Vale Sam Fenech

A heartfelt tribute to the late, great Sam Fenech

Photographers: Cackling Pipes

On the evening of Saturday 7 January, the world lost Sam Fenech in a tragic drag racing accident at Willowbank Raceway.

Sam had owned and operated Westend Performance in Western Sydney for the past 25 years and built it into one of the largest high-performance machining and engine shops in Australia.

If you had a motor built by Sam, chances are you became mates for life, such was his warm and humble nature. Upon reflection, you would struggle to find a person who has made a bigger contribution to street machining and drag racing on such a personal and business level, having built literally thousands of high-performance engines.

Around 25 years ago, I was towing my car to Summernats and the Clevo in my F-truck stopped dead on the Cumberland Highway at Liverpool. It was a public holiday, the highway was chockers, and I had the bonnet up praying for a miracle when Sam pulled up. I didn’t really know him that well at that time, but he came over to lend a hand. We quickly diagnosed that the ignition module on the dizzy had taken a dump. Shops were closed, midday traffic was heaving and it was hot as hell. “Come on mate, jump in,” he said. “Pretty sure I’ll have one at the shop.”

So off to Westend Performance we went, which was 30 minutes away in Campbeltown. We rummaged through the shop, found one in the mountain of spares, and headed back to get the truck fired up. I’d never heard a sweeter sound (over blaring car horns) than that old Clevo firing to life. I grabbed a fist full of cash out of my wallet and tried to give it to Sam, but he didn’t want a bar of it. He just looked at me and said, “Nah, another time. Have fun at the ’Nats, Arby.”

That was Sam: an infectious personality, always giving of himself no matter who you were, and always up for a laugh.

They say life should not be a contest of endurance, but rather a contest of quality, and Sam certainly made every day count. Whether it was standing his nitrous-fed ORSM LJ Torana on the bumper bar with his brother Frank back in the day, banging gears and hauling trophies in a Top Doorslammer, pulling the string on a new engine build or heading away to the farm with the family, he was always full of life and never too busy to share a piece of his time.

Sam is survived by wife Natalie, sons John and Charles, and daughter Catherine. He was one in a million, and we can all take something away from the life of one of God’s greatest men. Thanks for the love, Sam, until we meet again.

The Atlantic Oils Top Fuel Slam will feature a ‘missing man formation’ at 4pm on Saturday 28 January, where the Top Doorslammer field will honour Sam. The memorial will be aired live on 7plus (4pm AEDT, 3.30pm ACDT, 1pm AWST) ahead of the commencement of the night’s racing. Taking part will be Matt Abel, Craig Burns, Daniel Gregorini, Geoff Gradden, Craig Hewitt, Peter Kapiris, Kelvin Lyle, Emilio Spinozzi and John Zappia.