I HAVE to admit, I didn’t have high hopes that this year’s Ford Forum Nats at Heathcote Park Raceway would go ahead. As I drove up from south-east Melbourne, wipers at full speed, roads covered in water, temperature hovering around five degrees, all I could think was that I’d hate to be one of the guys coming from interstate. But about half an hour from the track something weird happened – it stopped raining, and the road became bone dry. I might get to see some racing after all!
The Weather God must be a Ford man.
And Ford nuts in general must be bred pretty tough, because there were well over 100 people braving the shoddy weather to race, or even just watch and support their mates.
The late-60s/early-70s Falcon contingent was very strong, with a heap of stunning XR-XYs taking to the strip. Most unique of the lot was South Australian Tony Jordan’s ProCharged 351 Windsor-powered XR GT. The paint and bodywork were restored by the late Gary Watson around 30 years ago. Gary regularly raced the car, and after he passed away in 2011, Tony bought it, swapping the old Tremec transmission for a slicker Jerico. “I finished the car the way Gary had planned,” Tony said. “He would be blown away by how good the car is to drive now with the Jerico and the 774hp 351 build. He was always developing the car, so he wouldn’t have wanted it to stay the same, but I’m not touching the bodywork as a tribute to him.”
Tony’s best run for the day was an firstname.lastname@example.org, which, fittingly, he did in the final for the Gary Watson Memorial Trophy. After Gary passed away, a group of 10 mates made this trophy in his memory, and it has been awarded to the quickest car in the group every June long weekend at Heathcote. “The only reason I come up from South Australia is to remember Gary and have a good time with my mates,” Tony said. “I could race back in Adelaide, but this is the tradition.”
With rain constantly on the radar, the track was pretty slippery. A lot of the turbo guys turned their boost right down just to try and get some traction off the line. Tim Rhone usually runs around 15psi in his unassuming 363-cube twin-turbo ’66 XP coupe, but it
was blowing the tyres off the line and then spiking sideways further down the track. “I just can’t get traction with it at the moment,” he admitted. “I’m going to try turning the boost right down to 6psi and just baby it – who knows, it might go quicker that way!”
One turbo guy who wasn’t having any traction issues was Phil Edmondson with the boosted FAT383 XB coupe. Instead, the South Aussie was experiencing computer gremlins. At full throttle the car would backfire, which meant it sounded like a Venice-style putt-putt boat down the track. It still ran quick times, making a couple of 10-second passes, but it was well off its best. The day after the Ford Forum Nats, Phil hung around and did a few more passes, and this time the car was performing flawlessly. He set a new personal best of email@example.com!
“This weekend was really our only chance to race the car and tweak the suspension before we do Street Machine Drag Challenge in October, and it’s the first time racing it with the new E85 set-up,” Phil said.
“I got back to Adelaide and tried to figure out what the ECU gremlin was; we’re still not sure but we noticed one of the valves was torched, so we may have set a PB running on seven cylinders!”
Our unofficial sleeper award for the event went to Phil’s mate Daniel Shaw; his ’78 Ford LTD land-barge runs a home-built 408- cube Cleveland. The Ford Forum Nationals was Daniel’s first time drag racing the car
and it did an firstname.lastname@example.org – not bad for a car that weighs two tonnes!
Close second for our sleeper gong would have to be Paul Librio’s ’86 Ford F100. It took photographer Chris Thorogood and I until the end of the day to figure out that it was packing heat, the massive intercooler giving it away. The truck is daily-driven and runs a twin-turbo 351 Clevo on 17psi, with LPG as the fuel of choice. “I just wanted something a bit different,” Paul said. “This is my first time racing it and it’s on street tyres, so it should go quicker than the 12.5s I’ve been doing with some decent rubber.”
After rain stopped play for an hour around midday, track conditions only got worse. A couple of cars came close to tagging the wall, and Steve Cassy’s XW knocked a cone after crossing into the opposite lane.
But the real damage happened when Jamie Commisso took his Cortina for its maiden voyage with a Powerglide, as opposed to the C10 it had previously. Unfortunately, he spun across the track and into the wall, narrowly missing the late-model Falcon XR6 Sprint in the other lane.
“I came here to run a nine-second pass; it has gone low 10s very consistently and I was sure I’d get it with the new gearbox. I wanted it badly, but it wasn’t meant to be,” Jamie said. Still, he was philosophical about his misfortune. “When you go racing you have to expect these things to happen,” he said. “Afterwards the other driver came and
shook my hand and we’re both just glad no one was hurt. It could have been a lot worse. It’s only metal, it can be fixed.” Initial inspections showed the chassis was okay, but the front end will need all-new panels and some suspension bits.
Queenslander Wayne ‘Weetbix’ Sampson was another bloke gunning for his first ninesecond pass at the Ford Forum Nats in his insane little ’34 Ford pick-up. It’s on a ’28 Model A chassis, with a 406ci Chev up front on twin 650 Holleys. “I got so damn close, I went 10.06 and every run since then I’ve missed gears or fried it off the line!” said Wayne of his wheelstanding hot rod. “Once it does a nine with the current set-up I’m going to give it nitrous, so I’m itching to crack that goal.”
The event finished up with a classbased Chicago Shootout, which added an interesting competition aspect to the event.
In the final, wheelstanding 1922 Model T driver Noel Inman took on Matt Pontins’s XY – and won!
Regardless of competition or times run, it was clear that everyone who came to the Ford Forum Nats was there to have a good time and socialise with their mates. Turbo hardtop owner Phil Edmondson summed it up perfectly: “I’ve been on the forums for around 12 years now and I’ve become mates with a lot of the guys, but we all lead busy lives and don’t always live near each other, so this is the one time of the year everyone gets to catch up. I come to socialise and have a laugh; the racing is a bonus.” s