PETROLHEAD FATHER’S DAY DRAGS
THE JEWEL IN NEW ZEALAND'S STREET CARD RACING CALENDAR RETURNS AFTER A ONE-YEAR HIATUS, AND DID IT EVER DELIVER!
You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone, and it sure was good to be at the Petrolhead Father’s Day Drags this year! After last year’s event was relentlessly rained out, the American Muscle Car Club decided that this year would be different — the event would go ahead, come hell or high water; if that meant rain date after rain date, so be it. After a shaky start, with the original date canned by rain, the rain date of 16 September was good to go, and did it ever go! For most, the annual event represents the beginning of the drag racing calendar after a long off season, and the excitement in the Meremere air was as good as tangible. That excitement was clearly evident before you even set foot in the gates, manifested by pretty much all the spectator car parks being full. The huge numbers also drew into light the dedication of the American Muscle Car Club members, who worked tirelessly as volunteers, all day, to ensure that the whole thing went as well as it could. With the Meremere Dragway team getting the track and premises ready for a hard day’s racing, the familiar sounds and smells of the drag strip couldn’t invade the air quickly enough — especially given the nature of Father’s Day Drags.
A V8-powered street car shoot-out, the soundtrack is always beautiful, and the pit area is always worth a look. As it’s a fun day out, the racers are almost all relaxed and happy to talk shit about their cars — you won’t find any of the stress and pressure of a competition meeting, at which points are up for grabs and big-dollar parts are being put on the line. Even so, the day is never without its upsets, and we feel for the poor bloke who stacked his partner’s Dodge Challenger SRT Demon into the wall — oops! That was about the only real downer, though, as everything else ran like a Swiss-assembled timepiece and to the reliable formula that the day always follows. Not only that, but the sheer number of quick cars — all street legal, to one degree or another — powering down the strip was really quite spectacular, and we were particularly impressed by the two blown FG Falcons running 10.70s at 130mph time and again. Qualifying rounds began at 10am, and would determine the eight quickest American and
Australian vehicles of the day, for the highly anticipated Merlin Top 8 Shootout in the early afternoon. Before we got there, though, the BurgerFuel Burnout Competition had a bit of an announcement to make. Well, by announcement, we mean spectacle. The Meremere burnout pad is not known for its forgiving nature, and, with the line-up of seriously tough skid-rigs there to put in work, one hell of a show was on the cards. After Joel Arcus melted the tyres the way that only 1000hp of blown LS power can — covering the drag strip in rubber debris — the crowds were sure they had their winner … until Rob Toheriri stepped up and hammered the ‘AGROXY’ Falcon to a textbook performance, good enough to divert the trophy and $1K cash prize his way. A bit of a track sweep and plenty of VHT later, the PA system announced that it was time to get back to the main drawcard. Basically, the Top 8 Shootout is a heads-up sideshow, pitting the eight quickest qualified American cars against each other, and the same for the eight quickest Aussie cars, to find the top dog.
There were fewer street heavyweights in attendance than there have been in previous years, but that isn’t to say that Reece Fish was guaranteed a walk in the park to victory — not with Aaron Jenkins, Gary Bogaart, Tony Gera, and Mike Carlton’s Corvette thrown into the mix. Add the likes of Geoff Dann’s twin-turbo Camaro, Mathew Patmore’s tubbed and blown XY ute, Harley Douglas’ grumpy big block Camaro, Nigel Dixon’s deceptively quick HQ Monaro, and Mark Shotter’s turbocharged XC Falcon, and you’ve got yourself a party! We can’t forget that pair of stonkin’ supercharged FG Falcons, either. The seemingly random pairings also made things pretty interesting, with more than a few races that could have gone either way, but that was pretty much how the whole day went — a handful of races in which the outcome was a foregone conclusion, short of a red light but almost all others being anyone’s guess. It was that unpredictability that made the shoot-out fun for spectators, and no doubt just as enjoyable from the hot seat — something we can say about the day as a whole. From uncertainty as to whether the drags would even go ahead to what might possibly have been the best one yet, we can’t really emphasize just how much we love this event. Father’s Day Drags, please don’t leave us again.
Left: Mark Shotter’s XC Falcon sedan is so under the radar that you could be mistaken for thinking it’s a six-cylinder. It might look like a nice enough cruiser, but what you don’t see is what makes this thing one of a kind. A mechanic by trade, Mark built the turbocharged 351 Windsor around a factory roller-cam block, with AFR alloy heads, fuel injection controlled by a Link ECU, and a massive Holset HX52 turbo. As it’s been built to be streetable first and foremost, it’s as quiet as a mouse, giving no indication of the kind of boosted heat that it’s packing. Mark’s kept it all simple, though, and the tough XC runs an AOD transmission and nine-inch on split-mono leaves and CalTracs traction bars. It works remarkably well for an all-steel street car, with 60-foot times in the 1.5-second zone, and easily runs low-11second passes. Mark will never put a cage in it, so even though he knows that it’s got a 10-second quarter in it, he’s happier driving one of the most undercover sleepers we’ve seen
Several big-power Camaros were lining up for a go, but Geoffrey Dann’s was the toughest. Geoffrey was also running the Camaro in full street trim, having driven to Meremere and driving it back home afterwards — that means street tyres, full exhaust, and pump gas. He and the boys at C&M Performance have gone to great lengths to ensure that the Camaro is completely legal to the letter of the law, which makes its 9.5s at 150mph all the more impressive — and it’s got a lot more in it, as they’re only scratching the surface of what that twinturbo 540ci big block is capable of
Above and left: Justin and Lisa Weir both made it into the Top 8 USA Shootout, both in supercharged late-model muscle — Justin in the Challenger SRT8 Hellcat, and Lisa in the Camaro ZL1. There were more late-model cars in the Top 8 than we’ve seen in any other year, and, with the solid ETs these were putting down, it’s pretty clear why
Jay Maka topped the Super Sedan class in his 572ci big block Torana in the last Meremere Dragway Competition Series but was going totally different here, using the tough little Aussie to compete in the BurgerFuel Burnout Competition. That left his Impala for drag racing duties. While we’ve seen that big Impala come close to dipping into the 10s, its old 572ci motor being in the Torana meant that it was a little slower than we remember!
In 1965, Bill ‘Maverick’ Golden created a legend. Mounting a 426ci Hemi behind the cab, the little Dodge A100 pickup had no problem lifting the front end high in the sky, beginning the fable of the ‘Little Red Wagon’ — one of the most famous wheelstanders in drag racing history. This is not that truck, but it’s a hell of a replica, and we thought you’d appreciate the history lesson We’ll never get sick of Reece Fish’s ‘50SIX’ Chev. The thing is just surreal to watch as it catapults itself down the track, and the man started his day by laying down a crazy 7.82-second qualifying run