IF THERE’S one thing that the craziness of the past couple of years has taught us, it’s to get out there and enjoy life whenever the opportunity arises. Especially when that opportunity involves a road trip and doing awesomely fun car stuff with a bunch of like-minded mates.
So, when photographer Neale Bayliss and mates Jon and Mardi Smoother journeyed to the 2021 Mud Run in late July, we jumped at the chance to hop on board for the 11th running of the invitation-only event.
The trio set off from their hometown of Bathurst for a four-and-a-half-hour cruise through the countryside, bound for the tiny hamlet of East Gresford in the picturesque Hunter Valley. Neale piloted his cool little ’69 Mark II Cortina, while the lack of rego on the Smoothers’ recently purchased ’62 Pontiac Parisienne meant the land-yacht had to be towed. That said, a trailer has its benefits when you’re planning on giving your chosen steed an utter hiding at the Mud Run.
The Smoothers have become Mud Run regulars, building a community of mates along the way. “It’s like a religious holiday for us,” Mardi said. “We have really good friends here.” These days, it’s just as much about catching up for a well-overdue chinwag and a laugh as it is about fanging on a dirt track.
Restrictions necessitated a smaller Mud Run this year, much to the delight of everyone attending. “I liked this year’s event as it wasn’t as busy, with a better atmosphere. It’s a great community,” Mardi said.
These sentiments were echoed by Mud Run president Joal Butcher. “This year was the best, because we keep refining it, and reducing the numbers due to COVID restrictions really worked, allowing us to manage the event better,” he said. “Overall, we had 530 people with 35 pre-1969 cars and 20 or so bikes. I could drive to each campsite and know everyone.”
There’s something to be said for small, intimate events; they offer a raw, more tangible experience and a sense of mateship fed by lighthearted shenanigans, fireside yarns and ample bench racing.
Yet the event’s heart is the round dirt track. Here, entrants are placed into three brackets based on their vehicle’s power and number of wheels. Each vehicle is then individually let loose for five laps of ample sideways action. Everyone gets around six goes at giving it all of the jandal – unless of course they destroyed their fang-mobile on the previous outing.
“People tell me that they love how simple and easy the event is. It’s not a competition; everyone is out to have fun,” Joal said of the tried-and-true set-up. This year’s modified single-day event brought with it an added bonus. “We got to run in the dark,” Joal said. “From the sidelines, you could see the hot, glowing headers and flames out of the exhausts – it was excellent!”
It wasn’t just the cars that copped a hiding, with pilots and passengers holding on for dear life as their steeds whipped about at speed. “I had bruises from bracing myself when I was driving!” Mardi laughed.
Come Sunday, the gathering dispersed with fond farewells and a keenness to see one another at the same time next year. “Running the event was stressful and hard work, but we received so many thanks,” Joal said. “I had a lot of grown men giving me a hug and thanking me for bringing them some normality – I didn’t realise how it had affected everyone.
“We’ll do another Mud Run without a doubt, and do it the same way as this year, as a closed event.”
So, will our road-trippers be returning? “After spending four hours cleaning off dirt – and not getting it all – you question whether you’ll go back again,” Mardi said. “But you soon forget about that and start planning for the next one. We’re already discussing taking something new – perhaps an FB wagon.”
THE Mud Run is organised by a group of 10 friends, headed by event president Joal Butcher. Joal was full of praise for the way the town of East Gresford has got behind the event. “The town is very good to us, so we like to support the local community,” he said. “As we’re not-for-profit, in 2019 we gave a big donation to the lawn bowls club, and it actually saved the club.”
This year’s smaller entry list helped the event get the tick of COVID compliance. “The police came through and they were excellent. We ran by the book and had a fully ticketed event with no general public, so they were really happy,” Joal said. “We knew everyone there and had only one entry point. It was much easier to manage, so we’ll be running it like this from now on.”
JON Smoother’s ’62 Pontiac Parisienne (above) has quite the history of catching alight, and continued the tradition at the Mud Run.
“My dad owned this car when I was a kid,” Jon said. “I have an early childhood memory of Dad putting out an under-bonnet fire with my blanket – that was pretty traumatic as a three-year-old! Dad sold the car in 1992. I spent seven years trying to find it and turned it up late last year.
“Since we’ve had it, it’s caught fire after doing a shed burnout thanks to the trans boiling. At the Mud Run I gave the car no mercy and boiled the trans again, but this time it melted the fuel line. The cool thing is that we put a call out over the PA for a length of fuel hose, and within no time a guy we’d never met before turned up with 500mm of hose, and we had it back up and running for the last round of racing under lights.
“And at the start of the day, a bloke who had brought a car up from Cootamundra got half a lap in when he broke a trans adapter. They made an SOS call, someone turned up with a welder and they were back out racing for the rest of the day. That’s the spirit of the event, I reckon.”
1. Mark Taylor’s LS-motivated ’48 Chev pick-up easily drove the entire 800km round-trip for the festivities, and he never buttoned-off when out in the mud. “The Mud Run is about as much fun as you can have with your pants on, and the setting is spectacular!” he enthused. “Our crew was welcomed with open arms and a non-stop weekend of fun was had”
2. Our photographer Neale built his ’69 Mark II Cortina with his dad from a bunch of leftover parts. It features a few choice upgrades, including a mild cam, head work and a close-ratio ’box
3. “This year my daughter Piper got to drive for the first time, as she just turned 16 years old,” Mud Run president Joal Butcher said. “She drove her black ’63 Chev Impala, which she had packed with a heap of friends”
4. “It’s a great family event and the kids had a ball,” said Corey Mace, pilot of this tidy 302ci Windsor-powered XR pano. “My van is a five-seater, so it was loaded with passengers each run. We have been to nearly every Mud Run. Our eldest girl Shanay has been since she was little, and our little ones Piper and Austin have been since they were babies – it’s the event we look forward to every year”
5. “I have been to every Mud Run,” Matt Black said. “It used to be held in a mate’s back paddock before it even had a name. And I plan to go to every event they put on.” Matt certainly wasn’t afraid to give his flatty-powered ’34 Ford coupe some curry on the slick dirt track
6. A track stand-out was Mick Heawood’s twin-turbo ’49 Studebaker with its in-your-face twin 76mm turbos standing proud up front. The LS-powered Stude is backed by a TH400 and 9in. “It makes around 550hp,” Mick said. “I had an over-boost issue on the last run, causing rocker cover gaskets to pop out and three melted pistons.” Mick will now up the ante by stroking the donk to 383 cubes
7. After some impressive driving skills, Cain Sanderman took out Best Car of the Mud Run in his understated 1965 W111 Mercedes. The sleeper sports a VY SS driveline including a stock LS1 with a cam, 300hp-shot of giggle-juice and eBay turbo manifolds
8. Matt Hendler’s ’63 Austin Freeway gasser was one of many purpose-built cars blasting around the track. The Austin is powered by a trusty 253ci thongslapper with zoomies poking through the front guards. A ’51 Chev delivery front axle provides the gasser’s finishing touch
9. Junkers Car Club (SM, Aug ’16) ran a bunch of cool rides at this year’s Mud Run. Member Matty Kelleher gave his 1948 Chev ute the absolute berries, and that blown Holden 304ci readily soaked up every minute of it. “It was fun to ride in with the windscreen constantly covered in fuel not being digested by the four carbies!” said Matty’s mate Mark Taylor
10. I’ve got a thing for shoebox Nova gassers, so I was stoked to see one ripping it up at the Mud Run. The ‘Sleep N Nova’ LS-powered ’66 was built in prep for the 2017 Mud Run by Kevin and Trent Crawley
11. Paul McDean is the new caretaker of the ‘Fugly’ ’56 Zephyr ute. “We donated it to Paul, who’s a good friend,” said former owner Corey Mace. “We helped him put a new motor and what-not in it to get it to go a bit better”