Inside the Funny Car factory

We visit the Aeroflow Nitro Funny Car workshop in Sydney ahead of the Winternationals

Photographers: Mathew Everingham

Australia’s biggest drag racing meeting, the Winternationals, will take place this weekend on the brand-new surface at Willowbank Raceway. The event will be headlined not only by Top Fuel, but also a full field of Nitro Funny Cars. We visited the Aeroflow Nitro Funny Car workshop in western Sydney last week to chat with workshop manager Gareth Rogers and driver Morice McMillan ahead of the last round of the championship.

“We like to call this place the funny car factory,” said Gareth. “We run four ‘big show’ [Group One] funny cars now, along with the four Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars which we also campaign. It’s a short two-and-a-half week turnaround between the Nitro Champs and the Winters, and we had a little mishap at the last round, so the boys know it’s game time now, and shit’s getting done.”

After a handful of successful passes, Josh Leahy’s XPro Camry dropped a cylinder on the hit at the Nitro Champs, and with 11,000hp on tap, the disparity in force omitted from each bank of headers was enough to shove the car into the other lane. Josh gathered it up and got the car back into his lane, but glanced the wall in the process. 

“Standing on the start line my heart was beating so fast,” said Gareth. “I love all the boys to death and wouldn’t want anything to happen to them, so we work hard to keep these things on the track and in their lane. The chassis was fine and luckily we had another body back here at the shop; it’s just made us fast-track it getting fitted to the car. It will be back in action at the Winternationals and you won’t know any different.”

“They’ll be doing between 350 and 370km/h and still pulling 5Gs”

The championship will go down to the wire this weekend at the Winters, and Aeroflow Mustang pilot and Rocket Industries CEO, Morice McMillan, is very much in the hunt. We asked him what it was like to strap into a Nitro Funny Car. 

“The first time you drive one you reach the finish line and think, ‘how did I get here?’. The G-forces are to the point where you’re starting to think, ‘How am I going to get my arm up to pull the parachute?’ They’ll be doing between 350 and 370km/h and still pulling 5Gs. They’re just stupidly fast, and what most people don’t realise with them is you’ve got to steer way earlier, and if you let the car get a little bit out of the groove, you’re done.”

“We call it riding the bull, and you have to get on the bull not knowing what it’s going to do. You’ve got to go as hard as you can, but also respect that at some point it’s going to try to buck you off. At no point are you ever comfortable. The reason we love funny cars is that with 11,000hp and a 125in wheelbase, they don’t want to go straight. The coolest thing about them is you get out of them at the other end and you think, ‘Man, I drove the wheels off that thing!’ Then the guys will come down and say, ‘Oh, that was nice and straight,’ but you’re doing so much work inside the car to keep it straight. And that’s just with the driving. “Obviously with the maintenance and the tuning you have to have thousands of things go right to make a pass.”

“If one goes wrong, you’re done. But the cool thing is that when it goes right, it goes right for the team; the driver is the least important part. The other 12 crew members – not only on the day but also back at the shop – have to do their job perfectly and exactly the same every time for that result to happen, so it’s such a team win with these cars. The driver is nothing without a good team.”

The full complement of Aeroflow Nitro Funny Cars are in action at the Winternationals this weekend at Willowbank Raceway. We’ll have more from our visit to Aeroflow Nitro Funny Car HQ in a future issue of Street Machine.