LEG­END: DAVE MISSINGHAM

DAVE RE­MAINED IN AN UN­CON­SCIOUS STATE FOR 22 WEEKS, BUT HIS POINTS LEAD BE­FORE HIS AC­CI­DENT MEANT HE STILL WON THE 1987 AUS­TRALIAN PRO STOCK CHAM­PI­ONSHIP

Street Machine - - Contents -

We bid farewell to Dave Missingham, one of the found­ing fa­thers of Aussie Pro Stock rac­ing

FOR Syd­ney-based Pro Stock racer Dave Missingham, the defin­ing year of his rac­ing ca­reer was 1987, and the most sig­nif­i­cant day of that year was 14 March at Heath­cote Park Race­way. This was the year that Missingham would re­alise his peak rac­ing achieve­ment: win­ning the points-based Aus­tralian Pro Stock Cham­pi­onship. But on that par­tic­u­lar evening at Heath­cote, dur­ing the first round of rac­ing his Cortina ap­peared to lock up a rear brake at over 140mph in the brak­ing area. The car turned hard right and bar­rel-rolled nu­mer­ous times. It was never go­ing to be good.

Missingham was un­con­scious in the wreck when res­cuers ar­rived. He died on the way to hos­pi­tal in Bendigo, but was re­vived by paramedics and was ad­mit­ted with crit­i­cal head in­juries as well as a bro­ken col­lar­bone, nose and wrist, and badly lac­er­ated hands. His hel­met was split from front to back. The race meet­ing was aban­doned. Missingham re­mained in an un­con­scious state for 22 weeks, but de­spite be­ing out of ac­tion for nearly half the ’87 sea­son, his points lead be­fore his ac­ci­dent meant he still won the 1987 Aus­tralian Pro Stock Cham­pi­onship.

At one time, on med­i­cal ad­vice that he could not re­main alive with­out me­chan­i­cal as­sis­tance, his life sup­port sys­tem was turned off, but he mirac­u­lously hung on. His fam­ily – wife Dianne, son Wayne and daugh­ter Si­mone – sus­tained a round-the-clock vigil over him, talk­ing to him, touch­ing him and giv­ing him dif­fer­ent flavoured milk­shakes from a nearby fast food out­let, un­til one day he opened his eyes.

De­spite long-term phys­io­ther­apy, he never fully re­cov­ered his abil­ity to walk and re­mained largely wheel­chair-bound for the re­main­der of his life. Yet he still had his acute sense of hu­mour and the knowl­edge of how to run a fast race car, and would of­ten chide Wayne, who took up the fam­ily’s rac­ing, on his en­gine build­ing or other as­pects of his ve­hi­cle’s prepa­ra­tion.

Dave be­gan mo­tor rac­ing on the cir­cuits in the late 1960s, com­pet­ing in a Fal­con and later a Lo­tus Cortina in Im­proved Pro­duc­tion com­pe­ti­tion. In the 1970s his grow­ing part­time en­gine-build­ing busi­ness be­gan to bring him drag rac­ing cus­tomers, and that led to passes along the quar­ter-mile, which drew him into ma­jor com­pe­ti­tion with a two-door XA Fal­con, de­but­ing in B/gas in June 1977.

With that car he set the na­tional B/G record, which re­mained in his name for three years, and took his first steps into the premier Pro Stock cat­e­gory. Un­able to get the Fal­con down in weight enough to be com­pet­i­tive, Missingham in­stead built a TE Cortina Pro Stocker, in­cor­po­rat­ing all the lat­est gear.

It reg­u­larly racked up suc­cesses: run­ner-up at the ’84 Na­tion­als, win­ner at the 1984 Grand Fi­nals and a string of Pro Se­ries round wins. In Fe­bru­ary 1986 it made the quick­est and fastest Pro pass in the na­tion at 8.83 sec­onds and 152mph. Then came that fate­ful 1987 night in Heath­cote.

“I’m go­ing to miss Dave badly,” says old friend and rac­ing mate, Ben Gatt. “We knew each other for over 40 years. I crewed with him and bought my XA two-door [which he

still races] from him. He knew how to build a tough race en­gine and prep a car like no one else. He was one of my best mates.”

Fel­low Syd­ney racer Joe Polito also has great memories of Missingham. “Dave started rac­ing in Pro Stock a cou­ple of years be­fore me. I started build­ing a TD Cortina and when Dave saw it he de­cided to build his TE be­cause he liked the idea of the smaller car so much.

ICON IN THE MAK­ING

THE two-door XA Fal­con that took Dave Missingham to the front ranks of Pro Stock came from Can­berra racer Peter Pul­ford, and had been given a brand new bodyshell. Dave wanted to run it in Pro Stock, but only three months after his first re­build, the rules were changed, leav­ing it out­dated. It was el­i­gi­ble for B/gas though, where it set the na­tional records and won some ma­jor events.

But even­tu­ally Dave gave it an­other ma­jor re­build, putting a full chas­sis through it and knock­ing out a lot of weight. With a 355ci Boss block and all the trim­mings, the car be­came a bul­let. Dave launched it at 8500rpm and took it to 9500rpm in each gear.

The XA was to take Dave to a handful of wins, but its 9.42-sec­ond best was short of his de­sired 9.20s, so at the end of 1982 the car was ear­marked for re­place­ment.

Dave sold it to Ben Gatt, who has raced it ever since. With a blown 351 now un­der the hood, it still takes him reg­u­larly into the low sev­ens in Su­per­charged Out­laws and Wild Bunch com­pe­ti­tion.

LIKE FA­THER, LIKE SON

DRAG rac­ing ran in the Missingham fam­ily. Long be­fore Dave suf­fered his ac­ci­dent, his son Wayne oc­cu­pied that TE Cortina’s seat. His driv­ing abil­i­ties were un­der­lined when he ran it to an 8.83@152mph dur­ing qual­i­fy­ing for a Pro Stock Cham­pi­onship round in 1986, set­ting a new ET and ter­mi­nal speed record for the class.

In 1991 he pur­chased John Ho­nan’s Us-built Trans Am Pro and a 352 Buick donk from Melbourne’s Peter Ridge­way. The car won ma­jor events at the 1991 Win­ter­na­tion­als, the 1992 Win­field Triple Chal­lenge and the 1992 Na­tion­als.

In Novem­ber 1992 Wayne ap­peared in a Santo Rapis­arda-owned TF car at East­ern Creek Race­way. At the Grand Fi­nals, the car ran off the end of the main straight, col­lid­ing heav­ily with the con­crete safety bar­rier. It was a déjà vu mo­ment for on­look­ers, but de­spite the rollcage be­ing al­most torn from the car, Wayne emerged with sur­pris­ingly mi­nor in­juries.

In 1994 Wayne pi­loted a new Mitre 10 Top Fuel car, which went as quick as 5.28 be­fore he re­tired from the scene.

“In those days rac­ing was a lot more re­laxed. We all wanted to win, of course, but after a race we’d all sit around and have a few beers and so­cialise. It wasn’t a case of hav­ing to win on Sun­day to be able to pay the mort­gage on Mon­day.

“In early 1987 they were pay­ing us ab­so­lute peanuts. We protested, but you know pro­mot­ers, they didn’t want to lis­ten. We had a meet­ing in my work­shop, with Dave, Fred Dudek and Roy Sti­vala, and we de­cided we weren’t go­ing to go to the next race meet­ing un­less they im­proved the of­fer. The Vic­to­rian rac­ers then did the same.

“Then one of the Vic­to­ri­ans an­nounced that he was go­ing to go to Heath­cote, and he had all these ex­cuses and rea­sons why. Then some­one else broke ranks and said he was go­ing to go. Dave was in the lead in the points at the time, so he de­cided he had to go, other­wise he might lose his lead in the cham­pi­onship. That’s how he came to be there at Heath­cote when he shouldn’t have been.”

Polito’s rem­i­nis­cences come just a few months after he him­self rolled his Pro Stocker at Calder. “I’ve been rac­ing since 1971, and I get right near the end of my ca­reer and sud­denly over my car goes,” he says. “I found out that you’re never prop­erly free of the risk of this sort of thing hap­pen­ing. It’s all so quick that there’s noth­ing you can do. It was a sad day when Dave crashed, and I un­der­stand now some­thing of what he went through.”

Dave Missingham gave up the un­equal strug­gle that he had sus­tained for 30 years on 20 June, pass­ing away from pneu­mo­nia aged 71. He will be fondly re­mem­bered and sadly missed.

DAVE DE­CIDED HE HAD TO GO TO HEATH­COTE, OTHER­WISE HE MIGHT LOSE HIS LEAD IN THE CHAM­PI­ONSHIP. THAT’S HOW HE CAME TO BE THERE WHEN HE SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN

Dave Missingham

Dave Missingham RIGHT: The man­gled wreck of Dave’s Cortina after his ac­ci­dent, Heath­cote Park Race­way, 14 March 1987 BE­LOW: Dave in ac­tion in his TE Cortina at Surfers Par­adise, 10 June 1984

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