AEROFLOW RACE DIARY
When I was a kid, I had a picture of ‘ The Winged Express’ on my bedroom wall. I loved funny cars, and I loved doorslammers, but fuel altereds such as The Winged Express just had this mystique about them. No downforce, shortwheelbase hot rods that run on nitromethane — they are just nuts. They either seem to be crazy fast or just plain crazy. They’re either a car you really want to drive or something you have absolutely no interest in driving, as you think that anyone who drives one is a few sandwiches short of a picnic. Well, if the fact I absolutely love driving the ‘Spooky’ nitro hot rod means that I’ve lost half my picnic, then so be it. This month, we had a pretty cool opportunity, with two races in three weekends. Now, we have done this before, swapping between hot rods and funny cars, but never have we raced the hot rods back to back like this. To add to the fun, the second event was three days’ drive away, so the truck had to leave just over a week after the first event. Event one was at Sydney Dragway, which has become our home track here in Australia. We won this event in Spooky last year, so we were looking to try to back that up. The tough part is that the three other Aeroflow nitro hot rods have identical running gear, so it’s always going to be close. For the first half of the day, we didn’t think that it was going to matter, as the weather gods left us needing to find a pair of gumboots and a Swanndri — it was wet and freezing. However, to their credit, the track team battled it out and got the track back up to a raceable condition. There was not enough time to run a full meeting, but we still got two rounds in for the crowd’s entertainment. During this, we had what was an awesome side by side race with ‘Chucky’s Toy’ — for pretty much the entire quarter-mile, I could just see the front wheel popping in and out of view. We ended up losing the race by four hundredths of a second, but, man, what a race to be part of! Come Monday morning, we had six working days to strip the four hot rods, service the blowers, strip and check the cylinder heads, grind the clutches, and service the racks and cranks, as well as complete the numerous other jobs that are necessary on these cars. This was to ensure that they were rebuilt and loaded for the drive to Springmount Raceway in Cairns the following Tuesday morning. It was pretty cool to see everyone pitching in and going hard knowing that we had a deadline to make. By Friday, we had all four cars fired and getting loaded for the long haul up to Cairns. I really enjoy Springmount Raceway; the air is so thin up there that it adds an element of learning and trying to figure out how to make the cars go down the track. When you race cars with very low downforce on a track with thin air, it creates a car with no downforce, making a wild car that little bit more ill handling. For Spooky, it was one of those events at which we had curve balls thrown at us from all directions. I missed the set-up completely on the first run, and we didn’t make a very good run at all. We fixed that on the second with a solid pass, only to split the fuel tank; bend the front wing; and, strangest of all, have the roof hatch jam closed. So, there I was, chutes out, slowing down after the second run, pulling off the track stop, unbuckling my belts, and then I couldn’t lift the roof hatch. I gave it another go, but, yep, it was stuck. I quickly assessed it: the top lip of the roof hatch had jammed up under the bottom lip of the body. If I needed to get out in a hurry, I could break it open, so there was no need to panic, as the car wasn’t on fire or anything. I just took my helmet off and sat there; I couldn’t really do anything except wait for the crew to come down and get me. I asked fellow New Zealander and Spooky crew member Mitch King what he thought when he got down there and I was still sitting in the car. He said, “Initially, I thought, ‘Oh shit, maybe he is stuck in the car; that’s not good’, but when I saw you with a big smile on your face I figured things couldn’t be that bad.” Remember when I said that I love driving Spooky?! Anyway, for the third round, we got everything fixed, got our act together to beat ‘Berserk’, and finished second on a points count back. Yeah, not an event win, but, man, we had to work hard for this one. Unfortunately, that’s it for Spooky until 2019, which absolutely sucks, as I really enjoy that car, but when your next option is a nitro funny car … well, I’m not going to complain at all. We will be back out at Willowbank Raceway on 27 October in ‘One Bad Kiwi’. To race two nitro cars, both with silver ferns proudly marked on them, is pretty damn cool!