WILD AT HEART

Street Machine - - Contents - VIC­TOR BRAY

FI­NALLY, after a break of around three months, we got the chance to go rac­ing again, this time at Syd­ney Drag­way’s East Coast Thun­der meet­ing. There were a lot of new names pop­ping up as win­ners on the day – in par­tic­u­lar, West Aus­tralian Kelvin Lyle, who won his first 400 Thun­der event in Pro Slam­mer.

Kelvin’s a smart op­er­a­tor and has an ex­cel­lent team be­hind him, and he’s also been get­ting some help from John Zappia in the en­gine depart­ment. He’s very am­bi­tious and wants to do well in the cat­e­gory, and when I spoke to him he said he was al­ready think­ing about get­ting a new car. This was his first win, but it won’t be his last.

New Zealand’s Trevor Smith is run­ning his Slam­mer out of our work­shop. He snuck into the field on the bump spot, and was handed a win in the first round when John Zappia failed to stage due to a flat bat­tery, prov­ing once again that there are a thou­sand ways to lose. Trevor then had a bye run, and next thing you know he’s into the semi-fi­nals. That was where the fairy­tale ended though, as he lost to Syd­ney’s Sam Fenech.

Trevor’s a funny guy with a quirky sense of hu­mour, and en­joys a huge fol­low­ing in New Zealand. When he came back from the run against Zap, I went over to con­grat­u­late him and he joked: “I thought you said Zappia would be hard to beat!”

Zap los­ing in the first round is an early con­tender for the upset of the sea­son. How could some­thing like that hap­pen? I put it down to pres­sure. Zap’s team was flat-out putting a new en­gine into the car be­fore the run, and from the out­side it looks like they ‘messed up’ their pre-race check­list. You can bet it won’t ever hap­pen again.

Zap was pretty upset; when I spoke to him on the way back to the pits, I learnt 19 new words that he used to de­scribe how he felt. I can un­der­stand his frus­tra­tion; when you go to the start­line you ex­pect to race. The sav­ing grace for Zap was that his arch-ri­val Paul Mouhayet lost in round two.

Qual­i­fy­ing was a real stinker, with a track tem­per­a­ture of around 49°C, which doesn’t suit the swing-arm rear sus­pen­sion I have in the Chev. The four-link set-up that most guys run is a much bet­ter propo­si­tion when the track is so hot, as you can ad­just the amount of bite the car has on the hit of the throt­tle.

I qual­i­fied 10th, then in round one lost to Sam Fenech, who went on to fin­ish run­ner-up to Lyle. Ben did slightly bet­ter. He qual­i­fied sev­enth, then lost in round one when, like many oth­ers, he smoked the tyres on the hot track.

Ben had ar­rived home the day be­fore from the World Sports Com­pact Chal­lenge in Florida, where he crewed on Rod Har­vey’s Toy­ota Cel­ica. The high­light for the Aussie con­tin­gent was Rod’s PB of [email protected] – the sec­ondquick­est ever for a six-cylin­der car. Reign­ing Top Fuel champ Kelly Bettes had a good meet­ing too; she drove the Dat­sun ute for Collin Will­shire’s Jett Rac­ing team and made it to the semi-fi­nals.

The event was a real eye-opener for Ben. They had such a mas­sive crowd they were forced to shut the gates. He said there was a re­ally re­laxed and laid­back at­ti­tude at the meet­ing, with a lot of peo­ple wan­der­ing around the stag­ing lanes and start­line – even ladies strolling around sell­ing mar­gar­i­tas! Ben reck­ons it could be some­thing we could in­tro­duce here in Aus­tralia.

After the se­cond round of East Coast Thun­der qual­i­fy­ing was washed out, the Slam­mer boys got to­gether and had a bit of a meet­ing. The main dis­cus­sion cen­tred on the 400 Thun­der cal­en­dar this sea­son. There are six meet­ings: three in Syd­ney, two at Wil­low­bank and one in Dar­win. There’s a hell of a lot of frus­tra­tion amongst the teams that we don’t get more op­por­tu­ni­ties to race. We want a cal­en­dar with at least eight or nine rounds. I don’t think Wil­low­bank or Syd­ney want any more rounds on their cal­en­dar, but there are other tracks that we could race at. The word out of Calder Park is there is still the ap­petite for drag rac­ing to con­tinue there. At Ade­laide In­ter­na­tional Race­way, they be­lieve that money needs to be spent on im­prov­ing the fa­cil­i­ties for the spec­ta­tors – that’s the pri­or­ity. The track it­self is okay but needs some work on the top-end right-hand guardrail. What we would like to see is 400 Thun­der run a mix­ture of dif­fer­ent race dis­tances at more tracks.

It also may be time to re­visit the Slam­fest con­cept. In its time – about five or six years ago – Slam­fest was an out­stand­ing suc­cess. We raced at Calder Park, Ade­laide, Dar­win, Alice Springs and a bunch of coun­try tracks in­clud­ing Port­land, Mil­dura and Mackay. We raced quar­ter-mile, 1000-foot and eighth-mile, and this va­ri­ety of race dis­tances was one of the rea­sons Slam­fest was so suc­cess­ful.

We are also talk­ing about a North­ern Swing series after the Win­ter­na­tion­als in June that would take in Spring­mount Race­way near Cairns as well as Dar­win and Alice Springs.

Teams need a cham­pi­onship cal­en­dar that they can show their spon­sors. Guys are sick of hav­ing a mil­lion dol­lars’ worth of car and in­fra­struc­ture and only rac­ing around half a dozen times a year. Pro Slam­mer num­bers are on the rise and the cat­e­gory needs to be out there rac­ing to en­sure that rise con­tin­ues.

TREVOR SMITH SNUCK INTO THE FIELD ON THE BUMP SPOT, AND WAS HANDED A WIN IN THE FIRST ROUND WHEN JOHN ZAPPIA FAILED TO STAGE DUE TO A FLAT BAT­TERY, PROV­ING ONCE AGAIN THAT THERE ARE A THOU­SAND WAYS TO LOSE

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