I GOTTA tell ya, since the start of the year, Team Bray has been flat out. Two meetings at Willowbank, then a quick trip to Sydney Dragway, followed by the ANDRA Nationals at Calder Park Ė and as I write this itís only just turned February! Great crowds, great racing and the added bonus of an all-Bray final at Sydney.
The Santoís Summer Thunder meet in Sydney was always shaping up to be a great race. Young Mark Belleri went into the event as front-runner after a string of wins. But Benny had done his homework after we raced at Willowbank and made lots of changes to his car, and it came alive on the track. My car behaved itself; it wasnít as fast as Benís or several of the others, but I managed to put together some good runs and make the final against Ben.
The weekend before at Willowbank, we damaged an engine Ė we broke a wrist pin Ė so we had to build a new engine out of our parts.
We went over to Jack Brothers Engineering to get the head repaired, and also picked up a block we already had there for repairs. I borrowed a crank off Andrew Searle and dug around in the Team Bray spare parts bin to get a set of rods and pistons, and off we went to Sydney. The only problem was that all we could put together was a low-compression engine, and in the heat of the day low-comp engines just donít perform, as they burn slow across the cylinder and require a lot more ignition advance.
On the day we were able to run consistently in the 6.0s. Mark Belleri had a bit of trouble when the AC Delco Monaro stepped sideways and he tagged the wall with the pipes. That opened the door for me and Ben to get into the final.
I think the last time Benny and I raced in a final was at a Slamfest event around 2012.
This time Ben had the wood on me. My car performed as I expected it to and I drove as good as I could, but Ben won fair and square with a low ET of 5.83@247mph.
What impressed me was the fact there were a lot of guys ready to step up to the mark, like Sam Fenech and Geoff Gradden, who again ran into the fives. It was a good weekend with strong performances right across the board.
In this day and age, regardless of who is in the final, a .83 with a .06 light is probably good enough for a win at most íSlammer events.
To me the best part of the weekend was seeing the crowds come roaring back into drag racing. This was the second meeting in a row weíve seen really packed grandstands. Theyíre not full houses yet, but the tracks are working on it and weíll get there. The 400 Thunder guys have done a great job over the past couple of events and it was good to see the fans lined up at the gates to get in. This time letís not stuff it up; letís keep the action happening and never take for granted that the crowds will always keep coming. They need to be entertained and
we need to deliver a great spectacle for them to keep coming back.
After Sydney, it was great to go back to Calder Park. Iíd love a dollar for every time Iíve gone down there to race. Itís an older surface and a couple of bumps have developed over the years, but it is the same for all teams and you just have to tune around them in terms of suspension and stuff. What surprised me was that the traction was there even in the heat of the day.
It would have been terrific to race Ben in the final for the second week in a row, but things didnít pan out that way. I got a holeshot over John Zappia in the first round but couldnít convert it into a win. And Ben, after defeating Sam Fenech in round one, got a holeshot over Paul Cannuli but eventually came up short.
Again, the crowds turned up, particularly on the Saturday. We had a crowd of six or seven deep around our pit and trailer all weekend and I was humbled by the number of people who said: ďItís great to see you back racing in Melbourne.Ē
The fans are still there; they havenít gone away.
We also had around 150 guests of Gulf Western Oil in our hospitality area each day.
Iíve said it a dozen times: if you bring the track and guard rails up to current international standards you wouldnít keep the race teams away and we would see 500 teams enter the Nationals. Thatís all thatís holding it back. No oneís criticising Calder Park; itís an iconic Aussie facility that has seen some of our biggest and best events. But cars are going quicker and quicker and safety needs to be paramount.
Thereís a lot happening in Doorslammer at the moment, with some ideas being put forward to make the bracket stronger and more entertaining for the crowd. A couple of guys want to change what models are allowed to compete, and others want to change some of the technical aspects, like the automatic shifters. Any changes need to go to a vote between the teams, and weíll see what happens.
Personally, I donít think we have a choice but to allow more overseas-bodied cars into the bracket. At the moment the rules state that the only late-model shapes allowed are full-bodied Australian-manufactured cars, but come the end of the year, thereíll be no more cars manufactured locally, so we need to address that and update the Doorslammer rules to allow some of the later-model US cars to come in Ė late-model Mustangs are already legal, but we also need some GM cars. We donít know what General Motors are going to bring into the country to replace the Monaro; it could be either a Corvette or Camaro. About two years ago we let the Ďnostalgiaí-looking Camaros, Mustangs and Dodges in, but no one has taken advantage of the opportunity. Rob Taylor from Victoria has a late-model Corvette coming; personally I like the look of the car, and as the Camaro is already allowed I believe we should put it to a vote, but make sure we adhere to the process all body shapes have had to go through to ensure the integrity of the original shape is retained. s