Agricultural shows are big in rural communities but keeping people coming back is a challenge. Kukerin Tracmach patron Bob Lukins, a member of the local agricultural society, presented his solution in the mid-eighties – mud races.
First published in the May 2004 issue of Street Machine
Back then it was a typical rural show with livestock displays and rides for the kids. A farm machinery showcase called Tracmach (tractor machines) spurred interest, and the dam-building demonstrations and displays of vintage tractors are still popular. But there were other shows springing up around the place and Kukerin needed an edge.
“I saw it somewhere, I think in America, and they were racing vehicles into this shallow lake. But when I brought it up at the meeting, holy hell, did they give me shit!” Bob laughs. “I figured if it is too dangerous or whatever then we’d give it a miss.”
Then he got a call from a bloke who saw potential and after a little refining the ag society relented. The next year, mud racing was part of the Kukerin Vintage Tracmach Fair.
Burnouts have since been added to the line-up and this year marked the unveiling of a bigger, superbly presented burnout pad, complete with soft sand, tyre walls and high fences to satisfy insurers.
The mini tractor pull is another big attraction, with monster V8s hauling a six-tonne deadweight as far as they can, and this year Salute to Utes saw an eclectic gathering of tray backs from around the state. But mud racing makes this event unique.
From the first race there was interest in the creek bash with about 30 paddock bombs, 4x4s, buggies and specials lining up for that event – most of them relying on the power of the mighty V8. This year 65 competitors took on the carefully-mixed mud for a shot a $100 up for grabs in each class.
The whole idea is to race around a 400-metre loop of dirt track and creek bed, the first half across the top of the bank through ruts, muddy holes and narrow cuttings, then swinging down into the creek bed proper and ending in a leap into a massive hole which constitutes the finish line. Despite the region’s five-year drought, water was carted in and a suitable bog created – one big hole 30 metres long and thigh-deep in mud the consistency of porridge.
That big hole claimed many this year, sorting out pretenders from contenders. In B class, for two-wheel-drive cars, it was a classic Ford vs Holden battle. Yealering’s Ben Lally, in a 250-powered XB coupe, set the early pace but the King Brown Racing HQ Holden, piloted by Byford’s Sean Ward, was lurking in the wings.
King Brown Racing is one of several crews that come to Kukerin each year. Power hounds across the south west of the state see the event as a must on the V8 calendar and get together to form big tribes. The Bremer (Bay) Bandits and Team Bongo, in its 351-powered Bongo van (read more, below), join crews from Pinjarra to Mandurah. Each tribe member has a job, from mechanic to barby chef. It’s a real fun spirit, but enough of that – back to the racing…
Lally’s 1:23 was the time to beat and King Brown (named after 750ml beer bottles) knew it had to go hard from the start in the final run. After negotiating the toughest parts of the track it came up on the final jump and leapt high into the hole – a little too high as it turned out. The flying Q nose-dived into the far side of the hole wrecking much of the front end, but that mangled front end had cleared the finish line and King Brown had stolen the win by a couple of seconds in a true do or die effort!
Not everyone enjoyed fairytale endings like that. Chad Schofield from Rockingham hit the track in a 720 Datsun a bit too hard and busted a steering arm in the first hole. The car rolled but no-one was hurt.
“I’ll weld her up and get back into it, I think,” Chad said, epitomising the spirit of the event.
There were purpose-built vehicles that came to grief too, with a 6.2-litre turbo-diesel Landcruiser ending what looked to be the best time of the day (outside motorbikes) in the bog hole. Russell Hawells and co-pilot Brad Smith won two years previously and the year before that but fragile bonnet clips ended their hopes this time around.
“We were feeling pretty good through here (first section), held it flat through there (gnarly narrow cutting),” Russell said. “Then we got a bit of air and the bonnet came off, we came around the corner and got a bit more air, then coming through the next bit (shallow bog after a big jump) we couldn’t see shit.
“We came through here (lead up to the big bog) flat to the boards and all over the place, hit the tyres (on the side of the creek), the steering arm snapped and we ended up climbing the bank. Ah well.”
A huge farm tractor towed them – and many others including Team Bongo – out. At least Bongo won its category in the mini tractor pull, which is another of the popular events during the weekend.
If you want to see brutal torque in action, check out a mini tractor pull. There are categories for engines from 2.0-litre four-cylinders through to anything-goes V8s. Team Bongo dragged the six-tonne deadweight furthest to win its class and upset the establishment.
Team Bongo also hit the burnout pad but the big tyres on the back didn’t help much and by that stage the tired 351 was ready to call it a day.
That left the burnout competition wide open with some inspired displays from big F100 trucks through to some neat Commodores and classic Falcons.
A novelty was Dwayne Bettineschi’s Kawasaki ZX10-powered sidecar, which was there thanks to the efforts of the kids at Sowilo Community High School in Perth. There were also plenty of representatives from the famous Mandurah crew who have wowed the crowd at Summernats.
In the end the weekend belonged to the tribes – Team Bongo taking out the tractor pull and King Brown Racing nailing a thrilling finish in the mud races. It’s enough to make you want to get all your mates together and head on over.
It’s surprising the Mini Tractor Pull doesn’t have a higher profile considering the unlimited class features small-block V8s with big power. The idea is to pull a six-tonne sled as far as you can. The weight starts at the back of the sled and moves forward at varying rates depending on the handicap, making it harder to pull.
The big tractor pull beasts feature multiple engines and massive chassis. Mini tractors are single-engined machines and classes go from four-cylinder 2.0-litre donks to unmodified V8s, mildly modified or insanely worked.
Former Australian champion Garry Ray was there in Tunnagrunt which features a worked-off-its-tits 750hp 380ci stroker with custom pistons and rods.
“It started life as a standard block… it’s just shit from under the bench,” he said. “The transmission is basically a Ford C4 with not much inside it – it’s only got one gear and one big clutch, a Ford nine-inch, but I can’t tell you the ratio because you’ll be giving away my secrets (5.67:1 he told us later). “There’s no drive shaft, it just goes from the yoke from the transmission straight to the uni joint. Rims are Australian Dragways and the 20x12x12 tyres are custom made in the States – they’re called Giant Pullers made by a fella called Dick Cepek.”
The engine builder maintains it’s been a cheap project to keep running over the five years he’s been successful in the sport. That’s about to change with a $50,000 investment in his next powerplant.
“It’s only a little one, a 340 – I de-stroked it.”
He talks us through a run.
“I get a green flag near the finish mark, then I pull it into gear and try to get the thing up to 8500 revs before the 25m mark, so the gear lever comes all the way back and the throttle lever goes all the way forward. She’ll probably go to 9200.”
Simple really, although the thing to remember is it’s not about time, it’s about distance and preserving the engine.
“Depending on track conditions, sometimes if the revs are too flighty and you’ve got plenty of traction – and you can feel the tyres clawing – your speed increases rapidly which can make it a bit untidy so you back it off a bit. But at Quambatook for the Australian titles (during Easter), there’s no backing off – when the green flag drops the bullshit stops!”
Two pedals control independent brakes on the rear wheels and the tractor, with its front wheels high in the air, is steered by braking either wheel. Once again, the Australian titles make that technique superfluous.
“At the titles last Easter I took it right over the bank!” You may have seen that footage on Sports Tonight. “That pissed me off. I would have done 86 metres and won it!”
SALUTE TO UTES
Kukerin’s Salute to Utes brought together everything from pro-street inspired weapons, to long-distance haulers complete with Bundy stickers and bug-f$%^ers (the short plastic screen on the front of the bonnet), to junkyard creations and hot rods. We checked out a few:
Bruce Hammond, Katanning
32 Ford Rod
Where did you find it?
“It was in a raw state in a postal worker’s father’s shed.”
Did you pay much for it?
“Not much more than a slab of beer.”
How long did it take you to put together?
“About five years, on and off. I worked on it for about two years then got sick of it and give it away for a while before getting back into it. The tray’s hand built, the chassis has been all boxed and painted, it’s got a Mitsubishi front end under it, Jag back end, and the fenders are mostly original with a bit of width put in them.”
And the donk?
“It’s a blown 350 with a bit of a stick and headwork.”
John Grylls, Narrogin
Who is it a tribute to?
“To all the old farm machinery and the year of the outback – as in the outback shithouse [laughs].”
The engine is from a wheat elevator?
“Yeah, and the chassis. It’s got an A Model Ford front axle, XD Falcon rear axle, International right-angle gearbox and a Kenworth steering wheel. The lever on the left is the clutch – you pull it, it tightens the belt and away you go.”
“Eight big horses, mate. You gotta be careful taking off – I reckon she needs wheelie bars!”
Is the toilet seat genuine?
“Yep, it’s off the old thunderbox.”
Did all this come off your own property?
“It all comes from within a stone’s throw of my shed. Cleaned up the tip, mate [laughs].”
What sort of response do you get?
“Everyone gets a laugh out of it and if you can give someone a smile then that’s what it’s all about, I reckon.”
Getting the crew together for a big weekend at Kukerin is a popular tradition and Team Bongo has become one of the most popular to the point where it even sells its own stubby holders. Leader, for want of a better word, Nick Green has been at the core of the Bongos (so named for their wild Mazda Bongo van) for the past nine years and has seen his tribe grow to more than 40.
“It all gets bigger and better every year,” he says. The van itself is a long way from being a bread delivery van and has been steadily upgraded through the years.
“I got it about 15 years ago from the wreckers for $50. It was registered and had four good tyres on it so I put the tyres on my hot rod and ran the van around the bush. Then I put a six into it to come to Kukerin and we said, well, f$%# the six, we’ll put a V8 in it, so we blew up the six here at Kukerin.
“We drained all the oil and water out of it and put a brick on the accelerator and let it go.”
They reckon the six held on for a while before gradually seizing and graciously paving the way for the new donk.
“There’s a lot of people here who were happy to see it die but they didn’t realise it’d be back with a V8 in it [laughs]. Now it’s got a five-one Windsor.”
That engine hasn’t had an easy life; melted pistons were replaced after last year’s event in one of the many rebuilds it’s had. The novel thing about it is the drive, with a chain running off the crank to a gear on the crankshaft, and there’s more to come.
“There was going to be a supercharger,” says another of the crew. “A 4/71 blower, but that’ll have to be next year.”