Dave Carpenter’s epic Drag Challenge adventure

The late Dave Carpenter trekked over 3000km each way to put his Camaro through five days of torture

Photographers: Chris Thorogood, Shaun Tanner

We were devastated with the news that Drag Challenge competitor Dave Carpenter had passed away from cancer in April, not long after we finished working on the story of his 2023 DC adventure. Besides being a popular Drag Challenge racer, Dave had a long history in motorsport and street machining, including giving the Red CentreNATS Grand Champion title a serious shake in 2019 and winning the Gazzanats Roll Racing crown in the same year.

As you’ll read below, Dave was a fighter, having undergone a kidney transplant in 2017. Our condolences are with Dave’s family and his many friends.

First published in the May 2024 issue of Street Machine

The crazies in Street Machine Drag Challenge’s aspirated classes are some of the toughest nuts out there. Rocking old-school carbies, big converters and thumping exhausts, they attempt to drag their mechanical monsters through our DC rolling torture chamber for five days straight.Darwin local Dave Carpenter was a new entrant at the 2023 event. Having followed along as a spectator several times, he decided it was the year he and his Camaro would do it for real. “I just thought, ‘Bugger it, I’m not waiting any longer, so any of my mates who want to come with me can jump in!’” he says.

The Camaro is a 1968 model, which Dave purchased in Darwin circa 2014. He was getting treatment for kidney failure at the time, so the Camaro was his automotive therapy. “I used it as a way to clear my mind; something to distract me after doing six-hour dialysis treatments,” he says. He was lucky enough to get a transplant in 2017, which gave him a new outlook on life. “I took a different approach,” he explains. “I wanted to make the most of it.”

The Camaro then packed a 383, which is how Dave raced and drove it until 2018. “That’s when we did the new motor, ’caged it, did the diff, changed to the Weld wheels and so on,” he says. He dropped in a 434ci Dart Little M combo, which started as a Pavtek Performance-built engine in a local bracket car. “That’s why it has bits like the trick heads,” Dave says, referring to the Racer Pro 15-degree items.

Dave headed south from Darwin to Dragway at The Bend in SA for Drag Challenge 2023 – a 3100km trip each way

He raced the car like that until 2022, when he decided to give it a once-over with Frank Intini Race Engines. “I either could’ve run it as-is and gone through it when we got back [from Drag Challenge], or done it beforehand to make sure it’d make it through the week, so we decided on the second option,” Dave says. “We kept the block and crank, but pretty well all the rest was changed.”

Swinging a Scat crank, Oliver Ultra Light rods and a set of custom Diamond pistons, compression is a sky-high 14:1, which is why the APD carby huffs down E85. “With the humidity up here, it was really the only fuel for us,” Dave explains.

All-in, the engine is good for 750hp and around 7500rpm, backed up by a beefy Powerglide and TCE 6200rpm converter. The nine-inch rear is slightly shortened, with Altra 9 31-spline axles. “The driveline is intentionally overbuilt,” Dave says. “I didn’t want to have any failure points for events like Drag Challenge.”

Apart from the engine, Dave did most of the work on the Camaro himself. “I fabbed the rollcage, massaged the rear tubs, and also made the headers, which I never want to do again,” he laughs.

He headed south from Darwin to The Bend Dragway in SA for Drag Challenge 2023 – a 3100km trip each way, before any racing or road legs! The Camaro made it through the week unscathed, carrying Dave’s mate Glenn Lantzke and a trailer. “It did really well; the car was faultless all week,” Dave says. “All we did was swap the tyres and dump the exhaust to go racing, and we even managed the whole week running ethanol.”

He finished fourth in Pacemaker Radial Aspirated, just 0.041 seconds shy of Jude Drew’s third-in-class VR Commodore. “We were so close, but we never went there chasing [trophies] anyway,” Dave says. “We just wanted to finish the week, so to run that quick was a bonus.”

The Camaro PB’d twice during the event: first at Heathcote with a 9.90@138mph, and again on Day Five at The Bend with a 9.87@134mph. Travelling all the way from Darwin also scored Dave the Longest Distance Travelled award. “That was pretty cool,” he says. “It’s just a little reminder of what a great week we had.”

Unfortunately, Dave was diagnosed with cancer a few months after DC. He’s putting up a hell of a battle, and we wish him all the best in his recovery and hope to see him back in the Camaro soon. “I tell you what, I’m bloody glad I did Drag Challenge now,” he says. “It just goes to show you never know what can happen, so take your chances now and just do it.”


Class:Pacemaker Radial Aspirated
Brand:434ci Dart Little M
Induction:Edelbrock Spider
Carby:APD E85
Heads:Racer Pro 15-degree
Camshaft:Comp Cams solid-roller
Conrods:Oliver Ultra Light
Converter:TCE 6500rpm
Diff:9in, 35-spline axles, 4.11 gears
Rims:Weld V-Series; 17×4.5 (f), 15×9 (r)
Rubber:Mickey Thompson; 27x6R17 (f), 275/60R15 (r)

My mates, and my wife for letting me spend time in the shed.