THE 2016 Winternationals was one of the best weíve had for a long time. The weather was a little bit dreary, but the crowd still turned up Ė spectator numbers on the Saturday and Sunday were just fantastic.
There were only a couple of sour notes: Russell Paveyís crash, Stuey Bishopís horrific fire and John Cannuli and Gary Phillips coming together in the Pro Alcohol final.
I hadnít raced for a while, so I was hoping to get a couple of runs in on a test day while no one was around. That didnít happen; they had one of the biggest crowds at Willowbank for the past 10 years when I went out!
What was it like to be back out racing? Well, having lost a lot of weight, I was very surprised at how much more comfortable I felt in the car.
Jumping in the car and going that quick Ė we ran a 5.99 Ė was fun. I got off the throttle a bit early though and got bagged by Benny and the crew.
For the past 10 or so years Iíve used a handbrake, but a handbrake with a converter is a bit awkward, so Benny has had the car fitted with a footbrake.
Thatís what I used for the first 20 or so years of my racing career, because I preferred them. But then Ben and Murray Anderson convinced me I had to have a handbrake. I whinged for a couple of years, but I got used to it.
So now Iím back running with a footbrake and having to get used to that again Ė you know what they say about old dogs and new tricks. There I am on the first run, at 240mph roaring down the top end; I pull the íchutes and reach for the handbrake and it wasnít there. What an idiot!
I qualified ninth and was to race Paul Cannuli in the first round, but he had some serious engine damage and couldnít make it out there, so I was lucky enough to get a bye run Ė the first Iíve had in about 15 years. I broke a belt on the run, so I was lucky.
In the second round I drew Zap. I ran a 5.96 to his 5.88. Zap was vulnerable; there wasnít much in it on the lights Ė he was just a little bit better Ė and then he shook the tyres. I only needed another split second and I would have got the win. Iíve got to get into the .80s; thatís our goal at the moment.
I wouldnít have even made the first round myself if it wasnít for Benny and Brett Farnell, who went back to the shop and pulled an all-nighter to build me a new engine after crew chief Dave Sullivan found I had a broken crank during maintenance on Saturday night Ė and when I say broken, I mean two pieces!
Having two second-generation racers in Benny and Mark Belleri making the final of Pro Slammer was one of the highlights of the Winternationals; you canít have the old fogeys in the finals all the time. Lucky Belleri and I had a little chuckle between us on the startline; we had raced each other many times in the early days ourselves.
Ben went into the meeting with a whole new set-up and engine, with the latest Noonan heads that we hadnít even tested. It was Ďfingers crossedí.
And to run a .82 showed a lot of promise.
But we had a bit of a miss in the motor all weekend. We werenít too sure what it was; there was nothing definite to put our finger on. We tried a new magneto, a new points box, but it didnít go away.
In the final, Ben had to shift second gear at about 7800rpm, which didnít help the ET, but it was a good race, with Mark running 5.79.
For Team Bray, I think weíve got a bit of direction now in how to set up the cars. Mine is nearly the opposite of what is in Benís car. Do they both work? Yeah, but now we have to determine which one is the best overall. Iíve said it for a year or two now: Converters will take over the whole sport.
Itís happened in the US and it will happen here.
There are three parts to a torque converter.
Thereís the pump, which is connected to the engine and has a lot of angled fins on it to direct the oil flow. Thereís the turbine, which has angled fins facing the opposite direction and is what actually drives the gearbox. Then youíve got the stator, which mounts between the two and redirects the angle of the oil from the turbine back to the pump, which increases torque. You can buy whatever you want to go inside the converter from the manufacturers; itís just a matter of undoing the bolts, putting in the stator and pump of your choice and putting it back together again. So you can build your own customised converter, and the differences are major.
Two of the better converter guys in the States over the past few years have been Frankie Taylor and his brother Paul. Those boys run so often they have a very good repertoire they can use. They know roughly what all the tracks are like and they will put in the appropriate pump and stator; they build a custom converter for each track.
Anyway, it was fantastic to go racing again, and we had hundreds of fans come by our pit to say: ďItís great to see you back again. We missed you.Ē That was great, and made me feel really humble. I have said from day one that fans are a big part of why I go racing. It was good to know they remembered who I was. s