A LOOK back at our trip to the 2012 Six Banger Nats, the first meeting to be held without its founder, Mark Stewart.
Street machining is a sport where bigger is usually better. Four-five-four is now a good size for a small-block and big-blocks have matured to more than 1000 cubic inches.
But street machining is also about doing more with less and the spirit of the underdog runs deep in our veins. Nowhere is this better exemplified than at the annual Six Banger Nationals at Warwick Dragway in rural Queensland.
Founded by Mark Stewart, pilot of the famous PANIC altered, the Six Bangers attracts six-pot racers from up and down the east coast. And though it’s grown every year, the event has always retained its relaxed, fun-filled vibe.
When Mark passed away earlier this year, there was no question that the event would continue. The close-knit communities around Mark’s club, The Smokers, and Warwick Dragway rallied together to make the event bigger than ever. Racers thrashed to get their cars ready in time, as those who knew Mark and those who had heard of his exploits were galvanized into action.
I sure as hell wasn’t going to miss it and I cruised to the event from Sydney in my EJ, in convoy with Luke Phillips in his FC. Whereas I’d seen Mark race plenty of times and competed in the Six Bangers myself, Luke had only heard the stories and was keen to come.
The cars made an interesting contrast and attracted plenty of attention on the way. The EJ is shiny but slow, powered by a stubbornly resilient grey motor, while Luke’s FC is ratty to look at but much tougher, packing a grumpy red motor fed by a trio of twin-barrel Demons, with a stick shift, and nine-inch out back.
While the FC easily has twice the horsepower of the EJ, the 4.11 diff gears limit its cruising speed, so the EJ led the way out on the open road – about the only time it ran ahead of anyone all weekend!
We hit the track in the afternoon, where an open bracket meeting was in full swing. This part of the weekend is open to engines of any configuration – fours, sixes, V8s and rotors, so we got scrutineered, dumped our tools and luggage under a gumtree and hit the track.
Warwick is a long way from Sydney Dragway, with its tiny control tower, simple grandstand and a mob of kangaroos in the run-off area and though we were tired from the haul up, the cobwebs were blown away on the first passes.
In between rounds, we chatted to old mates and made news ones. It quickly became apparent just how many tough red motors Mark built. Almost every time I approached a car with a Holden six, there was a Mark Stewart story to go with it. Take Mark Whittaker’s gorgeous JWF Milano GT2, which was towed up from Sydney, for example.
“Mark built the engine for the Milano years ago. His philosophy was that with Holden sixes, it was just about getting the combination right, not having the biggest or the best stuff. He was very experimental. He had a lot of ideas about the details, in terms of working on the oil galleries, knife-edging cranks, old-school stuff.
“We had a lot of fun. I remember when we were building our first Milano, Mark talked his way into the old James Hardie test track. The car had no glass and the fuel tank was just stuck on the parcel shelf and here we were, fanging around this banked track! He wasn’t averse to a bit of quiet road-testing of the race cars at night, either – stuff you wouldn’t even think about trying today.”
While the racing was keenly fought, the most important part of the day was the on-track tribute to Mark. With old mates including Darren Otto and Jeff Ramsay helping out, Norm Stewart fired up PANIC sans body, to get the car up to temperature and ensure everything was running smoothly. With a big crowd quietly gathered around the tent, the car took an age to fire, before coughing and finally screaming into life, to the relief of all and a massive round of applause.
Before the finals, the racers lined up in the staging lanes behind PANIC. Mark’s niece scattered his ashes along the startline, then Norm fired up the car, chirped the tyres and launched the car one last time, with the rest of the field following on in a procession.
DOING IT FOR MARK
While Norm was understandably careful not to bend the immaculate PANIC, Mark’s fellow racers didn’t hold back a thing, including Chris Batey and his dad, Joe, who brought Chris’s Lil Horny Devil FED up from Binda in NSW.
“We just love this event,” Chris said. “Mark got us interested in it. The highlight this year was lining up against Ken Stephenson’s rail. Two blown Holden sixes side by side. Before the race Ken said: ‘Let’s turn it on, do it the way Mark would like it,’ so we barked them on the line and carried on. Ken never backs off anyway! When we pulled up afterwards it was pretty emotional.”
Ken’s rail was the fastest car of the meeting and also the most spectacular, having a couple of good looks at each wall during the day. Even so, he managed to come runner-up in Modified, beaten by Bob Sinclair’s beautiful but much more sedately driven normally-aspirated digger.
SEE YOU WHEN I’M LOOKING AT YA
Despite all the fire on show, Top Eliminator was won by one of the most sedate cars at the meeting – Ron Holz’s EK Holden. A veteran of Surfers Paradise and with a host of experience under his belt, Ron and the Swiss-clock reliable EK were unbeatable and took out the first Mark Stewart Memorial trophy.
The trophy presentation was moving, with personal tributes to Mark flowing thick and fast. Mark’s wife Lyn thanked everyone for the ongoing support she has received since her loss and while there were plenty of tears, there were also plenty of laughs as the community remembered an inspirational bloke. His legacy is sure to continue with another Six Bangers in 2013.
Warwick Dragway boss Chris Loy closed proceedings, saying: “Today’s tribute to Mark was astonishing. It was touching and it was real. As Mark used to say: ‘See you when I’m looking at ya!’”
To be a part of this year’s event, visit www.warwrickdragway.com