Wilby Park motorsport track in Victoria is grassroots drag racing at its finest and a great opportunity for beginners. Here’s a look back at some of highlights from our 2014 feature, first published in the August ’14 issue of Street Machine
THE first thing people ask you when you say you’re heading to a drag race in Wilby is: “Where the hell is Wilby?” We asked that question 12 years ago when we first visited the joint (SM, Nov ’02) and while the population has since doubled to 200, the track itself hasn’t moved anywhere – it’s still about an hour’s drive north-east of Shepparton, Victoria.
Despite celebrating its 50th anniversary as a motorsport venue earlier this year, Wilby Park remains under the radar for most Victorian fast-car fans, despite offering not only an eighth-mile dragstrip, but also a burnout pad and a 1km speedway track. We reckon it is a cool little joint, so when the Geelong gasser team of Damien Kemp and Steven Biggs decided to add Wilby to the notches on their bedposts, we had to tag along to see how the track has changed.
On the surface, Wilby looks much as it did, with even some of the same cars still there, frying tyres. Despite appearances though, the club has been through a lot, including a flood that destroyed the speedway. They’ve not only re-laid the drag strip surface, but have upgraded most of the facilities, with a sealed return road next on the agenda and updated timing gear after that. They’ve even added a kids climbing gym right beside the spectator area – a genius idea, in my opinion.
The Geelong crew headed out on Saturday, making base camp at the excellent Royal Hotel at Seymour, with the idea of catching the Seymour swap at sparrow’s fart, then hauling their gassers the remaining two hours to Wilby. I arrive in Seymour on Sunday morning to find the boys had been caught in the middle of a hen’s night that had snagged almost every room in the pub. In fact, only our intrepid photographer got a room of his own, while Steve and Damien had to swag it on the veranda. The boys survived, but are nursing some powerful hangovers, so I decide to check out the swap while they get their brains back in order.
The slow start means we pull into Wilby just in time to scramble to the drivers briefing, which works a little differently to most other tracks. The pits at Wilby are fenced in, separating the racers from the spectators. Before the drivers meeting, the public are free to roam around the pits, but are herded out as the racers gather around the pit office, where the club president runs through the day’s activities: time trials, followed by the burnout competition, then the finals.
Cars are organised according to how many cylinders they are packing and then into Street, Drag or Competition, with other classes for bikes, hot rods and ladies. Rather than running in the familiar elimination or Chicago Shootout formats, each car must run a minimum of two qualifiers. The finalists are the two competitors who have run the quickest two passes for the class and they face off in a heads-up, winner-take-all showdown. Simple!
After the drivers meeting, the public are allowed back into the pits for a small fee. It is worth the coin though, as there’s a cool variety of cars to be found.
While the Geelong gassers attract a lot of attention – they usually do when they visit a new track – the king of the kids is not a car, but a bike: Corey Scholes’ turbocharged Kawasaki. Sporting a classic 70s colour scheme, the bike is a weapon, requiring an external starter to fire it up and all of Corey’s considerable muscle to keep it on the straight and narrow on the slippery Wilby surface. The bike is not only the fastest vehicle on the day, but the fastest thing to ever run at Wilby, full stop.
Corey Scholes’ turbocharged Kawasaki was the fastest vehicle at the meeting, and probably the most spectacular. He set a new track record of 5.89sec and added a win in the Drag Bike class
Behind the bike is a herd of tough Pro Street-style cars, all running in the mid-to-high six-second zone. Most run Chev power, though Kev Brennan proudly flies the all-Ford flag in his RACNU Capri. The rest of the field comprises a mix of pure street cars and a few roughies pulled out of paddocks and tidied up for race day.
We find one bloke happily struggling with a Nissan EXA, complete with a homemade intercooler and upgraded turbo. He tells us it was once his street car and then did some time at circuit sprints. It had been sitting idle in his yard, but with one of the three meetings at Wilby per year approaching, he stuck in a battery, pumped up the tyres and brushed off the cobwebs, ready for some eighth-mile fun.
Noel Inman has raced as far north as Benaraby and as far west as Alice Springs in his notorious Model T Coupe. The normally reliable and extensively street-driven rod was plagued by bent pushrods at Wilby
The gasser boys are placed in the Hot Rod class, alongside Noel Inman’s unfeasibly quick tall Model T coupe, and come back from their first runs reporting that the track is as narrow as it looks and not particularly grippy. They get plenty of runs though, and as the day progresses, Hot Rod is reduced to a two-horse race, as Noel’s usually reliable coupe starts bending pushrods. The gassers put on their usual wild show, with Steve Biggs’ Chev emerging with trophies for Best Hot Rod and Most Improved.
Besides Corey’s bike and the gassers, two of our favourite cars are the LJ Toranas of Dusty Benson and Matt Filipenko. Dusty’s is matte-black and evil, Matt’s glossy red, but both were running 6.50s like clockwork and ripping off big skids for the appreciative crowd.
Matt has been racing at Wilby for around 25 years and has a bit of a handle on what it takes to get the cars down the track: “It can be a bit slippy on the startline in the mornings, but it usually bites pretty well later in the day. The other thing to watch is the dip in the left-hand lane. It is right where I would normally click it into top, so if I’m in that lane I hold it a bit longer, otherwise you’ll rattle the tyres. Because I’ve got adjustable shocks, I’m able to run it a bit looser than I would at Sydney or Heathcote.”
Hailing from Wangaratta – less than an hour away – Wilby is Matt’s local track and he enjoys it. “The competition is getting tougher. Once it was rare to see a car run in the sixes, but now there are plenty. Which is why I’ve started using the gas at Wilby; I’ve got to keep up!”
It is a good spectacle and, like any good eighth-mile track, is a great place for beginners to have a lash at drag racing. There are only three official drag meetings at Wilby a year, but the strip is also open at speedway meetings for untimed grudge racing. For all the details, check out: www.wilbypark.com.au.