Turning back time at one of our favourite retro drag meets
THE success of the Sunset Strip Nostalgia events stems from two key ingredients: the intimate country setting in Mildura in north-west Victoria, and the community spirit of Australian grassroots drag racing. Further adding to the ambiance are the dedicated drag cars in 60s-70s livery – heavy metal-flake, enamelled signwriting and bold, era-correct colourings. It’s a scene that really gets you in the mood for some spectacular eighth-mile battles.
For the Sunraysia Drag Racing Association’s third Nostalgia meet, the pre-’78 entries were capped at 120 (up from 105 last year) and were filled some seven weeks prior. “This year was a lot bigger to organise,” said a tired yet proud Kingsley Kuchel, SDRA president. “But as with any of our events, all of the volunteers worked their backsides off to run the meeting like a well-oiled machine. The weather definitely helped too.”
Crisp, cool nights and clear, sunny days kept the eighth-mile strip at a good temp for a field full of amazing machinery, from full-blown drag cars to bench-seat sleepers. There were classes to tantalise everyone’s automotive tastebuds: Aussie Muscle, American Muscle, Hot Rod, Vintage Gas, and the really fast ’n’ quick rides in Top Gas, Middle Eliminator and Top Eliminator.
As usual, Vintage Gas put on the best display, brimming with an assortment of eye candy that performed as good as they looked. Steve Costa’s 540-cube ’57 Chevy gasser, Blaster, garnered the most cheers after reeling off humungous front lifts pass after pass. Fellow Nostalgia racer Damien Kemp left his Funder-bolt Fairlane at home, instead playing with his new toy, a 70s-built, yet freshly reborn Fiat Topolino labelled Desperado. Set to play in Middle Eliminator, the 327ci-powered short-wheelbase racer had a couple of initial hiccups as Damien grasped the feel of the Fiat, but soon he had it well and truly down pat, running clean, straight passes not far off his intended times.
Kingsley himself was also cutting eighths in his 383ci Sweet
Sensation dragster while juggling the coordination of the entire meet. “It’s definitely hard work,” he admitted after his emotional Middle Eliminator win. “My wife Lauren is the crew chief and is just as involved in the event organisation as I am. So we worked until we heard the class before us called, then got ready to do our run. It was difficult to keep my head in the game, but we were able to get it all done and race well.”
Show-level, high-horsepower cars were also out on the track, most notable being Brenton Lee’s angry twin-turboed KILAXW XW ute (SM, Mar ’16) competing in Top Gas, and Mike Evans’s tarmac-hugging, steel-bodied ’70 AAR Barracuda in Top Eliminator. Mike’s ’Cuda is immaculately finished and good for over 2000hp while belting out low-four-second eighths. It’s spectacular to watch.
The Aussie Muscle class had the most entries at this year’s event, with a whopping 31 competitors (up from 19 last year) along with a decent wait-list. Within it sat a fairly even mix of Holden, Ford and Chrysler models, each doing their maker proud. Some were dedicated trailered drag cars, while others were just set up for a bit of fun.
While the finals were planned for Sunday, the lack of incidents moved the event ahead of schedule and was run and won on Saturday evening under lights.
Overall, the Nostalgia racing was fun yet competitive across the vast array of horsepower within each grouping, and no one was racing for sheep stations either. The atmosphere was laidback and low-key, where your timeslip does the talking and you shake your opponent’s hand after the race is run.
During the Sunday Funday, the full timing system remained, allowing a few heavy-hitters to stick around for testing. Most
SUNDAY’S EMPHASIS WAS ON FUN, WITH AN EXPECTATION THAT NO ONE WOULD GIVE IT TOO MUCH JANDAL IN THE TOP END
paid to either be a passenger in an entered drag car or even to swap drivers for a blat. Being an open day, you could pair up against your mates too. The field was smaller, which meant more passes for everyone. That’s cheap testing in anyone’s language, yet the emphasis was on fun, with an expectation that no one would give it too much jandal in the top end.
As I promised at last year’s Nostalgia meet, we did bring up a worthy racer this time – my hubby Shane’s 502ci HZ Sandman panel van. It was also our first time staying at the track, allowing us to enjoy the driver and crew meals provided by the SDRA and hang out in the shed bar to bench-race.
The Nostalgia drags is a spectator’s delight. If you’re into tough sixes, eights, and a monster drag car or two pumping out a couple of thousand horsepower, then get yourself to the next Sunset Strip meet and mosey close to the action both on track and in the pits. I’ll see you there.