The real deal: Casterton Street Drags

A quiet country town where old-school street drags are very much alive

Photographers: Simon Davidson

The iconic Casterton Street Drags are coming up on 18 November, at Sandford Flat in Casterton, Victoria.

We’ve been to the event a few times and it is always a cracker. Combining real-deal drag racing on a closed public street with an excellent skid contest, Casterton is well worth the 360km haul across from Melbourne.

To get you in the mood, check out the story below from the March 2014 issue of SM.

Far away from the grandstands, glamour and track prep of the capital city drag tracks is a place that determines who is the fastest on the street. We are in Casterton, nestled among the rolling green hills of rural Victoria, halfway between Melbourne and Adelaide.

Chances are you haven’t heard of Casterton, though it claims a proud place in Aussie history – the original Kelpie was born here, 143 years ago. But the past 22 years are of more interest to us because over that period, on one day each November, Casterton closes a section of public road to the east of town and runs eighth-mile street drags.

The first meet was little more than a bloke with a stopwatch waving cars down the track. These days, you’ll find a dedicated concrete slab in the Sandford Flat Road to warm the tyres and launch your quest for glory. The crew from Portland’s South Coast Raceway bring up the timing gear and ANDRA officials are in attendance.

The return road is a dirt track under an avenue of grand trees down the western edge of the ‘strip’. Without doubt, this is the most spectacular return road I’ve seen.

Casterton & District Drag Racing Club owns the paddock on the other side of the track and it serves as the pits, show ’n’ shine arena and home to the food stalls. In front of the paddock, the club has raised the perfect grass mound, which runs to half-track. Everyone is assured an uninterrupted view.

The first meet was little more than a bloke with a stopwatch

I’ve always thought of street drags as being like bare-knuckle boxing – bring what you’ve got and show us what you’re made of. No frills, grassroots racing. And Casterton didn’t disappoint.

As the sweet sound of V8s bounced off the surrounding hills and smoke meandered through the surrounding paddocks, I watched cars and bikes fearlessly lift their wheels skyward, saluting and encouraging the increasingly rowdy crowd. It wasn’t long before I forgot I was watching drag racing on a public road – only the broken centreline down the track reminds you of its day job.

But can such a remote spot attract big names? Well, reigning Australian Modified Bike champion Gavin Dohnt lives 10 minutes down the road and he wasn’t there as a spectator. Each time the tree lit green, Gavin was wrestling his bike forward. I reckoned he’d be the one to give me the low-down on the character of the track from a racer’s point of view.

So how does it compare to a surgically prepared strip like Willowbank or Kwinana? “If the wheelie bars are on the ground, the camber wants to steer me. It’s a wild ride,” he said.

But plenty of people enjoy a wild ride. Damien Kemp and the gasser crew (SM, Jan 2014) turned up, with Funderbolt, Loose Cannon and Hairy Goat. When Loose Cannon smoked it up for a full pass – third time in a row, off the trailer – it was clear the big hitters were going to struggle with traction. Full pass still making smoke? You bloody bewdy, I say.

And if you enjoy yourself too much and overshoot the track, don’t worry – look out for cars from the right, rejoin the local traffic and hook a gentle left up Lower Coleraine Road, past the recreational reserve.

The race-day schedule was simple: practice runs, Chicago Shootout, then the burnouts. And as the day wore on the crowd kept growing and the 60-car field was equally chockers with all the good cliches – mate against mate, old and new, Holden versus Ford.

In the finals of the Quick 16, former local lad Jake McArlein took the win in his immaculate 400-cube HJ Prem from Paul Mulcahy in his twin-turbo Austin Lancer. The Prem is a genuine 10-second street car and the Casterton title was Jake’s first win – home sweet home, indeed.

Melanee Aurish and her six-pot Cortina took it right up to Peter Taylor’s V8 WB in the Super Street final, but the extra cylinders snatched it by a whisker.

In the Bike final, the Dohnt boys, Jamie and Gavin, battled it out. Jamie handled the camber well, nudging his brother (and Australian champ) Gavin off the top step of the podium.

But if the racing was big, the burnouts were bigger. The vocal gymnastics of the crowd – colourful it was, at times – was a good measure of the burnout comp’s popularity. And with the largest field ever to bolt on skid rubber for Casterton, the fans were frothing.

By the time the late afternoon light had begun filtering through the smoke, shrouding the return-road trees, I was in total denial that this had ever been a public road. The volume of smoke drifting up the valley would have shown up on Google Earth.

I turned to a random bloke to ask if the smoke would affect any residents. Pointing beyond the smoke, he told me: “Nanna lives just up there.” Gazing over the pad and into the middle distance, he added: “Her hearing’s not good and the smoke’s only a problem if her washing’s on the line.”

For some inane reason, I wanted to know if her washing was out, but before I could ask the next skid had started.

When the numbers were tallied, a couple of Portland lads had taken the top spots, Daniel Page steering to victory over Michael Cleary.

Speaking of steering, I drove my XM coupe from Sydney via Narranderra to Casterton, then home via Castlemaine and Shepparton; a tad over 2700km in a week.

Every mile on the open road, I was living the dream, but Casterton, with all the cool people I met, a killer event and perfect weather, was the jewel in the crown.

If drag racing had a barn find, the Casterton Street Drags would be it. Even better, it’s still waiting for you to come and discover it.


1. Andrew Chapple’s HZ Kingswood may look grandpa-spec on club rego, but underneath is a 355 stroker.

2. The wheel-standing shenanigans of Andrew Champness from Kaniva and his 1967 Beetle were a crowd favourite.

3. 30 coats of clear over gloss black, cyan blue and metal flake were needed to achieve the stunning finish on Neville Kurzman’s ’70 Corvette. The Corvette won a best paint trophy many years ago at the Summernats.

4. The ex-interceptor VH street car of Portland’s Luke McCurdy runs a mild 304 with tunnel ram against a T350 with 4200 stall. Luke’s best over the 1/8th is 7.81.

5. Paul Jacobs’ street and strip 1966 Cortina caught our eye with its sharp lines. It’s powered by a turbo SR20.

6. Ryan Klun from Kingston in South Oz has owned this fine XY since he was 15. The street-driven Falc runs a stout 370 Clevo. All he needed to go racing was to change the tyres.

7. Some people have a nodding dog on their parcel shelf, but ‘Googz’ is a bit different. He has a perfectly mummified pussy cat.

8. Built for Drag Week, this 1972 Nova is a factory 427. Paul Mulcahy landed the beast here for a mere $13,000. The 427 runs methanol these days and is good for 650hp at the tyres.

9. In addition to his Nova, Paul Mulcahy also had a blast in his 1958 Austin Lancer. Under the bonnet is a twin-turbo Holden V6 on E85. Paul reckons the E85 is good for an extra 75hp.

10. Joey Leigh Beattie’s V6 Navara was about halfway into a skid when the rear end started to disintegrate. The tray soon disengaged, much to the crowd’s delight.

11. V8 warriors from different codes: burnout judges John Bowe and Clint Ogilvie. John had his Mustang on display while Clint entertained the crowd with powerskids and a killer burnout.

12. Both Stevie Showler of Harrow and Hamish Beauglehall of Casterton are ute drivers. Stevie has a VY while Hamish has a VU.

13. Clint Ogilvie toasts the treads. “This event has always been on my bucket list and finally I was able to make it,” Clint says. “All in all it’s just a great, fun day. There should be more events like this where you can just cut loose.”


QUICK 16 (TOP 2)

  1. Jake McArlein – HJ Premier
  2. Paul Mulcahy – Austin Lancer


  1. Peter Taylor – WB utility
  2. Melanee Aurisch – Six pot Cortina


  1. Jamie Dohnt – Yamaha R1
  2. Gavin Dohnt – Suzuki


  1. Daniel Page – Commodore
  2. Michael Cleary – HZ Kingswood SL