Race 4 Real at the new and improved Sydney Dragway

After stage one of an $11 million refurbishment, Sydney Dragway is go! We dropped by for a tour and to check out opening night


THERE are not a great many positives to have come about from this whole COVID-19 malarkey, but in a strange way it was well-timed for Sydney Dragway. Plans were already well advanced for an extensive refurbishment of the facility this year thanks to an $11 million grant from the NSW State Government. So no matter which way you slice it, the place was going to be closed to the public anyway as it became more of a construction site than a drag strip.

As it happened, most of the refurbishment was able to take place while the coronavirus had our country by the short and curlies, so now we have a killer new surface within a magnificently upgraded facility, and have not had to forgo much actual drag racing for the privilege.

The Race 4 Real event that took place on Wednesday, 4 November gave punters their first opportunity to sample the new track, and it was also the first event for new Race 4 Real naming-rights sponsor, Aeroflow. I got my backside trackside a couple of hours before the lanes opened to be given the grand tour by Sydney Dragway’s Rusty Gregory.

“It’s our first time on the track in months, and there’s been a lot of work and a lot of money spent by the State Government in that time,” Rusty said.

The whole property has had a pretty extensive birthday, but it’s the new track that’s of most interest to racers. And I say “new track” because that’s exactly what it is; the old track was completely removed, and a new one laid in its place.

“We’ve ripped up the old race track, literally from in front of the tower all the way through to the sand trap and around the corner,” Rusty explained. “We now have 500m of concrete, meaning that the concrete extends well past the finish line, with the idea being that it should soften the transition; theoretically the ’chutes should be deployed by the time the racers get to the bitumen. The bitumen itself is all-new and a nice, tight mix, which should help us dry the race track a lot quicker.”

New world-class surface aside, there are a host of improvements that have been made to the venue that are immediately obvious. You’d be surprised at the difference a lick of paint in a more modern colour can make, and the tower – which dominates the landscape – looks much better for it. There’s a new shaded area adjacent to the staging lanes, and the demountable toilet block in the pits (which, let’s be honest, was in dire need of an upgrade) has been replaced by a permanent structure. Workers were still putting the finishing touches on it during our visit, but it looks five-star, and will have been christened by the time you read this.

Spectators have not been forgotten, either. “We have concreted the grass terraces as part of the cauldron, so it should be a little bit more comfortable for people,” said Rusty. “The corporate boxes have had a facelift inside and out, the bitumen on the eastern bank has been extended, and we’ve put a new exit out of the facility to make traffic flow a bit easier.

“This is just the start of it, too. There are plenty of things still in the works, including an audio/visual system with a new big screen. The government grant was $11.5 million, and if you look around the venue I think you’ll see exactly where we spent that money.”

It had been a long time between drinks for racers, and soon the lanes were overflowing with Race 4 Real competitors keen to sample the new track. Dragway staff had been flat-out getting the drag strip prepared ahead of the meeting, but the weather hadn’t done them any favours. In the long-term interest of the virgin surface, competitors were limited to street-style tyres rather than drag radials or slicks.

“Our staff, including the General Manager, scrubbed the track clean from all the grit and cement dust so that we were able to start prepping it,” said Rusty. “Now there’s a nice layer of rubber on there. It’ll be fine for a street meet, but the more cars go down it and the more rubber goes down, the better it’s going to be. We’ve got the tyre rotator here with the tractor courtesy of Komatsu, which is working overtime! The amount of laps that our team has done up and down this race track would be in the thousands.”

Events like Burnout Masters, Thank God It’s FRYDAY Burnouts and End of Month Meet had allowed Sydney Dragway to remain in use while track works were completed, but dragways are for drag racing, and if the Race 4 Real turnout is anything to go by, Sydneysiders are keen to get back at it.

Following the Race 4 Real meeting, the Sydney Dragway Project Steering Committee deemed that a subsequent track grind was necessary to remove small grooves left over from the initial grind, and Rusty tells us the track should be up and running again by early-to-mid December.

1. The sign-on and scrutineering shed has undergone some improvements, freeing up some space and making it a more COVID-safe environment for staff and competitors.

2. The tractors were going flat-out in the lead-up to Aeroflow Race 4 Real, but inclement weather meant the opportunity for track prep was fairly limited.

3. A permanent spectator barrier at the base of the tower was part of the upgrades to Sydney Dragway. It looks far better and improves spectator safety.

4. It was all hands on deck for opening night, up to and including Sydney Dragway Chairman Joseph Rodriquez (right).

5. Michael Haimandos is a drag racer of some note; his twin-turbo Ford-powered Mustang has gone 6.33@227mph. “I think that makes the Mustang the quickest small-block Ford-engined car in the country, but the XY is my pride and joy,” he said. “It’s a 1971 XY GT Falcon that I restored about six years ago, and I never planned on racing it, but after not racing for six or seven months I got withdrawals and had to come back out.”

As you might expect, the XY ain’t as stock as it looks. The BK Race Engines Clevo displaces 393ci and is topped with 3V CHI heads and an APD 750 double-pumper, good for just shy of 600hp. “It has a fair bit of grunt and not much tyre under it! I didn’t want to slick it up or run radials because I don’t want to flex the car, so it’s on the five-slot wheels. I spoke with Bill [Kaglatzis from BK Engines] and he seems to think it shouldn’t have a problem running 11s with the right launch.”

6. Andrew Hawkins of Motive DVD had this MkV Supra out for a thrash, but, like most entrants, he struggled to run a number he was happy with on the shiny new surface.

7. Summernats marketing man Adrian Hodgson was the first racer to christen Sydney Dragway in his R33 GTS-T Skyline when the track first opened in 2004. He got to repeat that honour with the new surface in 2020, but this time had to commandeer co-worker Jack Rindfleish’s 180SX.

8. Twenty-one-year-old Brock Clayton’s HZ pano grabbed our attention with its traditional vanning touches like the murals and double-stacked grille. It only got cooler when he aired it out and popped the bonnet to reveal a neat LS3 swap. Riding on ShockWaves at all four corners and a four-link in the rear, it’s one of several projects that Brock has on the go, but he has plenty more plans for the pano.

“I’ve had it for five years now; I bought it as a runner with a 253, Trimatic and a banjo diff, and now it’s got the LS3 with a Turbo 400 and 9in,” he says. “It’s run a best of 13.0, but it’s got a new stall converter, so it should leave a bit better now.

At the end of this year it’s going in for a single-turbo set-up. There’s other body stuff I want to do, like suicide doors, a forward-opening bonnet, shaved doors and tailgate, and respray the front half to get rid of the stone chips”

9. Steve Gilbert has had his HK Brougham a while – since before he got his licence, in fact! He screwed together the 383ci small-block Chev himself a dozen or so years back and it’s still going strong, backed by a Powerglide and 3.89:1-geared 9in. The car has gone as quick as 11.9@111mph, but runs out of legs in the big end.

“I’ve raced here on a Wednesday night two or three times, and I missed it during COVID,” Steve said. “I’ve been watching the track come together on Facebook and it looks pretty schmick with the new surface. I’m definitely looking forward to testing it out.”

10. Drag Challenge veteran Steve Grima couldn’t wait to suss out the new track in his Warspeed LS-powered VK. Aided by a 75mm BorgWarner snail, it’s gone as quick as 9.7@138mph on pump fuel and drag radials. Hampered by his low-profile street rubber and the virgin surface, Steve finished up well shy of that on this particular Wednesday but had a ball all the same.

“I got home from work and got a little bit excited that the track was open, so I’m here,” he said. “I’m just out to have fun with no expectations.”