THE RED CENTRENATS GRAND CHAMPION CONTEST WAS HARDER TO PICK THAN A BROKEN NOSE
FROM day one of the event, picking a winner for the Grand Champ gong looked to be a complex proposition. The judges were struggling to separate Billy Shelton’s VL Calais and Charlie Harley’s ’57 Chev when it came to show judging, but then you had proven performers such as last year’s winner Graham Miller in his freshly built EH panel van and RCN 1 Grand Champ John Curwen-walker and his legendary FX Holden. While they might not score as high in the judging, they’re a lot more street-friendly and would handle the driving events and cruising with ease.
There were a couple of dark horses in the mix, too, with Nigel Warr’s HQ ute making its way across from Perth and spending most of Saturday at the drag strip working his way down to a 10.3sec ET. Then there was Mark King’s stunning pearl orange LC GTR, arguably the most nimble of the classic muscle cars competing.
All Grand Champ contenders had to face the roughly 10km City Cruise, a full quarter-mile pass down the ASID strip, the motorkhana at Lasseters Hotel Casino and a very tight grass driving course.
First cab off the rank at the drag strip was Billy Shelton, who reeled off a staggering 8.60@161mph hit right off the bat on a cold track, a time that was going to be impossible to beat. The next quickest was Nigel Warr with a 10.42@130mph, followed by Graham Miller with a very stout 12.10@110mph. Close behind was John Curwen-walker with a 12.19@111mph in the BOOGY FX.
Then it was off to Lasseters, where a tight motorkhana course faced the contenders. Billy Shelton’s pristine VL did surprisingly well, even impressing former champ Curwen-walker with his poise and smoothness through the course.
There was a bit of excitement when West Aussie Kevin Jones nailed a bollard in his HZ panel van and took a huge chunk out of his front spoiler. Luckily, the spoiler and his pride were the only things damaged.
The final challenge was the grass driving, which is always tough, especially for highpowered cars with skinny front tyres and poor turning circles. Once again, Shelton went out first and had a clean run, but he did shortcut the course accidentally, and this small slip-up gave the other competitors a shot at the title. However, many others made the same mistake, so the pressure was off a little for Shelton. Warr made a good showing, and impressive runs were also made by Jerry Grant in his custom ’53 Chev and Mark King in the LC GTR. Peter Dienhoff threw huge rooster tails out the back as he gunned his stunning Silver Mink HG around the course.
Once the dust settled, the winner was decided by just one point, with Billy Shelton taking the win over Nigel Warr.
“It’s all about Paul Butler, who built the car,” said Billy. “When I missed that cone, I was just shattered by it. When someone builds a car so well and then you stuff up the driving, you’re done.”
But it wasn’t just about the chase for Grand Champ for Billy (although he freely admitted he was going after it with everything he had), it was about the whole event. “Driving through the centre of town was unbelievable, with the locals cheering,” he said. “I was laughing because I was a little bit embarrassed with everyone looking at me, but it gave me goosebumps. I had my son with me, and we’re here for Father’s Day – what better way to celebrate it?”