Flashback: WAR440 cruise from Sydney to Springnats

Need a crazy boy to drive a blown big-block Mopar all the way from Sydney to Shepparton? Mark Arblaster is your man

Photographers: Mark Bean

The December issue of Street Machine is our 400th mag, and we’re celebrating with a high-octane blast through our archives, looking back on some of the craziest stories to ever see print. Right up there is Arby’s trip with Shannon Pettersen from Sydney to Springnats 2001. It’s a cracker of a yarn; check it out in full below.

First published in the March 2001 issue of Street Machine

I reckon if I had a dollar for every stunned look I copped when I told people I was driving my car from Sydney to Shepparton (northern Victoria) to compete in the Springnats burnout comp – and then driving it home again – I’d be trading in my trusty Val on a brand new V8 Merc.

But the way l look at it, if you can’t get in your car and drive it anywhere – including interstate – then it’s not a true street car.

After a couple of years running an engine that would only digest pure alcohol, the idea of owning a car that could run on get-it-anywhere pump gas again had a certain appeal, especially as it still had a blown big-block V8 poking through the bonnet.

And I figured a 2000km return trip to Shepp was good enough to silence those critics who say you can’t drive tough cars on long trips.

With famed Cadillac fetishist Mark Bean riding shotgun with his cameras, and my mate Shannon Pettersen cruising along in his blown VK Commodore (SM, Aug ’00), we were all pretty boned about the drive ahead… even if the Val’s arse was fairly dragging on the ground due to a boot full of tyres, jack, spares, tools, bags, pillows and cleaning stuff.

It doesn’t take us long to clear the crowded streets of Sydney, and the cool early morning air amplifies the fine whine of the blower as we cruise the Hume blacktop at 3000rpm in top gear.

Sure enough, our outlaw-style cars turn a few heads and make an impact whenever we stop for fuel. Which is pretty often, as you’d expect. We decide to have a bit of fun at each servo by telling the locals that Mel Gibson is secretly filming the latest sequel to Mad Max about 10 kays out of whatever town it is we’re in, and that these are the cars being used for the movie. It’ll put their little town on the map, we tell ’em, just like The Dish did for Parkes. They take the bait like starving mullets. For all I know, half of them are still desperately tearing up and down the highway looking for us now!

Petrol was always going to be an issue. Good fuel economy and blown big-blocks don’t often get mentioned in the same sentence. Fuel consumption turns out to be pretty good: 26.8 litres/100km, or just under 11mpg in the old money.

By lunchtime the outside temperature is up into the mid-30s, while engine temp is steady on 182 with the thermos off. We’d just refuelled the car in some one-horse town when the engine suddenly splutters and dies. Bugger…

I coast to the side of the road and pop the hood for a quick check. All the important bits seem okay. All the leads are on, the coil wire’s on, not an oil leak in sight, but zero fuel pressure! Aha!

After some fiddling about and blowing back through the fuel lines, I manage to dislodge whatever had blocked the pick-up in the fuel tank. It seems we’d picked up some crap in the fuel at that last stop and it got sucked up into the line, blocking it.

At the time it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. A little further down the road and we are finally in Shepparton. Yeehaa! But our elation is short-lived, as we’re immediately ambushed by the local wallopers. After some fancy word-work, I get off with a warning, but I still felt like ripping off a couple of doughnuts to let the bastards know of my feelings.

Instead, I sink a couple of bikie beers in the motel pool to calm down before walking down to the main drag to watch all the cool cars cruising up and down. It ends up not such a great idea, either.

Just to paint a picture: there’s a park across the street full of families and young people sitting there watching the action. There are two lanes in each direction and each side of the road is chockas with beautiful cars and people taking it all in. It’s mellow, too. Not a hint of a burnout or chirping tyres, not a single act of lawlessness or stupidity. So what happens? The EPA joins forces with the police to set up a roadblock and defect nearly every car that goes by. And I’m not talking about shitboxes, either. I’m talking about immaculate cars, faultless in appearance and construction, soberly driven. The traffic is queued up from there to hell and back.

The officer in charge informs me he’s been asked to carry out the blitz as – get this – “a public relations exercise to maintain peace and safety”!

Given the good vibe we’re getting from the locals, and the responsible manner in which entrants are conducting themselves, I thought the operation was an absolute disgrace.

Throughout the night, loads of police cars cruise the crowd-lined streets. If I didn’t know better, I’d swear the large police contingency is deliberately trying to antagonise an otherwise peaceful crowd.

Saturday is better, a dead-set blast. The Springnats site is huge and, after almost 1000 kays of behaving myself, I’m toey for a little stupidity. I know Pettersen is – he has 12 brand-new tyres to demolish. The Go-to-Whoa and Burnout Expression Session is just the ticket to take the edge off things. There is NOTHING like hearing a blown car doing 6000rpm in a pool of smoke to make a man feel good.

The crowd is receptive to a little burnout buggery at the end of the Go-to-Whoa skidpan. All the big hitters are there, though poor old Gary Myers (Summernats 2000 burnout champ) buggers his engine early in the piece and can’t compete. Peter and Debbie Gray, owners of the Camaro that took out the Summernats 14 burnout comp, have lashed out on a brand-new blown 502ci big-block crate motor and are feeling confident.

The oppressive heat takes its toll on plenty of the cars. But at the end of day one, I still have the crank in the engine, I’ve qualified for the burnout finals, had a great time and am looking forward to a relaxing evening with a couple of cold ones and some Saturday night action.

Alas, the police scare campaign has had its effect and the streets are dead. Even the Sunday morning Supercruise is relatively quiet because so many cars have been defected, taking the edge off what would otherwise be a truly memorable event.

Out at the main site, Sunday is turning into an absolute stinker and, as a result, the burnout finals are not what I expected. Some of the toughest cars in the country are about to do battle and there is hardly any crowd watching. Well, fewer than 500 people at any time is my guess. It’s so flaming hot, we reckon we’ll have to burn our cars to the ground to get a rise out of the crowd.

We go close. Both my fuel filters block with crud from that dud tank of fuel on the way down, the motor runs lean, and I melt a piston. Ouch!

Shannon attempts to do some helis in the narrow lead-in section of the track and crunches the gutter just seconds into the final. He destroys a Simmons rim, punches the control-arm bushes out of the car and bends an axle. Peter Gray and his Camaro take the big prize in a typically gutsy performance.

I have a dead car and am due back at work in Sydney on Monday night, so I ring event organiser Les Adams, a bloke with an obvious ability to organise anything. He knows someone, and suitable arrangements are made. Thank you very much for all your help, Les. Even Seddo reckons you’re a top bloke.

Next year I might give the burnouts a miss and fit air-con instead.


“Yeah, your licence there, mate?” “Yeah, what’s the problem?” “Blower through the bonnet and towbar obscuring number plate.” “Aw, come on, mate. I’ve just driven the car here from Sydney without a problem and now you’re gonna bust me?” “Sydney? Yeah. Sure you did.” “Check out the splattered bugs all over the windscreen!”

He believes me. I get off with a warning, but only after he tells me that if he sees the car on the road again, he’ll bust me on the spot, even if I’m driving like my grandmother. “Then it looks like we’ve got a problem, mate.” “What’s that?” “I’m going to drive this car from the motel to the show and back for the next three days and then I’m going to drive it home to Sydney.” “Well, don’t say you weren’t warned.”

Photographers: Mark Bean