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!

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