Passionate drag racer Leanne Bernhard has mentored countless people through racing workshops at Calder Park Raceway and actively encouraged female motoring enthusiasts as Victorian director of Girls Torque, formerly known as the Australian Women’s Motorsport Network (AWMN).
If that’s not enough, Leanne has piloted several stout drag cars in her spare time. Unfortunately, an on-track accident 11 years ago saw her racing pursuits come to a screaming halt, but that is set to change when Leanne’s drag-and-drive 1980 VC Commodore SL/E hits the track.
First published in the December 2023 issue of Street Machine
What led you to straight-line racing, Leanne?
I had wanted to drag race since I was 12 years old, but I only started when I was 30, in my now ex-husband’s 355ci-powered, two-door LJ Torana. When I began racing, there was only one other female racer, so I wanted to encourage more women to get involved.
I guess that’s where the AWMN comes in.
Yes, I just love the sport so much that I became an AWMN director to encourage and mentor more women. I later suggested the name change to Girls Torque as an all-encompassing banner to reach more women, which is why I have the GRLTQE rego plates. People can find us at the Girls Torque group on Facebook.
Tell us about your racing accident.
I was at Calder racing a 422ci small-block Ford-powered 2002 Mustang, which my ex and I had built to do eight-second quarters. I was mid-track and shifted into top gear when the car turned 90 degrees, straight into the wall at 120mph.
The front wheel had fractured around the wheel nuts, causing the crash. I broke my left foot and pelvis and fractured my sternum. I had two surgeries and couldn’t walk for seven months. That’s when I stepped back from racing.
And the VC SL/E you’re building will be your ticket back to the track?
Yes, I want a cruiser that I can also have fun with and run mid-to-high 10-second passes – without a ’cage. I don’t want it to be a handful on the street, [just] something that’s the best of both worlds.
My partner Rod and I had been looking for a year when mates told us of a VC SL/E. Once I saw it, I bought it! It already had comfy VH SL/E seats and great paint, and we knew we could easily alter the driveline.
Tell us about the planned upgrades.
The VC should be built in the next 12 to 18 months. Rod is building me a 308 stroker; currently the VC is running a 253, although it’s a factory six-cylinder car.
The new 355ci mill will run a Harrop blower and EFI. This set-up will be quite a change, as I’ve only ever had carby-fed cars. Behind is a ‘Traumatic’, which will go in favour of a TH350 during the upgrade.
Are you trepidatious about racing again after your accident?
Not having raced for 11 years has sucked! Maybe I’m nuts, but I just don’t feel intimidated to race again. I have so many friends out at the track; it’s a good community. So I’m keen to get back out there.
Girls — wanna be famous? Email pics (minimum file size of 2MB each), car details and contact details to: [email protected].