WE PUT 50 OF AUSTRALIA’S TOUGHEST STREETERS THROUGH THE ULTIMATE STREET ’N’ STRIP TORTURE TEST
THE IDEA behind Street Machine Drag Challenge is pretty simple: Find Australia’s quickest true street car by getting a bunch of them to drive 1500km over average roads and race at five tracks along the way over five consecutive days.
Last year was the first time we’d attempted anything so massive, with four tracks in four days and 1000km, and it was invite-only. This year we went all out, with more tracks, more driving and threw the entries open to anyone with a car quick enough. Over 140 people registered their interest, but when push came to shove only 49 had the guts to enter.
Throw in Scotty with a borrowed VF HSV GTS and that made the entry list an even 50 cars.
Of course, just getting to Drag Challenge can be a feat in itself. We had entrants from every state in Australia, except the Northern Territory. A couple of them didn’t make it to day one at Calder Park, and there were plenty of others who only just scraped in with last-minute engine builds and dyno tuning.
In the end 48 cars rocked up for scrutineering. The entry list featured some of the fastest real streeters in the country, with the likes of Terry Seng, Tristan Triccas, Luke Foley, and last year’s winner Quentin Feast all returning to match it up against newcomers like Adam Rogash, Alon Vella, Mark Clifford, and Brenden ‘Bubba’ Medlyn. Harry Haig was also back with his HQ; he didn’t run the whole course last year, so he was keen to do the entire week this time around – and maybe even get in a little fishing as well.
We kicked things off at Calder Park, with the plan to return there on day five so that competitors could leave their tow rigs parked at the track all week. While some people felt that the entrants should all drive their cars to the track for day one, it just wasn’t practical for those travelling from interstate. Starting and finishing at the same track made things just a little bit easier, but that was the only easy part of Drag Challenge this year.
Check-in consisted of making sure the cars had the appropriate tyres for their class, along with handing out goodies bags and T-shirts, and stickering up windscreens with the event stickers, entrant numbers and classes. We added a DYO class for the slower cars this year, and the aim for those guys was to show consistency across all the tracks. Check-in was certainly a much more involved process than last year, and we quickly learned that we didn’t have enough people for the task, so the entrants pitched in and helped.
After a short drivers’ briefing it was time to get the party started, and it didn’t take long for the action to fire up. After a soft exploratory pass in his VC Commodore, Terry Seng opened the taps and ran a 7.86@166mph for the very first seven-second pass of Drag Challenge. Adam Rogash from MPW wasn’t far behind with an 8.28@166mph in his NOSHOW VT Clubsport, while Quentin Feast was less than a tenth further back, with his LH Torana running an 8.35@165mph. Unfortunately Quentin discovered that his transmission had no line pressure after the run, so they lifted the car up on jack stands and started changing the Powerglide out then and there.
Quentin wasn’t alone in that regard; Bubba Medlyn was also forced to do a trans change when the ’Glide in his twin-turbo VH let go just off the startline. Thankfully it didn’t dump anything on the track, but the boys had a long night ahead of them.
By the end of the day we had 15 cars in the nine-second zone or better, but we also lost a couple. Well-known hot
rodder Noel Inman managed to frag the nitrous small-block Windsor in his tall centre-door Model T, and the damage was bad enough to crack the block – unfortunately that’s the one part that can’t be replaced. Entrants must use the same engine block from start to finish; that’s to stop people from using a ‘race’ engine and a ‘street’ engine.
The other competitor to pull out on day one was Leighton Kelson, after his awesome pro street Chevelle lost its fibreglass bonnet on the track. “It’s in three pieces now,” Leighton said afterwards. “The bonnet hinges are stuffed and it scratched the guard but I was pretty lucky – it could have been worse. We put the Chevelle away and just had a blast following everyone along.”
By 3pm it was time for everyone to hand in their timeslips.
That’s one of the most important parts of Drag Challenge – each entrant must submit just one timeslip each day; it’s their responsibility to choose which one to hand in and make sure they get it in on time. We don’t have the manpower to chase people for times; fail to submit a timeslip and your trip is over.
Each competitor was given a route map to the next track when they handed in their slip, and then it was time to hit the road towards Portland. While following the route exactly isn’t necessary, each day’s journey has a mandatory photo stop, and without the route map you wouldn’t know where the stop is. Failing to provide a mandatory stop photo was another way to get disqualified.
First stop – but not mandatory – for most people was the BP service station at Diggers Rest to fuel up and grab a snack before heading towards Ballarat. It also proved to be a good place to make some running repairs, as Terry Seng discovered.
“The engine developed a miss so we checked it out and found one of the hydraulic roller lifters had collapsed,” Terry said. “Lucky we didn’t make another run. So we had to pull the heads, and luckily Crow Cams wasn’t far away; they did a special delivery and brought out a set of lifters for us.”
That’s totally allowed in the Drag Challenge rules. Entrants are permitted to purchase goods and services along the way; they just can’t have a chase vehicle loaded up with spares and helpers.
The planned route took competitors through the western outskirts of Ballarat, and social media was already abuzz with stories of tough streeters making their way through and around the rural metropolis. It wasn’t a convoy; most elected to travel in groups of five or so cars on their journey out to the Railway Hotel at Linton for the first mandatory stop of the event.
While Drag Challenge might seem to be focused on drag racing, it’s on the road where everyone seems to have the most fun. The camaraderie of the great Australian road trip builds amazing friendships, and that’s what brought almost all the entrants from last year back again.
Linton’s Railway Hotel turned out to be a great stopping point and most competitors made it there by late afternoon.
Others didn’t get there until late into the night; some, like Bubba and his crew, decided to stay in Linton for the night after an epic struggle getting a new trans for their car.
After Linton it was a nice 145km cruise into the sunset on our way to an overnight stay in Hamilton, with a great view of the Grampians to the north. The roads were open and flowing, but about average for Australian country roads, complete with potholes, bumps and wildlife – a true test for any street car. It was a great first day for Drag Challenge 2015.
AFTER a cold, cold night in Hamilton at the Lake Hamilton Motor Village & Caravan Park, we headed off to Portland, around 85km away. We had heard the various competitors filtering in during the night, and even had a chat with some other park guests about the cool cars parked around the cabins.
Tristan Triccas had damaged the tow bar on his Capri, but knew someone in Portland who could fix it, so he decided to leave the trailer behind and pick it up later on our way back through Hamilton to Mildura.
The road to Portland was a little worse for wear due to the heavy truck traffic, but all entrants made the trip intact.
Some had travelled through direct to Portland during the night, including Harry Haig in his repainted HQ; he had put the boat in the water early in the morning and reckons they caught three flathead.
Portland’s South Coast Raceway is the best eighth-mile track in Australia – no ifs, no buts, no coconuts. With its grassy spectator mound, complete with shade sails, digital scoreboards, clubhouse (with WiFi), great coastal location and neat layout, it’s the kind of facility that all eighth-mile tracks should aspire to be. We rolled in about 9am, with most of the entrants stretched out behind us; in the pits there were already half a dozen cars waiting for us.
The action started about 11am and Quentin Feast laid down an early 6.13@124mph, but with the best naturally aspirated cars running low sixes, he was definitely looking to improve on that. Adam Rogash lifted the front end and fired off a 5.41@134mph with the blue Clubsport, but Quentin topped that in his Torana shortly after, running 5.34@134mph. Harry Haig managed a 5.74@127mph with his HQ after replacing a dead injector from Terry Seng’s stash of spares, but a broken shock mount caused him no end of traction issues. Luke Foley wasn’t far behind, with his twin-turbo VH Commodore running a 5.79@119mph. Terry Seng maintained his position at the top of the table with a 5.21 at a massive 140mph to be quickest on the day, giving him a six-tenths-of-a-second lead over Quentin Feast, with Adam Rogash very close behind in third.
On the naturally aspirated side of the equation, Alon Vella’s dark green Capri topped the list with a six-flat at 115mph.
Not far behind him was Tristan Triccas in the blue Capri with a 6.08@111mph, level-pegging with Queenlander Mark Clifford, who managed the same time at 115mph in his 598ci Kaase-engined Mustang. Both Alon and Tristan were in the Radial Aspirated class, for cars with radial tyres under 275, while Mark was in the Outlaw Aspirated class, running a set of slicks he carried on a pair of roof racks.
We lost another couple of racers during the day. Louis Younis hasn’t had much luck with his glossy black LJ coupe.
After running an 8.84@150mph during testing in Sydney, the expensive nitrous motor tossed a rod, and Louis bolted a much milder engine up front for the Drag Challenge trip.
Sadly, that donk met the same fate at Portland. Not one
to give up easily, Louis sourced a mild 350 Chev locally and bolted that in. Under the rules, that put him out of competition, but he and his crew intended to continue along and do the whole trip, and we were quite happy for them to do that just for fun. The other dropout was Dean Gianginis, who had some issues with the front suspension in his VK Commodore, which slowed him up enough that he wasn’t able to put a timeslip in for Portland.
Grant Grech had a close call with his orange hatchback Torana tearing off the trailing arm mounts, but the Portland locals got him sorted out.
It would have been great to hang about and have a beer with the South Coast crew, but we had places to be, and along with the remaining competitors we headed north for the 213km drive to Horsham. The mandatory stop for day two was the sign outside the Horsham Auto Wreckers, and then we ventured onwards to the Wimmera Lakes Caravan Resort for our overnight stay.
A few racers voiced their concerns about the big drive in the morning before the day’s racing at Mildura, but it’s not called Drag Challenge for nothing. With 1500km to drive over five days, we tried to break it up into roughly 300km per day, but towns big enough to handle 50 cars and 150 people staying overnight are few and far between in Western Victoria, so we made our stops where we could find them.
WITH 522km to cover from Portland to Mildura, we decided to split the trip up into two sections.
Most entrants elected to do the 213km stint to Horsham for a pleasant meal at the local RSL and overnight stay at Wimmera Lakes; a few hardier (read: insane) souls decided to push on towards Mildura and the mandatory stop at the Werrigar Roadhouse in Warracknabeal.
The guys and girls at the roadhouse put on free coffee for Drag Challenge competitors, which certainly helped those tackling the 308km early-morning cruise from Horsham to Mildura. The long straight roads were tempting to those with a heavy right foot, but everyone stayed on the right side of legal and stuck to the limit.
The forecast for Mildura wasn’t looking good; 35-degree temperatures and possible late showers were predicted.
This was where some interesting travelling strategies came into play. Quentin made an early trip to Mildura in anticipation of the hot temps with the intention of laying down passes as soon as the staging lanes were open. Terry tried to do the same, but the three-hour drive proved too much for the VC’s transmission, which has been in the car since the last Drag Challenge.
The car’s doors were already open as they pulled up in the pits at Sunset Strip for the quickest transmission change in the history of street cars. There was no time to let anything cool down; even with the extra hour of track time the HDT275 team knew they were up against it.
They weren’t alone in doing things the hard way. Adam Rogash had John Pilla from Powerhouse Engines giving him a hand, but Johnny needed to attend a friend’s wedding on Saturday afternoon. The Drag Challenge rules state that crew members can leave at any time during the trip if they don’t intend to return, but if they do want to come back and continue on until the end, they need to re-join the car at the same point they left it. This meant that Johnny had to re-join the NOSHOW team at Portland before they could continue on to Mildura. The problem for Adam and the team was that Johnny got back to Portland at 3am Sunday morning, so they had to drive all through the night to get to Mildura on time.
“The tough rules just made it fun,” Adam said later. “Anyone can do it without rules and regulations. Waiting for Johnny put us behind time-wise, but we couldn’t – and wouldn’t – have done the trip without him.”
With the staging lanes open, Quentin headed straight out to make a pass and managed to lay down a stout 5.59@131mph, which would ultimately be the quickest pass of the day. Next quickest was Harry Haig with a 5.77@129mph, closely followed by Bubba Medlyn with a 5.79@126mph in his twin-turbo Holden-powered VH Commodore sedan. They were the only three who managed five-second passes at Mildura and, with Terry hurting for
traction and running a 6.16@118mph, the gap between him and Quentin closed to just 0.04sec in Terry’s favour.
Adam Rogash was still in third place but was several tenths further back after struggling with the hot track to produce a 6.20@126mph.
The fourth-quickest run of the day went to Alon Vella and his small block-powered Capri with a 6.08@115mph, followed by Luke Foley’s twin-turbo VH, Tristan Triccas and Nathan Ghosn in their Capris, then Todd Foley in his naturally aspirated 383 Holden-powered Commodore.
Day three also began to reveal who was looking the goods in the Dial Your Own category; Alysha Teale was leading the charge in her flat black HQ Premier, with just 0.008sec difference between her three track times. Brenton Miller, who had driven his Centura all the way down from Cairns, and John Kerr in the red Mercury Comet were battling it out for second place.
Dial Your Own racing is all about consistency; the idea for our DYO class was for racers to submit just one time from each track; the closer your times were to each other, the more consistent you were. For the eighth-mile tracks like Portland and Sunset Strip, we multiplied the eighth-mile times by 1.555 to get a quarter-mile time. It’s not perfect, but it’s the internationally accepted standard, and it gave racers another obstacle to face.
Louis Younis managed to make it all the way to Mildura and lay down a soft pass with his newly installed engine, but Jon Mitchell had a long night ahead of him after destroying the front yoke and universal in his 512ci Dodge Challenger.
Track time finished at 4pm, but by the time we packed up and arrived at the Big 4 Mildura Deakin Holiday Park it was almost time for dinner. Thankfully Liam and Tiffany had us covered there; they put on a massive sausage sizzle for the Drag Challenge entrants. Without a big drive that night, most entrants let their hair down and partied hard, despite a massive dust storm that swept through and some pretty heavy rain. Everyone agreed it was the best night of the week.
DAY four started very early – much to the displeasure of some park visitors, but we had a 445km journey ahead of us and seven hours of track time to look forward to at Heathcote Park Raceway.
After a truck-stop bacon and egg roll we headed south-east towards Melbourne and the mandatory photo stop at the Terminus Hotel in Wycheproof. We pulled up at the same time as Tristan Triccas, Alon Vella and Rob Adamo, and a local came running out with a camera. “My son is going to be so jealous that he missed out on all these cool cars. I’ve been hearing them all morning,” she said as she prepared to take some happy snaps.
Now 445km is a big haul in just about any car, let alone a nine- or eight-second streeter, so a few entrants had decided to get a head start and drive to either Swan Hill or Bendigo during the night. It wasn’t a trouble-free trip for some. Josh O’Brien’s ProCharger basically fell off the motor when all the bolts came undone, and the 427ci small-block in Rob Adamo’s Bronco also cried ‘Enough!’. Rob briefly considered dropping in another motor overnight for some playtime at Calder the following day, but sanity prevailed.
Unfortunately that made Rob the only bloke who’s failed to finish both Drag Challenges.
With only four-hundredths of a second between Terry Seng and Quentin Feast going into day four, the pressure was on. Heathcote was where it was all won and lost last year, so Terry made sure he was at the track nice and early.
Adam Rogash had elected to head straight to Heathcote from Mildura the day before, making it one massive stint of driving from Portland to Mildura and on to Heathcote all in one day. Quentin, on the other hand, decided to cruise down nice and leisurely in the morning with the majority of the racers.
First on the track was Harry Haig, who continued to have trouble with his injectors whenever he changed over from pump fuel to his race E85. The Quey popped and farted its way down the track, so Harry raided Terry’s spares while Terry pedalled away from the startline for a 9.24@146mph.
“That’s a new PB for me at this track,” he said with a grin.
Heathcote’s uncooperative timing boards made it hard to see what each car was running, but the traction seemed to be there and the cars looked to be getting quicker as more and more entrants rolled in and made passes. Then Quentin and team arrived around 12.30pm, and with little fanfare they unhitched the trailer, bolted on the drag radials and went 8.32@169mph! Then he backed it up 40 minutes later with a new PB of 8.25@169mph.
Adam wasn’t far behind with an 8.32@168mph in the MPW Clubbie, and Terry managed an 8.55@166mph, with a pedal – the white VC just couldn’t get a clean run. That put Quentin 0.27sec ahead of Terry with one track to go, but given that Terry had run 7.86 at Calder on Friday, he wasn’t looking too concerned.
With Melbourne just over 100km away, the other players
decided to open the taps; Luke Foley ran an 8.72@151mph, Bubba Medlyn managed an 8.77@162mph, and Harry finally sorted his injector issues to run 8.89@160mph.
For those without boost the times were a little slower, but no less impressive. Alon Vella led the charge with a 9.51@145mph, with the Capris of Tristan Triccas and Nathan Ghosn close behind. Just a little further back, Todd Foley was waiting for any of them to slip up, running 9.95@137mph with his Holden-powered VH Commodore.
Mark Clifford looked to have the big-tyre Outlaw class all sewn up with a 9.83 at almost 144mph from the big red Mustang, while Jon Mitchell got the Challenger running, but failed to make it to Heathcote before 6pm.
To avoid the locals running back to Melbourne straight from Heathcote, we threw in a mandatory stop at the Castlemaine Rod Shop, one of this year’s sponsors. Which meant if they wanted to go home before Calder they basically had to drive back to Bendigo, down to Castlemaine and do their mandatory photo on the way. We’re pretty sure they all decided to stay in Bendigo that night!
WITH only 140km to travel on the final day of Drag Challenge, things got off to a more relaxed start than on previous days. There was the mandatory stop at Castlemaine Rod Shop, and then a freeway cruise to Calder Park. The cruise route took racers straight through the heart of Bendigo, which raised a few eyebrows among the locals.
Most entrants took the opportunity to look through CRS when they got to Castlemaine; the amount of product they ship in and out of that place on a weekly basis is just amazing.
But time was ticking away and everyone started to realise they needed to get on the road to Calder, especially those at the pointy end of the competition. No one wanted to miss out on finishing Drag Challenge when they were so close to the end.
The DYO class remained a pretty close thing between Alysha Teale, John Kerr and Brenton Miller. Alysha had the boys pretty well covered though, with the spread of her times still just 0.008sec heading into day five. At the end of the day it was Alysha first, John second and Brenton third – the difference between Alysha’s quickest and slowest times was just 0.012 of a second.
With Jon Mitchell and his Dodge Challenger out, the Outlaw Aspirated class became a three-horse race – but when one of those horses is Mark Clifford’s Mustang, the race is already over. Heading into day five Mark had a 1.1sec lead, and he extended that by another three-tenths over second placegetter Adam Lynch, with Steve Reimann coming in third with the big-block ’Cuda.
The winning margin was even bigger in Outlaw Blown, with Adam Rogash showing a clean set of heels to the rest of the class. His HSV Clubsport had only been finished a few weeks before Drag Challenge and managed an 8.48@162mph during testing just before the event. The Clubbie really showed its potential on the last day though, running 7.99@171mph – the second-quickest ET and fastest speed of the week. That gave Adam the class win over Harry Haig in second place, with Bubba Medlyn finishing third.
Radial Aspirated was the battle of the Capris, with Alon Vella proving to be too good for Tristan Triccas and Nathan Ghosn.
At the start of day five Alon was four-tenths ahead of Tristan, with Nathan just another two-tenths further back, but then Alon dropped a 9.49@143mph to seal the deal. Tristan ran 9.61@137mph to finish second while Nathan cranked out a 9.68@138mph for third. Todd Foley ran nines all week to stay with the Capris, but his couple-tenths difference at each track really showed in the overall result.
As with last year, Radial Blown was the class to watch, and once again it was Terry Seng and Quentin Feast battling for both class and outright honours – although Adam Rogash was there ready to pounce for the overall win if either, or both, slipped up. After all, you’ve got to run quick every day – one bad day can spoil your whole week.
On paper things were looking pretty close. Quentin had a 0.27sec lead before day five, but it didn’t take a genius to work out that Terry had already run a 7.86 at Calder on day one, while Quentin’s quickest-ever pass was an 8.25. If Terry repeated that seven-second run, he was going to be tough to beat. On the other side of the equation though, Quentin hadn’t been doing a hell of a lot to prep the car for race
duties, so there was some room to improve if he wanted to start unbolting parts.
Quentin hit the track first, smoked the startline, and decided to just cruise out to the end of the track. Terry came out and dumped an 8.00@160mph on the track, which meant Quentin was going to have to run almost a PB to win. Less than 10 minutes later, Quentin was back, and with the left-hand front wheel just a few inches in the air the Torana hooked up and fired down the track – 8.29@166mph. Close, but not quite quick enough. In the meantime Adam ran his 7.99sec pass to let them know he was still there and in the hunt, but unless he could find another four-tenths he was going to finish a very credible third in the overall stakes.
Quentin headed back to the pits and unbolted the exhaust, the headlights and even the passenger seat, which is all allowed under the rules. The cars have to be in street trim for the road sections, but we allow competitors to race-prep the cars in the pits – it’s something street-car racers have been doing since the dawn of drag racing.
The result was an immediate increase in power, so much so that the car was overpowering the track. “We had to start pulling all the power out of it,” Quentin says. With less than 60 minutes to go things were getting tense. “That last half an hour at each track is just insane,” Quentin reckons.
Naturally Terry wasn’t sitting back watching it all happen, he was out there with the VC trying to put the power down as well. “I had to pedal the car on almost every run this week.
The datalogger showed I was off the throttle for 1.8 seconds on the 8.0sec run from the morning,” Terry says. Unfortunately he couldn’t better that run, and everyone watched to see if Quentin could gain the two-hundredths of a second he needed.
The run came with just over 10 minutes left in the competition – the pink Torana screamed through the traps with an 8.23@169mph. Terry gave it one more shot, but once tyre smoke appeared around the 60-foot mark we knew it was over. Quentin had achieved what was looking to be impossible just a few days earlier; he had clawed back a six-tenths deficit to win by just over three-hundredths of a second; that’s just 0.031sec for the number crunchers. It was an insanely narrow margin after five days, 1500km and five different race tracks.
So let us present to you Quentin Feast: back-to-back winner of Drag Challenge and Australia’s Quickest Street Car for 2015.