Aaron James – Drag Challenge profile

There's something of a sad story behind Aaron James’s 1970 Valiant Regal

Photographers: Shaun Tanner, Luke Hunter

ITS previous owner Jeffro Clarke was given some really-not-very-good news about some rust, which meant it was probably a good idea to sell the car before the rust spread and became too much of a problem. So Jeffro sold it as a roller to family friend Aaron. But it wasn’t the car that had the rust problem, it was Jeffro himself, which explains why the big, beautiful Val now has an ‘RIP JEFFRO’ ribbon hanging from the rear-view mirror.

Aaron and his dad Alan dropped in a 440-cube big-block. “That process took about a year,” WA-based Aaron explained. “Then we cruised it like that for eight or nine years.” Under its then-fresh paint, the remainder of the car was tidy, so with the big-block swap the car was a terrific pub cruiser and regular at drag race events in West Aussie.

Five months ago the father-and-son pair decided they would enter Drag Challenge 2019 and piece together a new engine combo for more go.

Alan built it using a block they’d bought out bush. “It was sitting in the boot of a Dodge Phoenix,” he said of the lump of iron that in hindsight he reckons should have been left there. “I had it soaking in a tank of diesel for weeks, just to get it apart! It was rusted to the shithouse. I had to hammer everything out of it, even the lifters.”

It was pieced back together with a stroker crank to bring the cube count to 528ci. Above the head gaskets is plenty of alloy: a big isolated runner intake hosting two Texas Race Engines modified Holley 950s and a pair of heads ported by good mate and fellow Mopar man Geoff Ryan. Behind the 630rwhp engine is a 5000rpm TCE converter and a 727 Torqueflite trans. So despite the headaches he suffered with the early stages of the fresh driveline build, Al concedes that the obviously well-used block has become a solid and reliable foundation for the James family’s Drag Challenge contender.

And a contender it was. With three generations of Jameses cruising in style in the big Val – Aaron, dad Al and pop Doug, along with good mate Geoff – Day One saw them post a new PB of 9.87, which put them in second spot in the Tuff Mounts 235 Aspirated class behind Nathan Ghosn’s Capri.

From there, Donnie Zurcas in his Capri leapfrogged Aaron and clung on to second place right up until the final day at Calder, when Aaron was able to just scrape past Donnie with a 9.92@135mph pass to claim 235 Aspirated runner-up bragging rights – not to mention a trophy for Quickest Mopar!

Even with prior racing experience, that’s impressive work for a Drag Challenge first-timer.


Runner-up – Tuff Mounts 235 Aspirated
Quickest Mopar-powered

Class: Tuff Mounts 235 Aspirated


Engine: 440 big-block stroked to 528ci
Trans: 727 Torqueflite
Converter: TCE 5000rpm
Diff: 9in, 3.7:1 gears
Previous PB: Unknown
Best DC 2019 Pass: 9.87@138mph