PIRTEK RACE DIARY
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