Victor Bray returns to drag racing at the Winternationals

Australian drag racing legend Victor Bray makes an emotional return to the track

Photographers: Drag Photos

I WOULD like to start with a heartfelt thanks to the hundreds of people who passed on their best wishes when I returned to racing at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway. I was overwhelmed by the response; it was no secret there were times when it was difficult to keep the emotions in check. Over the weekend there were dozens of cancer survivors who came around our pits and wanted to share their experiences. Some stories were happier than others. Cancer doesn’t care who it attacks.

There was a lot happening in the lead-up to the event. Frankie Taylor came out from the States to drive for our team and also helped Ben get the ’57 Chev ready to race. Ben worked flat-out and was busy right up to the day we went to the track preparing three Slammers and his Factory Xtreme car for the meeting.

I just wanted to make a couple of runs to say ‘I’m back and thanks for your support’, although once the first run was out of the way we stepped it up to try and make the field – but that would have needed a PB. When I went out and did my first burnout, I could hear the crowd cheering and when I pulled the ’chutes at the end of the run it was a massive relief. When Ben and the crew got down to the end of the track it was very emotional, and I can tell you there were a few tears shed.

One thing I had forgotten was how much these cars throw you around. I can tell you, I was a bit stiff and sorry a couple of days later. I used to carry a few extra kilos (ha ha – a few!) and that provided me with some cushioning. But after losing 100kg I’m all skin and bones. Ben added a lot of padding to the seat and rollcage so I wasn’t moving around in the car. Not sure if anyone noticed, but my firesuit didn’t fit quite as well; it looked like there was room inside for a second person!

I’m going to physio two to three times a week to get race-fit and get my strength levels up. I’m hungry to make up for lost time and get back into racing, and and I’m looking forward to the 400 Thunder season opener at Hidden Valley Raceway, July 13-14

At the Winternationals, Kelly Bettes became the first woman in this country to win a Top Fuel title! An incredible effort, but in all the excitement around that, a couple of points about the meeting may have got lost that I’d like to mention. Scott Maclean would have to be the hard-luck story of this year’s Winters. He went out testing the week before the meeting and demolished the Pro Slammer record with a mind-boggling pass of 5.57 seconds. He knew it was a good run, but didn’t know how good, and when his team came roaring down the return road – amid much horn-blaring and yelling – he got excited and did the ‘Oh what a feeling!’ Toyota jump and stuffed up his Achilles tendon.

So in order to be able to race at the Winters, his Achilles was taped, and they had to alter the chassis and how the throttle cable worked. They fitted a slide throttle so he could just slide his foot across the floor of the car. It can take a bit to get used to after using a normal throttle. All things considered, he did well to just miss qualifying by 0.027 seconds. The other bad news is that he will likely be out of action for the next couple of months.

The battle for the Slammer title went to Paul Mouhayet and Moits Racing, and I’m predicting that next season there will be a couple of teams ready to step up and knock them off their perch.

The idea that you need an American tuner to win the title is open for debate. American Billy Stockton tuned the Mouhayet car, and there is no question that he is one of the best in the world. He is very good at making a car go down the track and has a wealth of knowledge and experience built over many years. But to me the real secret is really getting to know your race car. You only need to look at Zappia and Gary Phillips, who have been in the game a long time, to see that you don’t necessarily need to look overseas for help. Although most teams get some form of help from their American contacts, few can afford the cost of flying in a tuner for the weekend to race.

Many of the Pro Slammers are running in the 5.60-second zone and at speeds around 420 km/h, and those figures are getting up there with the Pro Alcohol cars that are 1140kg lighter. I think it may be time to knock some weight off the cars to make them a bit safer. Problem is, a lighter car is a faster car. I’ve got a few ideas on what needs to be done that I plan to expand on in next month’s column.

At the Winters we had 19 entries in Pro Slammer, and when we have such heavily oversubscribed fields I wonder if we should have two divisions: the top eight qualifiers racing for the main prize, and the next eight chasing a consolation win. We have done it in the past at Darwin and the Perth Motorplex.

I’m sure the racers would be on-side with a two-tier format – no one wants to sit in the grandstand and watch your mates race. The main issue is whether the race organisers, 400 Thunder and the tracks would agree to the idea.

This year’s Winternationals was a great meeting, but with 500 entries and a four-day race schedule, when you lose a day due to rain the schedule is thrown into disarray. Maybe what we should introduce is pre-qualifying for some categories. That’s what happens with the NHRA, where you must race at a certain number of meetings and earn points in order to be granted entry to the major events like the US Nationals. If we were to go down that path, it would be up to the racers in those categories to decide.

The next must-see event on the calendar will be the Jamboree at Willowbank on 25-26 August. To me, the Factory Xtreme category is the next big thing in drag racing. The meeting will include around half-a-dozen imports, including five of the top 10 quickest cars in the world. Ben is planning on being there with his Solara alongside 10 or so of the best cars we have in Australia. I’ll be there for sure. If you see me sitting in the grandstand, come up, say hello, and stay around for a chat.