Ma,” comes Kerry’s re­sponse amid laugh­ter from both him and Mike. “You man­aged that all on your own!” Run­ner-up, she should be re­minded, was no mi­nor achieve­ment.

Al­co­hol Ad­dic­tion

The al­tered’s sump full of shrap­nel rep­re­sented a cross­roads. What now? Pack it in? Build an­other engine? Buy an­other car? There wasn’t any real sci­ence or plan­ning around the next step. It was as sim­ple as ‘ The Texas Fire­ball’ Top Al­co­hol drag­ster — the John Agnew car, pre­vi­ously the Bob Clark­son / Lew Wymer car, which was the first New Zealand car to run 200mph — hap­pen­ing to pop up for sale pre­cisely while they were won­der­ing what to do. Faye liked the car and Den­nis was OK with the idea, so they bought it — just like that. “Had you wanted to race a Top Al­co­hol car?” I ask. “No, I’d never con­sid­ered it — it seemed un­think­able. But, you know, there it was, and it seemed like a great idea,” Faye ex­plains. Wow! “Was Den­nis happy about the idea of you step­ping from a nine-sec­ond al­tered up to a Top Al­co­hol drag­ster?” “Well, some­times … he found it was just eas­ier to do what he was told,” Faye says with a grin. The al­tered years had cost the Grants a lot of money, and they couldn’t af­ford to buy the chas­sis and the engine all at once. So, they agreed to buy the chas­sis from Bob Clark­son — Agnew had leased it from Bob dur­ing his time run­ning it — and sat out the sea­son while they paid the chas­sis off and saved some money. Then, dur­ing the fol­low­ing year, they bought the su­per­charged and fuel-in­jected methanol-burn­ing Dono­van engine and two-speed Lenco trans­mis­sion that John Agnew had been run­ning in the car. In the mean­time, Kerry stripped the chas­sis; checked ev­ery­thing over; and did a beau­ti­ful job of paint­ing the body pan­els in black, pink, and pur­ple hues, top­ping it all off with the ‘Di­a­mond Girl 2’ logo. Den­nis bought a flat-deck trailer and ex­tended it. With the pur­chase of the Dono­van and two-speed Lenco trans­mis­sion, the car all came to­gether. In 1986, at 42 years young, Faye Grant was ready to go Top Al­co­hol rac­ing. “Now that was a learn­ing curve,” laughs Mike. “Denny and I were the crew, and we didn’t even know what the fir­ing or­der for the engine was. We had to ring some­one up to find out.”

Sea­son One

As hap­pened with the al­tered, sea­son one in the drag­ster was a huge learn­ing curve — both for Faye and for the hard-work­ing crew of Den­nis and Mike. The first prob­lem dur­ing Faye’s li­cence passes was val­ve­train is­sues as a re­sult of the engine be­ing over-revved in the burnout. In Faye’s very first time in the seat, she hit the throt­tle to do her burnout, the big Dono­van revved as if it were a sprint-car small block, and the val­ve­train went west. The cause was as sim­ple as Faye do­ing what she’d al­ways done in the al­tered: drop­ping the clutch and kick­ing the throt­tle in first gear. “Oops! Pi­lot er­ror,” laughs Mike good-na­turedly. “Bug­ger off, you! No one told me to do my burnouts in top gear,” Faye says, laugh­ing and ad­mon­ish­ing Mike all at the same time. “How the hell was I sup­posed to know to do it dif­fer­ently than in the al­tered?” Her com­ment is re­warded with more sex­ist jokes from Kerry and Mike and an­other round of laugh­ter from an ex­tended family, all ob­vi­ously en­joy­ing the even­ing of rem­i­nisc­ing. Once Faye learnt to use top gear and go easy on the gas pedal that was con­nected to the quick­revving su­per­charged engine, the burnouts were sorted. Faye’s launches be­came the next hur­dle. Ev­ery time she hit the throt­tle, it would rev, bite, the ac­cel­er­a­tor would come off, and then it would go back on again. From out­side the car, it seemed like a mo­men­tary lift of the throt­tle, or the kind of stum­ble you can get with a mas­sive flat spot on a car­bu­ret­ted engine. “You silly bitch! What did you take your foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor for?” Denny would de­mand to know when the crew ar­rived at the re­turn road to tow her back. Faye would in­sist she wasn’t lift­ing, but it would hap­pen ev­ery time, and ev­ery time she’d get

a grilling from the team over it. They in­sisted that the bru­tal power was mak­ing her sub­con­sciously take her foot off the ac­cel­er­a­tor. Af­ter sev­eral passes and Faye’s most con­certed ef­forts, it was still hap­pen­ing. “It wasn’t un­til Mal Bain came over at the sec­ond or third meet­ing that we fig­ured out what was go­ing on,” ex­plains Mike. “Mal showed us this photo he’d taken at the pre­vi­ous meet­ing, of the car just off the line with the front wheels off the deck and the but­ter­flies com­pletely closed. For some rea­son, the penny dropped, and we won­dered if maybe Faye was right that she wasn’t in­ten­tion­ally lift­ing, and that the ini­tial G-force was shov­ing her back in her seat and pulling her foot of the ac­cel­er­a­tor. As soon as we redesigned the seat, the prob­lem was gone.” “Bloody men,” mut­ters Faye as she lis­tens to Mike tell the story. “That was our prob­lem — all the crew were bloody men and they didn’t want to lis­ten to a woman.” An­other round of chuck­les … Sex­ist jokes aside, some of the prob­lems that the team had in that first sea­son were per­haps partly be­cause Faye had never done the stupid things that most young men do in their road cars over many years be­fore they go on to be­come good race driv­ers, cou­pled with a lack of in­stinc­tive un­der­stand­ing of some of the me­chan­i­cal is­sues that a male driver might have been awake to. As an ex­am­ple, an­other prob­lem that Faye ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing her first few meet­ings was that she couldn’t hold the clutch in with her left foot. In­stead of telling the crew that the clutch pedal ra­tio was all wrong and way too heavy — “They would have just said, ‘Oh, stop whin­ing, woman’, or some­thing like that any­way,” Faye grins — she just knuck­led down and fig­ured out how to deal with it. Mike ex­plains, “It wasn’t un­til we got on her case about not revving the thing off the start line that we found out about her clutch prob­lem. We’d say, ‘Rev it up’, and she’d keep say­ing, ‘I can’t’. It wasn’t un­til we asked why she couldn’t hold her right foot down on the gas pedal off the start line that she told us that she needed her right foot for the clutch pedal. Denny and I said, ‘What?!’ and she said, ‘Well, I can’t hold the clutch in with my left foot, so I have to use my right foot as well’. Sim­ple af­ter that — we sorted out the clutch pedal and away she went.” No one was hap­pier that the prob­lem had been iden­ti­fied and solved than Faye. “How the hell she ever launched the thing like that we’ll never know,” Kerry says to a wave of laugh­ing agree­ment in the room, Faye in­cluded. An­other first-sea­son prob­lem was that, once Faye started get­ting on it and build­ing up some speed, she couldn’t stop the car prop­erly, de­spite de­ploy­ing her two para­chutes cor­rectly, and it would run off the end of the track ev­ery time. It got to the point at which Ken Galvin, the drag strip safety stew­ard at the time, threat­ened to stop her from rac­ing if she didn’t sort it out. Mike ex­plains, “Af­ter a few times of hav­ing to tow the car out of the gorse bushes, Denny sat her down and said, ‘ Tell me ex­actly what you do in the car from the time you get it into high gear.’ Even­tu­ally, we fig­ured out that Faye was push­ing the clutch in as she crossed the fin­ish line, and keep­ing it in right through­out the brak­ing process un­til the car was com­pletely stopped. We re­al­ized that [that] was the prob­lem right there — no engine brak­ing, so of course it wouldn’t stop. Denny said, ‘Well, that’s all bloody wrong; why the hell do you

do that?’ and she said, ‘Be­cause Mike told me to!’ Shit — I just told her to do that once so I could get a clean plug read­ing, and she thought that was how she was meant to do it ev­ery time. We all had a laugh, gave her new in­struc­tions, and that was the end of that prob­lem, too.” Af­ter Mike fin­ishes that story, Faye, hardly able to con­ceal her amuse­ment, says, “Well, you bloody use­less men should have done a bet­ter job of giv­ing me in­struc­tions then, shouldn’t you.” As Faye be­came more con­fi­dent with the car and started push­ing the Dono­van harder, val­ve­train grem­lins kicked in again. Meet­ing af­ter meet­ing, the car was back on the trailer early. This time, though, the prob­lems weren’t of Faye’s do­ing, but rather of the engine not be­ing up to the task. “It got hard,” Faye ex­plains, dur­ing one of the few mo­ments dur­ing the long fun-filled even­ing when she isn’t smil­ing or laugh­ing. She was acutely aware of peo­ple’s per­cep­tions — or at least what peo­ple’s per­cep­tions might have been — at the time. “Every­body thought I was a frig­gin’ idiot — the whole drag rac­ing fra­ter­nity thought I was just a silly old grey-haired bitch.” In real­ity, the sit­u­a­tion didn’t ap­pear that bad to ob­servers look­ing from the out­side in. Most on­look­ers weren’t aware of all the challenges the team were be­ing pre­sented with, and the moun­tain of hur­dles that, one by one, were me­thod­i­cally be­ing over­come. No doubt the 1986–’87 sea­son was a tough one, but the Grant team was mak­ing good progress. Mike Gear­ing and Garth Ho­gan had been help­ful with ad­vice, Denny and Mike had learnt a mas­sive amount and were get­ting on top of things, and Faye — de­spite the many set­backs — had run some solid seven-sec­ond passes by the end of the sea­son. That was no small achieve­ment 30 years ago. “The first sea­son was a big learn­ing curve,” says Mike thought­fully. “The first sea­son was a to­tal bloody dis­as­ter,” laughs Faye.

Sea­son Two

Dur­ing the off-sea­son of 1987, Den­nis bought some good bil­let cylin­der heads from the US and they were in­stru­men­tal in mak­ing sea­son two go much bet­ter, at least in terms of per­for­mances achieved. Den­nis and Mike’s ex­pe­ri­ence in tun­ing had in­creased mas­sively, the val­ve­train prob­lems were cured by the in­stal­la­tion of the new heads, and Faye was do­ing a solid job be­hind the steer­ing wheel. By the end of the 1987–’88 sea­son, Faye was be­com­ing a se­ri­ous con­tender in the Top Al­co­hol ranks, and she’d recorded a best ET of 7.0 with speeds well into the 190s. How­ever, what goes up, as they say, must come down, and sea­son num­ber two in­cluded an engine ex­plo­sion so vi­o­lent that ev­ery­thing be­low the cylin­der heads, apart from the block, got sold to the scrap-metal man, and what was left of the camshaft had to be cut out of the cylin­der block with a gas torch. The Grant de­ter­mi­na­tion pre­vailed, how­ever, and, within five days, new con­nect­ing rods were flown in from the US, the block was welded and ma­chined, and the engine was com­pletely re­built. It was all fin­ished less than a week be­fore the next event. Then, on the first run of that meet­ing, the Lenco failed and was dam­aged be­yond re­pair for that day. At the next meet­ing, three weeks later, with the Lenco again fit for ac­tive duty, the clutch dis­in­te­grated on the start line, al­low­ing the engine to over­rev, which de­stroyed the engine for the sec­ond time in scarcely a month and wrecked the jus­tre­paired Lenco with it. Wel­come to the big league … Even when things weren’t de­stroy­ing them­selves, the bi­gend bear­ings were tak­ing a ham­mer­ing with the im­proved power, and they had to be re­placed af­ter ev­ery meet­ing. It was dur­ing these pe­ri­ods that the ‘we can do this’ at­ti­tude took a beat­ing, and even Den­nis’ seem­ingly bound­less pos­i­tiv­ity was run­ning on empty. Some­times, things only kept go­ing due to the com­mit­ment and per­se­ver­ance of Mike Sin­clair. An­other guy who was a mas­sive help to Faye and Den­nis dur­ing times like this was Mur­ray Thomas, who would put in count­less hours — like Mike, all for love — of engine ma­chin­ing ev­ery time some­thing went bad.

Sea­son Three

Af­ter two car­nage-filled sea­sons, the re­pair bills had been as­tro­nom­i­cal, debt was mount­ing, and the writ­ing was on the wall that some­thing had to change for the Di­a­mond Girl rac­ing team. The op­tions were pretty sim­ple: get out or spend the money to step up. Grant Devel­op­ments was go­ing well, so Faye and Den­nis — you only live once, re­mem­ber — took a deep breath and made the de­ci­sion to go all-out and do this thing prop­erly. They sold their home to cover their rac­ing debts and free up some se­ri­ous cash to buy the equip­ment they needed to suc­ceed in Top Al­co­hol. With the Grant Devel­op­ments com­pany op­er­at­ing suc­cess­fully, Den­nis and Faye would catch up and buy a house again later on. With bulging pock­ets, Faye and Den­nis took off on a three-month hol­i­day of a life­time to the US in the 1988 off-sea­son, talked to a lot of Top Al­co­hol rac­ers, and pur­chased a freshly built 514ci Dono­van with the best of ev­ery­thing, along with the nec­es­sary drivetrain parts to get Faye to the top of the class for the 1988–’89 sea­son. The engine alone cost more than $30K — enough money to buy a rea­son­able house in most parts of New Zealand at the time. The good news is that, af­ter what must have been a tough de­ci­sion and a hell of a com­mit­ment to make, the plan worked. Be­fore the happy end­ing, though, there were a few more challenges for Den­nis and Mike. The new engine wasn’t as good as it should have been. As Mike ex­plains: “The tim­ing marks on the crank pul­ley were in the wrong place, so the valves kept hit­ting the pis­tons and break­ing stuff. On al­most ev­ery run, we snapped rock­ers, dam­aged valves, bent pushrods, and ham­mered big-end bear­ings.” For­tu­nately, Mike and Den­nis even­tu­ally fig­ured out the prob­lem with­out any ma­jor engine dam­age oc­cur­ring, and, on Jan­uary 2, 1989, at Thun­der­park Race­way, it all fi­nally came to­gether, with the team’s first-ever six-sec­ond pass, and then two more sixes that same day, with a best of 6.968s — and, even bet­ter, zero break­ages or prob­lems. From there, the sea­son got pro­gres­sively bet­ter and bet­ter for Faye and the team, steadily low­er­ing their ETs, break­ing the long-awaited 200mph mark, re-set­ting the AA/Drag­ster na­tional record, and fi­nally achiev­ing a points-score series win. On Fe­bru­ary 26, at the 1989 New Zealand na­tion­als, Faye sur­passed num­bers that the rest of the field could only dream about, with a (for then) stag­ger­ing time of 6.629s at 205mph. That per­for­mance, with Den­nis’ per­fected Dono­van, made Faye Grant the fastest Top Al­co­hol driver in Aus­trala­sia in both the Top Al­co­hol Drag­ster and Top Al­co­hol Funny Car classes. That wasn’t some easy achieve­ment that only came about be­cause of lucky tim­ing in terms of the avail­able com­pe­ti­tion — it hap­pened dur­ing what was un­doubt­edly New Zealand’s golden era of Top Al­co­hol rac­ing, when we had more Top Al­co­hol cars com­pet­ing than ever be­fore or since. It had been a mas­sive ef­fort over four hard years, in ev­ery sense, not the least of which was fi­nan­cial, but the suc­cesses and the new record were a huge re­ward for Faye, Den­nis, Mike, Kerry, and the rest of the team. It took 25 years and two months be­fore an­other woman in New Zealand would go faster than Faye Grant. That hon­our went to a de­serv­ing Karen Hay, who ran 6.61s at 206mph — against Faye’s 6.62s at 205mph — in April 2014.

PHO­TOS: AL­LAN PORTER / SUP­PLIED

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