HOT ROD DRAG WEEK
Aussies invade Drag Week en masse, and claim some silverware in the process
IT’S America’s biggest automotive torture test: Hot Rod Drag Week. With 400 entries for this year’s event sold out in six minutes, there’s no disputing its allure, but while it may be popular, Drag Week is hardly a carefree cruise. Five days of racing, 1000 road miles, and whatever else the racing gods may throw your way see to that.
This year, the weather forecast told us we’d have a hurricane bearing down on us – just to make things more interesting. Foreboding tales of Hurricane Florence were pouring from every news channel and radio station in the south-east, and since the route this year would take us from Georgia, through the Carolinas, to Tennessee and back, it would be a game of cat-and-mouse with a potential Category 3 hurricane.
A total of nine Aussie teams were breaking beams this year, with two others out before the event began due to unfortunate US customs hang-ups. Seasoned Drag Weekers John Faraone, Mark Arblaster, Harry Haig, Richie Crampton and Brian Jensen were all back for business, joined by both Jamie Farmer and fatherand-son team Ross and Brenton Gault driving different cars this time ’round. The Skid Factory crew of Ben, Alan and Woody were newcomers this year, alongside Robby Abbott piloting his own car for the first time.
Hot and sticky weather, hurricane warnings, a bunch of fast Aussies, and five straight days of tooth-and-nail racing? Let’s go.
NO place does ‘muggy’ quite like the Deep South, and Georgia certainly turned it on, with 70-90 per cent humidity and temps flitting around the mid-30s. Still, that didn’t deter the 375 confirmed entrants who fronted for Day One of Drag Week at Atlanta Dragway. While you wouldn’t expect many to run a PB given the temps, it was a solid day of racing in Hot-lanta, where competitors tried to get in their groove for the week-long onslaught.
John Faraone’s VH Charger came out swinging to start. After spinning the tyres on an [email protected], John rolled back through the staging lanes to clock an impressive [email protected] before hitting the road.
A fair few of the Aussies opted for a oneand-done day, given the combination of heat, threatening rain and the 250-odd mile drive to the next track. Mark Arblaster struggled to get on boost in his VG Valiant hardtop, but was happy enough with a [email protected] Similarly, the Skid Factory turbo-powered Cresta of Ben, Alan and Woody punched out a [email protected] before skipping town.
Before the day kicked off, Richie Crampton and Jonnie Lindberg decided to pull their monster ’57 Chev wagon from official competition, instead opting to run alongside the event for shakedown passes. They recently dropped a 521ci Noonan billet Hemi kitted with a Top Alcohol supercharger and hat into the patinaclad wagon, and Richie reckoned it was just not ready for the full gruelling five days – not to mention his NHRA Top Fuel obligations would cut his week short regardless. With Jonnie manning the beast, they popped off a no-sweat 8.39 at just 134mph.
After swinging spanners with the crew, Harry Haig had the Aussie Chevelle back for its third year on Drag Week. Managing only one pass, and a bit all over the place, he ran an [email protected] with a couple of damaged wastegate diaphragms.
Brian Jensen ripped a killer skid in his LX Torana hatch before trapping a wheelspinning [email protected], while Ross and Brenton Gault ran [email protected] on the first pass of their freshly built ’55 Chevy.
After Jamie Farmer’s ‘Dirty Bird’ Falcon got caught up in the Charleston docks, he decided to run the week in a newly purchased Fox-body Mustang. Jamie, Kev Morton and crew had a hard slog on registration day to get the Mustang in one piece in time for Day One racing, but in the end managed to fire off a [email protected]
Robby Abbott and Dan Nissen also had a big lead-up to the event, dropping a borrowed 396-cuber into Dan’s old ‘Week Wagon’ ’83 Malibu, now co-owned by Robby and Harry Haig. Robby built and shipped an 800hp bigblock over initially, but was also caught up with shipping woes. After fixing a few niggling issues in the morning, Robby went [email protected] before hitting the road.
An afternoon storm rolled through quite aggressively and pretty much put paid to the rest of the day’s racing, denying many a chance to better their times.
Armed with route maps, the huge field – some running slick tyres – braved puddles and washoffs en route to Darlington Dragway in South Carolina for Day Two.
AFTER some slippery interstate travelling, concerns about Hurricane Florence had ramped up and the decision was made by event organisers to scrap the road section for Day Two in order to keep the field moving away from the hurricane’s path. But despite the storm being on everyone’s lips, a full day of solid racing buzzed through Darlington Dragway. We still had a full field of Aussies, although Richie Crampton opted to skip Darlington – no need to chance hurricane conditions voluntarily!
Harry Haig had a slight scare on the way from Georgia after he hit a concealed pothole and bent the Chevelle’s front wheel. With the help of some locals, they managed to get it trued and the tyre remounted before finally reaching Darlington. He managed to run an [email protected] on Day Two.
John Faraone had tried to stick out the rainy route with his slicks on, but in the end went for the far safer option of swapping to road tyres 50 miles into the drive. That process took a few hours, since he had to drop the rear coil-overs and anti-roll bar to get clearance under the Charger. Having to fit the racing rubber back on the following morning meant he missed the cooler temps of the first session, but he came through in the afternoon with a clean [email protected] to maintain his third position in the Unlimited class.
Ben Neal in the Cresta hit the track superearly to try and avoid the heat and humidity affecting his turbo Barra. It was looking much closer to form with a [email protected], and Benny reckoned the near-four-hour drive from Commerce was easy in the old Toyota.
After a similarly cruisy drive, Mark Arblaster ran into a few issues with his VG Val on Day Two, thrashing to fix an electrical problem with the thermo fan in the staging lanes, then having the engine protection mode kick in halfway down the track. After sensing low oil pressure, the system cut the engine and Arby cruised into a [email protected] despite having looked very solid off the mark.
Both Brian Jensen and Jamie Farmer managed to get through the day with no issues before getting out of Dodge amidst the weather concerns – Brian with a much healthier [email protected] and Jamie with a no-drama [email protected]
The father-son Gault duo were having problems with their alternator and managed to fry a starter motor on the road section, but son Brenton ripped an improved [email protected] at Darlington before hitting the road early.
Robby Abbott’s Week Wagon had no chance of leaving early after an eventful night due to a lost fanbelt; they were stranded ’til morning with no spares or parts shops open. The team’s woes continued when the mechanical fuel pump gave up the ghost right at the burnout box in the arvo session. Thrashing to diagnose and remedy the problem before the organisers called stumps for the day, they managed to splash some fuel into the carby, get the car onto the line and Robby bumped it through to break the beams for a default 20-second timeslip to stay in competition.
With no road section for Day Two, it was the first time in Drag Week’s 14-year history that everyone had a straightforward drive. Most got to North Carolina early enough to fix issues in daylight, and undoubtedly cracked open a few tins before an early night’s sleep.
WITH the continual threat of Florence looming, everyone was keen to get to the track early, get their passes in and hit the road. Racers flooded into ZMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina but were held up by lingering fog and misting rain, halting any early-morning rush hour. Despite ZMAX being a four-lane engineering marvel of a facility, it was set up for two-lane racing for Drag Week competitors.
Ben and the Cresta were early to the line again, keen to capitalise on the cooler air. After several hours sitting in the staging lanes on Day One, the boys’ aim was to hit the track early each day. It paid dividends with an Americansoil PB of [email protected]; by week’s end the crew would be chasing eights.
Jamie Farmer in the Fox-body Mustang improved on the previous day, running a [email protected]
Brian Jensen was successful in turning it up a notch too, putting down a [email protected] in the Torana, which brought him up to fourth place in the Street Race Big-block N/A class, where he’s traditionally been a topend contender.
Harry Haig’s Chevelle seemed to be wandering across the lane and having a few issues, only managing a best of [email protected] after three runs. But a slower timeslip didn’t hurt them too badly for the halfway point, as Harry and the boys found themselves in third place in Street Race Big-block Power Adder.
Arby also experienced a few problems with his VG and took a hit to the ET average, mustering a best of [email protected] after smoking the tyres badly. Rather than try again and chance weather issues, he took it on the chin and hit the road west.
John Faraone had a scare in his first pass when the Charger wouldn’t start just as he rolled towards the burnout box. Managing to identify a broken rotor button after a few minutes of scrambling, John fired off a haphazard run before lining up again to try and coax more out of the all-steel VH. A [email protected] solidified his third-place spot in Unlimited and seventh overall at the halfway point.
The Gaults were looking to improve with their baby-blue shoebox Chev, but lifting the floats to richen up the fuel-air mix proved detrimental to their timeslip, running an [email protected] while leaving a trail of black smoke.
Robby Abbott managed to re-diagnose yesterday’s fuel delivery woes and felt more confident in giving the Malibu wagon the berries. A [email protected] was his best so far, but Robby knew there was more in it, and was looking to improve his shifting strategy to eke out a few more tenths.
The stop at ZMAX would be the final day for Richie and Jonnie in the ’57 wagon, given their obligations at upcoming NHRA race events. Some fettling with the blower’s overdrive and a first-gear swap in the Lenco saw the car belt out a [email protected] on its second-ever pass. Before hanging the gloves up for the week, Jonnie returned for an extra hit and wowed the crowds with a screaming [email protected] – an encouraging sign for the team and a worrisome one for Drag Week’s regular big guns.
Given the hurricane threat, there was only one mandatory stop for the road section; then it was free reign to skip out from under Florence’s path and head towards Thunder Valley, nestled in a lush valley in Bristol, Tennessee.
JAMIE FARMER IN THE FOX-BODY MUSTANG IMPROVED ON THE PREVIOUS DAY, RUNNING A [email protected]
ABOVE: Nostalgia madman Jim Forbes debuted this bitchin’ altered-wheelbase ’65 Barracuda gasser, powered by a blown 426ci Hemi. The chassis has been stretched in the front, with the wheelbase extended. As a new build, Jim was unsure about completely burying his foot in it, but was just happy that “it goes down the highway and down the strip!”
DAY ONE: ATLANTA DRAGWAY, GEORGIA BELOW: Drag Week vet Mark Arblaster was back for his second year in POR440 – a 5.3 Ls-equipped VG Valiant hardtop (right). After a long road trip to get to Atlanta and purchasing a cool old Dodge truck as a tow vehicle, Arby’s goal was to survive Drag Week and run some solid nines along the way
DAY TWO: DARLINGTON DRAGWAY, SOUTH CAROLINA BELOW RIGHT: Ross and Brenton Gault decided to leave their orange Camaro in the garage this year and instead brought a 540-cube big block-powered ’55 Chevy to Drag Week. Being a fresh build, the car’s ETS were a little erratic, but a best of 10.96 was a great result
DAY THREE: ZMAX DRAGWAY, NORTH CAROLINA TOP LEFT: Jamie Farmer’s ‘Dirty Bird’ Falcon ute got hung up at the Charleston docks, but determined to have a crack regardless, he sourced a Fox-body Mustang packing a 302 Windsor with a shot of nitrous. Lots of thrashing prior to and during the event saw consistent improvement, with a best of 11.63 on the last day LEFT: 2017 winner Dave Schroeder was back with his hugecube ’66 Corvette to again compete for the crown. The ’Vette is powered by a stonking 872ci Reher Morrison number packing four Monte Smith nitrous kits. Narrowly beaten by Tom Bailey, Dave averaged a more-thanimpressive 7.017sec for the week