WILD AT HEART
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