How the Crusty Torana won Drag Challenge 2023

Mark Drew’s 2000hp ‘Crusty’ Torana takes out Street Machine Drag Challenge 2023

Photographers: Chris Thorogood, Shaun Tanner, Noah Thorley

Claiming both the Haltech Radial Blown class win as well as the overall win at Street Machine Drag Challenge 2023 was just the cherry on top of a lengthy journey of development and racing for Mark Drew and his insane ‘Crusty’ LH Torana.

It’s been a long, tough road for Mark, with a major engine failure a few years back and years of transmission issues hamstringing the development of his Torry, but through perseverance and surrounding himself with the best people, he has finally brought it all together. In addition to his Drag Challenge success, this year Mark and his team also took the 275 Radial win at the Holden Nationals and the Open-class win at King of the Street.

There are not many true street cars that can claim a six-second quarter-mile pass (6.96) on radials at 200mph (well, close enough at 199.81mph), but this shabby old four-door with a relatively basic set-up is one of them.

Mark began campaigning the car around 10 years ago, when it ran a modest small-block Chev combo good for 9.46 seconds. In 2016, he made the move to the twin-turbo LS, doing the fab work himself in his home shed. When you pop the bonnet, it just looks like an aspirated LS, as the turbos have been mounted under the car, near the control arms. The wiring, fuel system, coils and all related components are hidden from view, and the whole shebang fits under a flat factory bonnet.

“I never planned on running this fast,” says Mark. “But [eventually I] thought, ‘F**k it, let’s go fast and let’s go twin-turbo’. Initially it was with a Dart-block 427 combination, but I hurt it back in 2019 when I was running 7.20s.

“I had a local guy, Paul Turner, take over my engine program, and we dropped the new engine build back to 400ci,” Mark continues. “As you make more power, you need to turn the motor to higher rpm. At the moment, we’re at 8400, still with a hydraulic-roller camshaft.”

The engine is an impressive bit of gear, belting out over 2000rwhp and seeing as much as 39psi of boost. Insofar as LS motors go, it’s got the best of everything. The Dart-blocked mill runs a billet Callies CCW crank, GMP alloy conrods, Higgins six-bolts heads with LS7-style valves, LS3 ports and Texas Speed rockers with roller tips. Static compression is at 10.2:1, and the block has been fire-ringed to seal combustion pressures. The camshaft was designed by John Bewley and matched to Johnson short-travel lifters.

Mark did an amazing job building the hot side, utilising four-into-one, stainless steampipe headers to the twin G42s, mounted behind the lower control arms. As it runs on alcohol and is not intercooled, the engine is fed by 16 2400cc injectors, using a belt-driven Kinsler pump that is gravity-fed by a 14.5-litre tank mounted under the right-hand front guard.

“I run the smart coils for ignition, and the whole car is wired with a Holley system,” Mark explains. “We have managed to accumulate a massive amount of data, and Tim Bailey, who has been with me for every pass we have made, is responsible for data management. Tim records the data on every single pass and makes the power management changes as required.

“A lot of people tell me I should chase sponsorships to help my racing, but I pay for every single thing on this car. Where I am lucky is that I have support from great people.”

One of those people is Jason from Dominator Converters, who really saved the day for Mark after years of gearbox issues. “Every time I would make a pass, I was burning up the trans or having some kind of issue with the gearbox; it was killing us,” Mark says. “Two years ago, I took the trans to Jason. He told me I had to start again with a whole new Powerglide, and we did. I changed from the PTC converter to one built by Jason, and we had so much data, we got it right straight away. The car picked up mph, and every time we raced from that point on, we went quicker. Before Drag Challenge, I pulled the trans with 40 passes on it and took it back to Jason. It was like new, so we reloaded it, and it hasn’t missed a beat.”

The rest of the car is pretty basic, although it has good-quality parts. The driveshaft is carbonfibre, while the nine-inch is just a braced factory housing with 35-spline axles and a floater kit. The rear end uses the factory pick-up points on the body, and the Menscer canister shocks are still in the factory location. The rear gear ratio is 3.25:1, and there’s Strange brakes all ’round.

At the Bend on the last day of Drag Challenge, we went 1.16 in the 60-foot, with a 7.07 elapsed time,” Mark says. “We wanted to come back to do another pass to crack that six, but the staging lanes were closed. I think a lot of our success in the 60-foot has come from the 1.69 gearset in the trans, so we are really driving the car out of the hole on the converter. We don’t even have double beadlocks – just a single – and the inside doesn’t have screws in it! If people had a real good look at that car, they would be blown away by how simple it is.”

In full steel and glass trim, the Crusty Torana weighs in at 3300lb, and Mark has plans to up the ante on his personal best of 6.96@199mph. “We are happy with where we are heading and how reliable the car has been, but we want to run a 6.8,” he declares. “It just needs more boost. “We have paid a lot of attention to scaling the car and we have [65 per cent of] the weight over the nose.

“At Drag Challenge, we threw a set of plugs and an oil change at the car every day, because we were running on pump fuel on the drive, but apart from a squeaking rear brake, it ran perfect all week long,” Mark continues. “We cruise the car on a single Walbro in-tank pump, then when we get to the track, we change two lines, flick a switch and send it.”

Mark wants to give a big shout-out to Jeff Johnson from Streetbuilt Racing, who has been the man on the laptop behind the car’s phenomenal success. As he is based in Western Australia, Jeff has shown Tim Bailey how to power-manage the Torana. Other key players are Shane Marshall (suspension), Paul Turner (engine), Jason from Dominator, Matt Turnbull, and Admir Blaca, who fixed up a bunch of wiring in the car.

We look forward to seeing that 6.8-second ET from the Crusty Torana, and with rumours that a twin-turbo 540ci Chev may be lurking in the shadows, things are looking spicy for next year’s Drag Challenge. Whatever the future holds, Mark and his crew have hustled hard to claim the title of Australia’s Quickest Street Car for 2023 in this full-steel, twin-turbo monster!