Video: Racing at Drag Challenge 2022/23, Day One

Racing is underway at Drag Challenge, with an epic assortment of cars battling it out!

Photographers: Shaun Tanner, Chris Thorogood

Day One of racing at Street Machine Drag Challenge has wrapped, with some new and old faces stamping their name on the class leaderboards at Heathcote Park Raceway.

Racing from 9am on a gorgeous summer Tuesday saw Luke Foley hit the top of the Haltech Radial Blown and Overall charts, with a blistering 7.87@179mph in his proven twin-turbo VH Commodore. This year could be Luke’s maiden win, but he’s got some stiff competition over the next four days.

Daniel Szabolics’s stunning big-block Monaro is hot on Luke’s heels, turning in a 7.94@181mph before motoring to over 380km to Portland’s South Coast Raceway for Day Three.

Rounding out the top three is Harry Haig’s iconic DC 2019-winning ‘Pop’ HQ SS, which overcame some gremlins for a best of 8.01@175mph. Harry, Corty, and the rest of the crew capped off the day with a spot of lawn bowls, having also claimed top dog in Turbosmart Outlaw Blown.

There’s a battle ready to be fought on the Pacemaker Radial Aspirated front, where Keith Hards aims to once again challenge Al Vella’s dominant Capri in his first-gen Camaro. He’s making a good show of it so far, laying down an 8.51@160mph to lead the class. Al’s in second place, with an 8.66@157mph. Keith bowed out at DCW Victoria last year with a string of broken rockers, but if he can keep the car together it could just knock Al off the perch he’s had since 2015.

Meanwhile, Michael Ryder’s got a half-second lead over John Kerr in GJ Drivelines Outlaw Aspirated, thanks to a 10.40-second effort in his 383-cube iron lion VN SS.

Dominic Pelle turned in an 8.90@152mph with his neat LS-motivated 1980 Sigma to lead Tuff Mounts 235 Blown. It’s a bit off his 8.81-second PB, but it’s still early days yet. Adam Rogash is on his tail, piloting the FOXSAKE Mustang for Jason Waye, who recently copped a thumb injury that prevents him from driving for the next little while.

A crisp pair of Capris are contesting the top of Kool Wrap 235 Aspirated, with Donnie Zurcas running a 9.90 for a marginal edge on Nathan Ghosn, who clocked a 9.93. Aaron James also handed over a 9.93 to potentially throw a cat amongst the Blue Oval pigeons.

Ryan O’Donohue’s Riot Lab-built F100 is a new DC challenger. It made a name for itself in Speed Pro Six-Cylinder by running the day’s only eight-second pass, with an 8.47@160mph thanks to a killer Barra turbo mill.

By the nature of the Vibrant Performance Dial Your Own class, there’s no leader as yet, but Luke Furse’s VF Commodore ran the quickest time at 9.31.

The opening hours of racing proved a bit disastrous for our brave stick-shift racers. Bruce Howie hurt the Borgy diff in his Windsor-powered, Jericho-shifted XL ute, fresh from a massive journey from Alice Springs. He cannibalised his roadgoing third member parts and got everything back together to run a respectable 10.7@127mph.

Anthony Burns had similar dramas shortly after with his turbo LS-swapped R31, smashing the crown wheel during the launch on his only attempt at a pass. The diff was was whipped off to ATS Automatics to get the smashed bits repaired, and we’re happy to report he’s still in the game. We caught up with him at the checkpoint in Amphitheatre with the R31 back on the road and ready to see out the week.

Tasmanian Darby Hamilton fronted at Drag Challenge with the ex-McClure Racing Barra-powered Torana, which he purchased a couple of years back from Western Australia and has tweaked to make it more suitable for drag and drive events. “This is my first time driving it, other than about 10 minutes of road driving,” grinned Darby at Heathcote Park Raceway on Day Two of Drag Challenge.

“I changed a few things like the head, turbo and cams to make it more streetable. My best mate Mark Whitla and I take turns at Drag Challenge. Last time we took his Capri and I co-drove, and this year we’ve got my Torana, and he’s entered to drive it as well. As long as I get through the week I’ll be happy. The McClures ran an 8.1 in it, so if we end up anywhere near there, I’ll be happy.” He got things off to a flying start, with a stonking 8.44@171 hit today.

Alexis Margaritis’s incredible LC Torana coupe is a brand-new build, and an absolute sight to behold. “It’s effectively a shed-built car,” explained Alex. “It went out for paint, but otherwise it was built at home in the shed in Tassie by a really good crew of blokes who all care about it as much as I do. You can’t build a car like this by yourself, and I’ve been very lucky to have the people I have involved with the car. Everyone’s been really dedicated.” The Torry runs a 427ci LSX with a front-mounted 94mm Garrett snail, backed by a Powerglide and full floater nine-inch.

Other goodies include a Southern Chassis Works coil-over front end, Waterman cable-driven fuel pump, and Haltech ECU tuned by Stix from Quickbitz. “I’ve been a while out of the seat as Tasmania doesn’t have a drag strip as such. It’s been about five years since I’ve raced so I’m a bit rusty, but we’re here to have fun and get through the week. We don’t want to lean on it too much and I need to get my seat time up. We’ll creep up it and get comfortable with the car. The whole goal is to get to the end of the event; I want that sticker at the end that says I’ve completed Drag Challenge. I’d like to get the car into the eights; anywhere there I’m a happy camper. Anything more than that would be a bonus.” A 9.58-secone pass at a lazy 107mph yesterday indicated that the car has plenty of potential.

Luke Foley was the quickest man on the property on Day One with a healthy 7.87@179mph lick. His VH Commodore runs a Dart 440ci LS, Turbo 400 and sheetmetal nine-inch, with twin Pulsar G42 turbos. “Before we came up on the line there were a lot of people turning the tyres, so we backed it off a touch to make sure we put a sensible one down at this time of the day,” said Luke following the pass.

“By the time we get out for our second run it’s going to be hot and I don’t think we’re going to be able to do much. We’ll try again and see if we can go quicker, if not we’ll pack it up.” As expected, Luke wasn’t able to better his first pass in the heat of the day, handing in the 7.79 slip to top the leaderboard before setting off for Portland.

Sydney bloke Simon Render has crewed on four Drag Challenge events for his mate Domenic Pelle, but this time he’s doing his own thing in this oh-so-cool XC Falcon. “The car is ex-government and it had been in storage in Melbourne for 26 years when I bought it,” said Simon.

“It was really original and only had 120,000km on it, so we got stuck into it during lockdown. We went with a turbo LS because we know the platform. It was all home-built in my garage and it runs a six-litre LS, Turbo 400 and nine-inch with 3.5 gears. It’s all pretty bulletproof and it should do the miles. The first run today was a 10.25. The main goal is to finish on Saturday; the car is very fresh, but if I can run in the nines I’d be stoked. The car has a lot of potential, but we’ll get there eventually.” Impressively, the body, paint and interior are all absolutely original, and the car is teched, engineered and fully registered.

The last time we saw Stephen Micallef of Shift Right Transmissions at Drag Challenge he was wheeling his monster big-block HQ One Tonner in Outlaw Aspirated, but this event saw him return with a new toy. It’s an HSV VZ Maloo with a turbo LS, Turbo 400 and live axle nine-inch. “It has a GTX50 on it, and it makes 1300rwhp,” said Stephen. “There’s no trailer this year; everything goes in the back of the ute. We want to try and get it down and make a good pass. So far today we ran 9.1, but the car has gone 8.30s in testing. I’d like an 8.50 out of it on Drag Challenge.”

He made a big leap forward later on in Day One, managing an 8.75@166mph pass. And in other news, he’s sold his old Tonner, but kept the tall-deck 632 out of it. That engine is now fitted to a little Torana which will be a force to be reckoned with in Outlaw Aspirated once completed. “It’s a full Drag Challenge build; really light. It’ll be a mad setup!”

You could be excused for thinking that Luca Torresan’s VJ Valiant ute is a stocker, but in truth it’s far from it. “I bought it out at Crookwell about four years ago and had an angry 265 built for it with a big cam that made 280rwhp, but it was so uncomfortable to drive; you couldn’t cruise it and I didn’t like it,” explained Luca. “My mate Dominic Pelle was onto me about doing a turbo LS for it, so I eventually succumbed to peer pressure and I haven’t looked back. It has a stock bottom end LS that I bought for $1500. It had a broken welsh plug and I cleaned it all out and used what I had in the shed to rebuild the motor when I caught Covid and didn’t have anything better to do. I had two sets of pistons from two different engines and made one good set, gapped the rings that were in it, put in a new cam, springs and cam and mains bearings. I used the old rod bolts, head bolts and head gaskets. Just an in-shed freshen up.”

The turbo is a 7576 VR Racing item, and the trans is a Powerglide by ShiftRight Transmissions. The diff is out of a ’98 Ford Explorer. It’s a 31-spline unit with BA brakes, and it worked out 5mm shorter each side than the factory diff. “I’m not trying to break any records; I just want to experience the event for myself.”

We’ll be racing from 10am today at South Coast Raceway in Portland, before everybody cruises the 520-plus-kilometres to Mildura’s Sunset Strip for a spot of eighth-mile night racing on Thursday. Then it’s back to Heathcote for Friday and Saturday.

Absolutely anything can happen over the next four days, so stay tuned!