in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of July 22, 2000
Today's update comes from Mission Raceway's Mopac Canadian National Open. Shortly after arriving at the track this morning, I bumped into a couple of folks from Australia. Stan and Nola Tindal, from Wyong Creek, New South Wales. Since 1992, Stan has campaigned one of the toughest top alcohol dragsters in Australia. While we were quite familiar with each other, from magazine reports and other sources, we'd never actually met face to face. What a small world it's becoming, eh?
After the balance of qualifying was rained out, we had a chance to chat for quite a while, exchanging views on a variety of topics, mostly drag racing related, of course. Not too surprisingly, we were in agreement on most of the major issues facing the sport downunder and the prospects for the future. As the Tindals had been on the road for the last ten days, they were surprised to hear about the big story out of Willowbank Raceway last weekend: Mark Brew turning Australia's first 5.6 second elapsed time in an alky car. For the record: 5.651 at 247.39, both numbers being all-time bests for the land downunder.
Stan was also in the dark about the results of the meeting at Blacktown last week, concerning the future of the Motorplex proposal for the Western Sydney suburbs. Unfortunately, I had to give him the standard response: No News is No News. In other words, nothing was resolved and no plans have yet been formulated to move the proposal forward. Now it was time for me to ask him what he was doing here at Mission.
Earlier this year, John Evanchuk (Red Wolf funny car from Edmonton, Alberta) was down in Australia on holidays, and attended Willowbank Raceway's Nightfire Championships. While there, he met the Tindals, chatted with them at length and invited them to look him up when they came over to North America for their "winter" holiday. So, they left Sydney last Thursday, flew to Los Angeles, rented a car and headed north.
The first stop on their trip was Yellowstone Park, then it was on to Spokane (Washington) for Evanchuk's scheduled appearance at the AHRA World Finals. Arriving there on Wednesday, Stan found plans had changed somewhat, so they continued on to Mission Raceway, arriving on Friday. After a few days sightseeing in Vancouver (their first trip to Canada), the Tindals will be in Seattle for the Northwest Nationals this coming weekend, then they'll continue down the coast to Sonoma (California) for the Autolite Nationals on the following weekend. Then it's back to L.A. and the long flight back to Australia.
So why would a retired (he's 62 now) couple fly halfway around the world and spend most of their holiday at various dragstrips? Well, Stan's been involved in drag racing -- on the water and land -- in various rides for over thirty years now. He was very successful in drag boats, even winning the World Championship in blown alcohol flat-bottom back in 1991. At that point, and with the ever-increasing safety problems in boat racing, Stan felt that he'd accomplished all he could on water and started building a Top Alcohol dragster.
At the time, they were living in Southern California (temporarily) so Stan licensed and debuted the car at Bakersfield's Famoso Raceway in 1992. Shortly after, they loaded the car and equipment in a container and shipped it to Australia, to start their assault on the downunder drag racing scene. That first dragster had a very successful career, becoming competitive very quickly and eventually working down to a best of 6.00 (in 1994) with a rootes blower.
The following season saw the car slip back a bit, performance-wise, but Stan still coaxed it to his first final round appearance in September at Sydney's Eastern Creek Raceway. With the fast cars starting to run screw blowers, Tindal made the change and it paid almost immediate dividends. 1996 became his big breakthrough year, with steady 5.80 elapsed times, three event wins and second place in the season championship.
He kept up the pace in the 1997 season, running a best of 5.76, winning the first two (of six) events and finishing in a tie for the championship. Unfortunately, due to a rather arcane rule held over from the early days of drag racing in Australia, the title was awarded to co-leader Gary Phillips, due to Phillips going further in eliminations at the season-ending Winternationals. That event also saw the final appearance of Stan's first dragster, as in a major photo-op, he took the car nearly vertical in a first-round powerstand. The landing was HARD and the resulting damage consigned the chassis to the history books.
Debuting a new Bob Meyer car later that year, at the first, and last, Premier State Nationals in Sydney, Tindal began to slide backwards in the standings. Despite some good performances, including low ET of the '98 Nationals at Calder Park, he dropped to fifth in the points standings. With the closure of his home track (Eastern Creek) and a series of health problems for himself and wife Nola, Tindal made only one appearance in the '99 season at Calder Park in Feburary.
Since then, he's sold his trailer, most of the running gear and is just waiting for the final details to be wrapped up for the sale of the rolling chassis. So is that the end of the story for Stan Tindal, drag racer? Not hardly, mate. He's still keen, but without a drag strip closer than 600 miles to his home, the incentive to travel to every meet is just not there anymore. BUT, if the proposed Western Sydney Motorplex plans come to fruition, he'd be back, more serious than ever.
As the rain continued to fall at Mission Raceway, we stood in the shelter of Bob Haffner's awning and discussed at length the state of drag racing in Australia. Like me, he feels that the loss of tobacco (Winfield) sponsorship in 1996 has set the sport back substantially. (Since then, no major sponsor has stepped forward to back the ANDRA championship series and provide the funds for national television coverage). Then, less than two years later, the closing of Eastern Creek Raceway (in Sydney, Australia's largest city) to championship drag racing, dealt another serious blow to the sport.
The "championship" schedule has had only five events for the alcohol cars for the past two seasons, and with still only five on the 2001 calendar, the outlay of funds to compete barely justifies the amount of racing on offer. Looking back five years we see ten or eleven championship races each season, and now we're down to five... and just barely holding at that number. And the prospects for the near future don't look any better.
Perhaps you've heard about a major marketing exercise (disguised as an "amateur" sporting competition) being held in Sydney later this year? That event with the five interlocking rings logo? It's eaten up every marketing dollar available in Australia for the last two years and it's still gobbling up cash at an awesome rate. Combine that with the resurgence of other forms of motorsport downunder, and you've got a sport (drag racing) that's in serious need of some good news.
In some areas of the country, things have never been better though. Out on the west coast in Perth, the construction of the new Kwinana Motorplex continues on pace for a November opening. Up in Queensland, Brisbane's Willowbank Raceway is still the number one track in the country, despite a really bad string of weather for the last few years, culminating in the rainout of last month's Winternationals. And Bob Jane's two tracks (in Adelaide and Melbourne) still keep bringing in the cars and spectators. But that's where the good news stops.
The smaller, regional tracks have been hard hit by weather and competing attractions; Sydney is without a track; even the national capitol, Canberra, has seen their track shut down due to a lease dispute that shows no sign of an early resolution. And some of the high-profile racers have spoken up: with their feet. The Cowin Top Fuel team, Peter & Helen Russo's nitro funny car and Steve Harker's alcohol funny car team have all left for the USA. Several other major teams are parked, some temporarily, some permanently, due to the lack of racing opportunities and meaningful championship series.
Tindal and I both agreed that the key to solving this serious problem is the construction of a new, dedicated drag strip in the Sydney area. It would add a minimum of two, and possibly three, championship events to the calendar, and kick start the sport in the business centre of the country. The "flow-on" benefits to drag racing would be enormous, and the prospect of a return to the golden years of the mid-90's would be very real. However, at this point, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best for the Motorplex proposal.
We had to wrap up our discussion at this point, as the long day had taken it's toll on both of us and we desperately wanted to get somehwere warm and dry before hypothermia set in. Tomorrow we'll probably get to bend Stan's ear again for a while and next weekend in Seattle we'll certainly bump into Stan and Nola again. My thanks to Stan for taking the time to talk about drag racing and enlighten me on some more of the inside aspects of it downunder.
And that's a wrap for today. Hope you enjoyed this little sidebar story on a very interesting few hours spent chatting in the rain with a tourist.