HOT ROD DRAG WEEK

Aussies in­vade Drag Week en masse, and claim some sil­ver­ware in the process

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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]

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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

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