One of the ad­van­tages of the Aus­tralian weather is that the rac­ing sea­son is a whole lot longer than New Zealand’s one. In re­al­ity, it hardly stops, with races be­ing held 11 months of the year. OK, the tracks don’t al­ways get up to op­ti­mum tem­per­a­ture, but they are gen­er­ally still race­able. So, con­sid­er­ing that in New Zealand you wouldn’t even con­tem­plate rac­ing any high­horse­power cars for six months of the year, the Aussie sea­son is a great thing. The Aeroflow Out­law Ni­tro Funny Car cal­en­dar doesn’t kick off un­til Au­gust 5 up at Spring­mount Race­way near Cairns, a ca­sual three­day drive from Syd­ney, so it seemed as if we had a bit of a break, but, in re­al­ity, we had plenty to get done. We took ‘ The Ter­mi­na­tor’, the new Ca­maro funny car, as well as the two ’57 Chevs in which we were try­ing a few dif­fer­ent things, out for a pri­vate test day. I re­ally en­joy the tech­ni­cal side of rac­ing and be­ing able to try new things. It was a cool day, with some very pleas­ing re­sults — now we just have to fig­ure out how to adapt them to the Kiwi car. How­ever, the high­light for me was the de­but of ‘Spooky’ 2 — well, it’s not ac­tu­ally ver­sion two; it’s ver­sion one with a new front half. I’m still so dis­ap­pointed about that last pass in New Zealand, where I hit the wall. Things had gone so well in rounds one and two, and then I ended it with a case of over-driv­ing; I’m still very dis­ap­pointed in my­self. I have al­ways driven any race car I’ve got­ten into to the limit, but that time I got it so very wrong. Any­way, Spooky was back, and I must say — al­though I know I’m bi­ased — it’s one badass­look­ing race car. One thing that means so much to me is the level of trust and con­fi­dence that own­ers Graeme and Wendy Cowin have in me; there was never any hes­i­ta­tion about whether Spooky would be re­paired and whether I was go­ing to be the driver. It would have been easy for them to pull the plug on the car or the driver, and I will al­ways be grate­ful that they didn’t. We learnt a few things in the re­build to help make it an even bet­ter car than it was be­fore, and it also looks as good as ever. We took Spooky and The Ter­mi­na­tor funny car out to a track test-and­tune here at Syd­ney Drag­way. It was a cold day, but the sun was out. The track was re­ally cold and just didn’t have the nor­mal ‘teeth’ or ‘bite’ that Syd­ney Drag­way nor­mally has. We set the cars up to suit this as much as pos­si­ble, but you can only back things off (ar­range to make less horse­power) so much be­fore you start run­ning into a world of other prob­lems. We towed out to the lanes, and joined the 100 others who had come out for a mid-win­ter test. As I wrote in the pre­vi­ous ar­ti­cle, my crash in New Zealand didn’t hurt, and it wasn’t scary, it was just dis­ap­point­ing, and I wasn’t re­ally too wor­ried about get­ting back in the car. How­ever, I had peo­ple say to me that the first pass af­ter a crash is al­ways the hard­est, so I was ex­pect­ing to be ner­vous. As strange as this may sound, I think I felt more comfy get­ting to the car this time than I had for any other pass — it just felt good and right. As we towed out, none of the cars — in­clud­ing our Ter­mi­na­tor funny car — was making it past 100 feet with­out go­ing up in tyre smoke. I won­dered if we’d taken enough power out of it, or, per­haps,

taken too much. As we started, Spooky and I rolled for­wards for the burnout; it wasn’t rolling for­wards very fast with my foot com­pletely off the clutch. I did a short skid in case there were any is­sues and, sure enough, at the end of the burnout, when I trimmed the fuel lever to the idle set­ting and put it in re­verse, I sat there dead still with the car not mov­ing. Hmm — what now? I fig­ured that the ‘stall’ — to put it sim­ply, the set­ting on the clutch to make it roll at idle — was not quite right. I grabbed the fuel lever and leaned the mo­tor out so that the revs would come up a lit­tle, and it started mov­ing back. Once I got back to the start line, the same thing hap­pened again: at nor­mal idle revs, the car wouldn’t roll for­wards; once again, I had to lean the mo­tor out to get it to move. I rolled for­wards to GC, who made the fi­nal ad­just­ments on the mo­tor, sent me into stage, and walked away. Now, I had a wee co­nun­drum. In a ni­tro car, you nor­mally go into pre-stage stop and go through a three-step process: one — put ya vi­sor down; two — pull the mo­tor on full fuel flow, which slows the idle revs down; three — pull your foot off the clutch, which also pulls the idle down. The prob­lem was that the car wouldn’t move with the revs it had, let alone fewer revs once I had been through the rou­tine. So, once again, I leaned the mo­tor out, rolled through pre-stage, went straight into full stage, then com­pleted the rou­tine as quickly as pos­si­ble. Of course, as I was do­ing this, the lights flashed green, it be­ing a solo test pass. Luck­ily, re­ac­tion times didn’t mat­ter, so I made sure every­thing was good to go be­fore mash­ing the loud pedal. Now, hav­ing seen what hap­pened with all the cars that went out be­fore us, I was pre­pared for Spooky to smoke the tyres, but this wasn’t to be. Spooky left the line well and, by 200, feet it was like, now, this is what it’s all about! Spooky was honk­ing. Just be­fore half-track, I could feel the lit­tle al­tered start­ing to turn the tyres. It then started mov­ing around the track. Know­ing the track con­di­tions, I thought we’d bet­ter get off the gas sooner rather than later on this one. Af­ter rolling through the traps, I shut Spooky off and just screamed a big “Hell, yeah!” Spooky was back, and I could feel that it’s go­ing to be an awe­some car. Even with the half-track shut off, we still ran 7.1 sec­onds at only 128mph. On re­turn to the pits, every­thing was in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion — I couldn’t have been prouder of every­one in­volved in get­ting Spooky back on track in such a short time and look­ing as good as ever. We got all ready to go back out for a sec­ond pass, towed to the stag­ing lanes, and then there was a one-hour-and-45-minute clean-up due to an oil-down. Even­tu­ally, the track was clean and ready again, so we got suited up and buck­led in ready to make an­other pass. Then — you wouldn’t read about it — the car be­fore us oiled the track from halfway all the way to the turnoff. It was go­ing to be an­other hour-plus for the clean-up. With the weather get­ting cold, we knew the track was not go­ing to come up to temp, so the de­ci­sion was made for our cars to call it a day. I’ll tell you what: I thought the rain out at Wil­low­bank sucked, but get­ting suited up and be­ing next car in line was like get­ting to the air­port to find your flight had been can­celled! Nev­er­the­less, it was still a great day be­ing back in the seat of Spooky!

I have al­ways driven any race car I’ve got­ten into to the limit, but that time I got it so very wrong

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