Four days, four tracks, 1000km and 18 cars – welcome to the inaugural Street Machine Drag Challenge
This article on the first Drag Challenge event was originally published in the January 2015 issue of Street Machine
DRAG WEEK. Hands down, it is the coolest concept on the planet. Ever since US Hot Rod magazine started the event in 2005, we’ve wondered how we could do something similar in Australia, taking into account our more restrictive road rules. And here it is – we’ve dubbed it the VPW Drag Challenge. The idea is pretty simple. Take a bunch of genuinely quick street cars and hit the road for the ultimate week of racing, driving, wrenching and socialising – and no car trailers allowed!
To make it happen, we grabbed a calendar, a map and started planning a route. We chose to start at Sydney Dragway, followed by three Victorian tracks – the Motorsports Training Australia facility in Barnawartha (near Albury-Wodonga), Calder Park, and Heathcote Raceway.
Because this was our first attempt at something so grand, we also decided to keep everything secret and made it invite-only. The reason for secrecy was twofold: we didn’t want to attract unwanted attention, and we didn’t want a massive circus following us on the first go. We just wanted to prove we could do an event like this safely in Australia.
We carefully selected the invite list and found 17 entrants who were as crazy as us! And right from the start, we impressed on everyone how seriously we were taking the ‘No Tow Car’ rule; they could either tow or drive their cars to Sydney, but once the event began they’d be driving their cars all the way. No one knew that they would be driving into one of the city’s worst storms ever.
DAY ONE – SYDNEY
Torrential rain lashed Sydney the day before the start, causing major flooding, and the roads across the Blue Mountains were closed due to heavy snowfalls. Telf and Chris Thorogood were trapped outside Lithgow overnight, while the rest of us were getting thoroughly soaked in the hotel bar.
The next morning we were up early and looking skyward. It had stopped raining, but the clouds were low and menacing. We rolled the dice and made the call to Sydney Dragway to open the gates.
The competitors were a mixed bunch, with cars ranging from Terry Seng’s seven-second Commodore through to some tough 11-second streeters. Some owners we knew well, others we’d never met. So check-in was a combination of attaching armbands and windscreen stickers, handing over Victorian Performance Wholesale goody bags, and a string of getting-to-know-you conversations. Only one racer, Harry Haig, missed check-in; work commitments stopped him from making the start in Sydney, but he joined the group later with the understanding that he was out of the official competition.
Then the rain came down again, just a light sprinkle that grew gradually heavier as we despondently watched weather radars. At midday we abandoned racing for the day and hit the road, and that’s when the dramas started for Queenslander Terry Seng.
“We knew it had a miss,” Terry said, “but when it started getting hot as soon as we hit the road, we knew we had problems. So we pulled into a service station, put up the marquee and set up the workshop.”
The crew traced the problem to a broken head stud. They stripped the intake and passenger-side cylinder head off the engine, and replaced the broken stud and gasket in the servo car park, but it was 7pm before they hit the city limits. True Drag Week-style drama!
Meanwhile, the rest of us were motoring south, using a private Facebook discussion group to keep track of each other’s progress, spot potential hazards and arrange fuel stops.
Most pulled up at Pheasants Nest, 70km south of Sydney Dragway, for our first sip of fuel and some food. Experienced operators, like Arby, hit the road as soon as they’d finished, eager to make some miles. Others hung out and chatted with people curious about so many tough streeters with box trailers hanging off the back.
One passing traveller twigged to what was going on straight away. “You guys are doing some kind of Aussie Drag Week, aren’t you?” he asked. Turns out he was involved in the Aussie Attack Torana that went to the US a couple of years ago. Busted!
Back on the road, Rob Adamo’s 434ci Ford-powered Scorpion developed cooling problems and fellow competitors Luke Foley, Brendan Cherry and Tim Bailey pulled over to lend a hand. They got the Scorpion back on the road, but then Foley’s turbo LS VH developed gearbox trouble. The boys attempted a few roadside repairs to no avail. With darkness looming, they elected to limp the Commodore to Albury. The trans failed with 900m left to the Australia Park Motel, where we made our first nightly stop, so they pushed it the rest of the way.
Almost everyone else had a trouble-free trip, with most dribbling in from 8:30pm to 10pm. Terry, Anita and gang finally made it at 12:40am.
DAY TWO – ALBURY
We awoke Thursday to welcome blue skies and cool temps, glad that many of the motel’s other guests had made an early start, as the cacophony of a dozen tough streeters firing up in the motel car park sounded a lot like the pits at Sydney Dragway.
Luke Foley’s Commodore was still up on jack stands with the cracked Powerglide lying dead on the ground, as the boys worked the phones to find another trans, or even a case.
There was a good vibe, though. The previous day’s 550km road trip, coupled with a light beer or two, had given the entrants and passengers a good opportunity to get to know each other. Everyone was keen to see what we’d cooked up at the nearby Motorsports Training Australia facility in Barnawartha, Victoria.
Taking our cue from the Street Outlaws TV show, we set up for some heads-up racing over 150m, with zero track prep. We’d tested the track a couple of weeks previously with Adam Styles’s twin-turbo LC Torana and decided that 150m gave the best compromise between track length and safety, given the capabilities of some of the cars. In the interests of safety, we had a fire crew from the local Barnawartha CFA, along with a St John Ambulance paramedic crew from Melbourne and two St John stretcher vehicles. We were taking no chances.
The plan had been to split-seed the entrants, based on their Sydney Dragway ETs. But with no one having made a pass at Sydney, we had the first nine entrants (in order of their entry numbers) draw the second nine entrants out of a VPW cap. No one wanted to draw Terry Seng.
Luke’s Commodore was still back at the motel up on stands, and while we had declared the Proflow Street Outlaws part of the event mandatory, the entrants all agreed to let him miss it. His number was drawn by John Kerr, so the Comet scored a bye run in the first round.
Then we broke the news to the competitors that they would stay on track until they lost. No refuelling, no cool-down between rounds. We were going to run, and keep running until we had one car left.
Because none of them had seen the track before, there was a single parade lap so everyone could see where the start and finish lines were located and how much braking area they had. Then we sent them to the burnout box one pair at a time.
At the startline there was a single green bulb with a switch mounted on a wooden stick, TAFE instructor Stephen Dale serving as our official starter. Steve staged the cars, then stepped behind and hit the switch. He didn’t stuff about, and there was no time to get settled, which caught out more than a few racers. You snooze, you lose!
Traction was hard to come by, but some worked it to their advantage; Quentin Feast powerskidded his way past the Torana hatch of Carolyn Tzortzas in the first round. “I could feel it wheelspinning,” Quentin said afterwards, “but the harder I pushed, the faster I went.”
Arby had drawn Terry’s number and kept the twin-turbo Commodore honest until his big Val started to break down and he had to back out of it. They later traced the problem to a loose MAP sensor hose.
As the rounds progressed, two cars stood out: Tristan Triccas’s 427ci Capri and Brendan Cherry’s turbo LS1 Monaro. In the end, Tricky and his well-sorted Capri had an excellent start and that turned into a tidy two-length win. Given enough room, Brendan’s Monaro might have run the Capri down, but over 150m Tricky was unbeatable.
Because the mini-event didn’t really figure in the overall results, we had a separate presentation for the Proflow Street Outlaws. Both Tristan and Brendan scored trophies, hats and t-shirts, but Tristan also scored $500 worth of Proflow gear from VPW.
Afterwards, most headed for Seymour two hours down the road, with a lunch break at Ned’s Burgers in Glenrowan, but Luke, Tim and Brendan headed back to Albury to fix Luke’s auto with a little help from local racer Mick Brody. The boys didn’t leave Albury until 9:30pm. Then, somewhere down the highway, one of the full-floating 35-spline axles on Brendan’s Monaro snapped, and they finally limped into Seymour at 4am.
Given how close they were to home, Quentin Feast and Rob Adamo had continued on to Melbourne to try and sort some issues, and soon enough Quentin and his crew were elbows-deep in their own transmission, which was full of metal after killing a bearing.
The rest of us cruised into Seymour’s Goulburn River Tourist Park before getting on the cans and hanging out, and many used the late afternoon to check their cars and make some adjustments.
A convoy of maxi-cabs shuttled us all to The Royal Hotel in Seymour for food and more drinks. Talk about a feed! We’re not sure if anyone finished their meals, the servings were so generous; nobody went hungry – or thirsty!
DAY THREE – CALDER
You couldn’t have asked for a better day when the sun rose over Seymour on Friday, and we headed south to VPW in Melbourne’s northern suburbs for a barbecue and impromptu car show at 11am.
We’d gone to sleep thinking everyone was having a relatively easy run, but a quick check of Facebook revealed Quentin’s overnight trans rebuild, which had the boys up until 4am, as well as Brendan’s woes (they didn’t know it was a snapped axle at that point).
“Brendan’s diff started locking up around 200km from Seymour, after we’d installed Luke’s new auto,” Tim Bailey said afterwards. “We had to pull over where we were and check it out. It was pretty dangerous at that time, but we had no choice. The police pulled up for safety reasons and sat there with us for about two hours.” How cool is that?
With less than an hour’s drive to VPW at Epping, we expected a trouble-free run. How wrong we were.
Daryl Elliott was the first to strike trouble after splitting an oil seal and having a small fire, but he was okay with Carolyn, Tristan and Alysha to help him. Then Luke ran out of E85 as he tried to “do a Whincup”; Tim did a run to the servo for him and they got it going again. Terry had a short roadside stop to fix a trans leak, and Steve Reimann battled with a dodgy adjuster – no pun intended – on one of his Dart’s roller rockers.
We watched all this happen remotely via Facebook, munching on free sausage sandwiches courtesy of VPW, but gradually they all arrived and we squeezed 18 cars in front of VPW’s showroom. Having more than 15,000hp parked in front of the store was quite a sight. Everyone had a feed and a drink, collecting themselves before the street meeting at Calder Park, and some made running repairs. VPW found Brendan a new 35-spline axle only half an inch shorter than his original, and a few others stocked up on sparkplugs, tyres, gaskets and fittings.
From there some headed straight to the track, while others checked into our next motel at Macedon, 20 minutes north-west of Calder.
Calder promoter Peter Pisalidis set aside a pit area for Drag Challenge entrants near scrutineering, and they got to work prepping their cars for some serious quarter-mile action. Most had never raced at Calder before and were looking forward to the experience.
Racing started just after 6pm and Quentin Feast was first to face the tree. His twin-turbo LS Torana laid down an easy 9.0 to put everyone on notice while Luke Foley and Arby ran side by side for 9.14 and 9.17 respectively. There were plenty of PBs, too; Brenton Miller ran an 11.54 on the tyres he’d driven down from Cairns on, John Kerr clicked off an 11.77 with his red Comet and Alysha Teale was stoked to run an 11.82 with her 383 Chevy-powered HQ.
It wasn’t all trouble-free, though. Arby popped a head gasket on his 1750hp+ big-block, Luke’s Powerglide was looking sickly again and Brendan’s axle problem had returned. Because the new axle was slightly short, it could move around a little, just enough to disengage the splines in the outer hub – he had to settle for a 31sec timeslip, which gave him an automatic 20sec pass for competition.
But the question on everyone’s lips was WWTD – What Will Terry Do? Being his first time at Calder, Terry took it easy on his first pass with a 9.0, but as the sun went down he decided to lay down a number and 8.31@171mph lit up the boards – only to end up on the return road, covered in trans fluid. “Yeah, we popped a trans hose,” Terry said later. “With a massive clean-up job needed on the car, we knew that was the best we were going to get for the night.”
At the end of the night everyone handed in their timeslips.
In the Radial Aspirated class, Tricky had run a wheels-up 9.61 with his ROARY Capri, while Rob Adamo was not far behind with a 9.83, despite engine woes.
Terry led the Blown category with that 8.31, but Quentin had stepped up the boost later in the night to trip the beams at 8.59@161mph.
Steve Reimann was the only entrant in Outlaw Aspirated and he ran consistent 10.8s despite his rocker issues, while Arby’s big purple hardtop had a handy lead in the Outlaw Blown class with a 9.17, before a blown head gasket put it on six cylinders.
Most of the Melbournites headed home to repair and regroup, while the interstate crews headed to their hotels for a much-needed sleep.
DAY FOUR – HEATHCOTE
Saturday morning was another cracker and we woke to the news that Luke had rebuilt his Powerglide again, and also sorted out a bunch of wiring dramas with the trans fluid-soaked loom. Rob Adamo was still struggling, with his new engine way down on compression in three cylinders, while Brendan had solved his floating axle issue.
That gave us a very interesting match-up in the Blown Outlaw class because Arby was unable to repair his blown head gasket and was planning to limp to Heathcote and just front the tree for an automatic 20sec pass. Which left things open for Brendan and his 9sec turbo LS1-powered HQ Monaro to storm through for the win if he could run 9.17 or better. The competition was heating up.
We had organised a Streetcar Shootout at Heathcote and had about 50 cars in total. Drag Challenge entrants had until 4pm to make a pass and give us a timeslip, and most hooked in early. Scotty ran another 13.1 with the SRT8, Harry Haig cocked the left-hand front tyre high on his way to low nines and Tristan lifted both fronts firing down the strip in 9.75.
Most Drag Challenge entrants were a tenth or two down on their Calder Park times, but Steve Reimann ran a 10.80 and Carolyn Tzortzas had a blinder with her Torana hatch. She made the perfect pass with her new 427ci combo and ran her first ever nine-second run with a 9.95@140mph. While it was nowhere quick enough to catch Tristan for the class win, Carolyn and husband Theo were over the moon.
“I had no idea at first because they all kept a straight face when I arrived back in the pits,” Carolyn said. “But I started to realise when I saw Theo had the time written on his hand because he’d already handed the timeslip to Telf. Once they told me, I just stared at the steering wheel for a second, then jumped out of the car and started hugging it, then hugging everyone in my pits.”
Arby decided to make a pass on six cylinders to see if he could better the 20 seconds he’d get if he just faced the tree. Everyone took guesses at what he’d run, but no one imagined it would go 12.85 on six pots with the blower disconnected! That gave him an 11.1 average and put a pin in Brendan’s hopes of a class win; Brendan did manage a respectable 9.80@145mph, but his 20sec time from Calder gave him an average of 14.90.
Then someone realised that Arby wasn’t too far away from beating Steve Reimann for the Quickest Mopar trophy. Steve had an average of 10.81 and Arby had to run 12.45 or better to take the crown, so he hit the track again and ran 11.87 to take the Mopar win. Steve had to console himself with an Outlaw Aspirated class win.
In Radial Aspirated, it was all Tricky with an average of 9.68. Rob Adamo missed the 4pm cut-off after being pulled up by the police for no apparent reason on the way to the track. Rob wasn’t fined or defected, just delayed enough that the Scorpion didn’t make it in time. This left the door open for Carolyn to sneak through for second place with an average of 10.03.
Everyone was watching Radial Blown, with three runners having a shot. Terry’s 8.31 at Calder looked unbeatable, but Quentin’s 8.59 wasn’t far behind, and Luke Foley was ready to pounce with a 9.17. Luke’s single-turbo Commodore had previously run an 8.7 at Heathcote, so he had the potential to be right in there if the others slipped.
Most of the quick cars favoured the left-hand lane at Heathcote, but Quentin came out early and laid down an 8.86@159mph in the right lane. Luke showed up late and managed only 10.42@125mph before the 4pm cut-off, but later went on to win the Radial Blown class in the Streetcar Shootout with a string of mid to low 9sec passes that didn’t count towards Drag Challenge.
Terry and the Paramount Performance team beavered away furiously in the pits and tried a couple of early passes, but the track surface temps were too high for low ETs.
“Radial tyres don’t work well over 105°F, and the track temp was over 115,” Terry said. “We were hoping for cooler conditions.”
They were praying for cloud cover, but it never came and at 2:30pm Terry decided they’d waited long enough – it was now or never, track temps be damned, and right there behind him in the staging lanes was Quentin applying the pressure.
Terry smoked the startline and backed off to hit it again for a 10.41. Quentin followed with a 9.05@160mph. Then it was Terry and Quentin; Quentin and Terry. Run after run, each trying to outdo the other and put as much power to the track as possible. More often than not, they blew the tyres off.
It went right down to the wire. With just 10 minutes to go, Terry lined up for one last crack and everyone held their breath. He needed a 9.15 or better to win and rumours were circulating that first gear in the white HDT had lunched itself. The light went green and Terry launched. By the 60-foot mark he’d pulled top gear and the tyres held. All eyes turned to the time board, but no times appeared, and the announcer didn’t call the time! Had it been quick enough? No one knew!
Then Anita came down the stairs from the timing tower, and she wasn’t cheering. The time? Only 9.71@164mph.
It was 4pm so that was it, time was up. Terry dejectedly handed his timeslip to Telf, but he was philosophical. “Look, I love doing this shit, I love driving my car; it’s been a heap of fun,” he said, pausing as if to check his memory. “Yep, it’s been fun,” he laughed. “Racing is cool, but driving it is just so much fun because the road trip is the story. You don’t talk about the time you ran this or that, you talk about the trip on the way there. I’ve made so many new friends on this trip, it’s been fantastic.”
So in the end that 8.86 in the ‘bad lane’ secured Quentin the win with an average of 8.73@160mph, with Terry close behind with 9.01@167mph. It was a solid win for the Torana.
“I think we did about 2400km all up,” Quentin said at the trophy presentation. “The whole event was fantastic. It’s a bucket list thing to go to America and do Drag Week, but I’m glad they did it here. I’m just so happy and exhausted.”
And that, folks, was the VPW Drag Challenge. Friendships were forged and engines damaged, but everyone insists they’ll be back to do it all again.
See ya next year.
THE RULES AND CLASSES
We kept things pretty relaxed when it came to rules. Drag Challenge was open to any four-wheel vehicle with full street equipment and current registration in their home state.
Any fuel was allowed, but you had to carry what you needed in the race vehicle or a small trailer (single axle, no more than 190cm high, with no fuel, coolant or electrical lines running forward to the car), or you could buy fuel along the way.
No support vehicles or car trailers were allowed; all tools, tyres, fuel and helpers had to be carried in the race car or the towed trailer. If your car broke down, you had to fix it where it was; if it was loaded onto a trailer or tow truck you were out of the competition.
There were a couple of mandatory stops, and at every track one timeslip per car had to be handed in before the time cut-off, and these times were averaged to determine the winners. If you faced the tree and didn’t complete the pass or just limped down the track, a 20sec time at 50mph was applied. Lowest average time across the competition would be the winner.
Vehicles on a radial tyre wider than 275, or slick tyre of any size, with superchargers, nitrous or turbos, or any combination thereof
Vehicles on a radial tyre wider than 275, or slick tyre of any size, with no forced induction
Vehicles on a radial tyre 275 or narrower, with superchargers, nitrous or turbos, or any combination thereof
Vehicles on a radial tyre 275 or narrower, with no forced induction