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in the world of drag racing

Black Bar

The latest update as of May 9, 1999

Remember Tom, it's winter down here. With the seasons reversed, we are now in the equivalent of November back home. "So how come it's 25 (77 F) degrees out, the sun is shining and there's not a cloud in the sky?". Well, like I said, it's winter. This is the comfortable part of the year up here in Queensland. Wait until we come back for the Castrol New Year Series next January, when it's over 40 degrees most days, with nearly 100% humidity on a regular basis. Of course, if we travelled south to Sydney or Melbourne, we'd notice a distinct difference in temperature and conditions.... as in much cooler and more rain and cloud at this time of year.

When we pack up the Chaparral (trailer) later this year for shipping down here, we'll definitely be including at least two air conditioning units and a couple of the largest fans we can afford. We've already got a 12 ft. by 40 ft. awning, another necessity down under, but we'll still have to chase up some sort of "cool vest" for the driver. He's skinny enough already, and losing an extra ten pounds through perspiration on a hot summer day might pose a problem at the scales.

We're off to somewhat of a late start today, still trying to catch up on missed sleep and recovering from a very long day (and night) at Willowbank yesterday. There's nothing pressing on the agenda, as we won't move into our new digs at Gaven Heights until tomorrow evening.

Through our very good (and getting better all the time) friend Ken Lowe, we've managed to rent two of three bedrooms in an almost new townhouse from Ken's assistant, Dave Coles. For $100 a week. Sure beats the cost of the Focus Apartments here at Surfers. The view isn't quite the same and we're nearly five miles from the beaches.... but the budget can only stretch so far and we still have nearly five weeks to go before the Winternationals.

I'm sitting out on the balcony of our room(s), alternately writing and admiring the surf rolling in off the ocean. On a day like this, I feel like I could just sit back and enjoy the view all day and not worry about anything. But we do have a race car to prepare -- when it arrives -- and a major race meeting to compete at.

Those are the priorities; anything else, like enjoying the weather, the view, or the new friends we've met has to take second billing starting tomorrow. The holiday will be over then and it'll be time to settle in to work. Me at the computer, getting the Racepak data logger system ready and the website updated and Tom at the workbench, grinding away on the cylinder heads.

Noon   Broadbeach. Just finished "brekkie" at an outdoor cafe beside the beach. This place has a somewhat sentimental attraction to me as it was the first restaurant I visited on my first visit to Australia in 1997. The proprietor even took pity on this poor dumb tourist and gave me a free re-fill on the coffee. (Pretty much unheard of in these parts... and definitely quite an expensive shock to a caffeine addict like myself).

We're surrounded with a flock, or "mob" of ibis' (a seagull-sized bird with a long, thin, curved black bill) who seem very interested in the leftover tomatoes on our plates. And anything else they can get their beaks on or into. Tom finally tires of their antics and gives one a dropkick across the patio... Time to go before the RSPCA show up I suggest.

Back to Ken's shop for the afternoon, this time via the Nerang Road, which takes us past the site of the now pretty much dis-used Surfers Paradise International Raceway. Opened in 1968, SPIR rapidly became one of the most fabled tracks in the Southern Hemisphere, matching Castlereagh (in Sydney) in the drag racing world. Predating the opening of Willowbank Raceway by nearly twenty years, SPIR held many national and regional championship events and was the place to race in South Queensland.

As residential developments gradually surrounded the facility, the land value skyrocketed and saw several different owners in its last years, until finally in 1987 it was purchased by a Japanese consortium. Literally overnight the track was closed for the sole reason that the "noise" emanating from it was disturbing the residents of the housing nearby.

Softening the blow greatly was Willowbank Raceway, which, by this time, had been in operation for nearly two years, on a low-key level. With their only competition for spectators and racers removed, Willowbank quickly turned up the volume and moved forward in an inexorable march to its current position as the best dragstrip in Australia, if not the best anywhere in the world, outside North America.

Driving past the old Surfers track site evokes images of the many historic races held there over the years, with the annual Ampol New Year Series (forerunner to Willowbank's highly successful Castrol New Year Series). In the 1970's and 80's, with only a small handful of resident nitro cars in the country, one or two American racers were imported each year for the Ampol Series.

Many NHRA World Champions, including Don Garlits, Gary Beck, Jeb Allen and John Force along with slightly lesser lights, such as Jim Dunn, Gary Densham and Marvin Graham, to name but a few, made the annual pilgrimage to Surfers. At the time, before the NHRA national tour got so large, time-consuming and serious, the prospect of a fully-paid winter vacation to a warm, sunny climate with some relatively low-key competition, was irresistible to many U.S. racers.

Some of the "tourists" were very successful, running much quicker and faster than their Australian counterparts, while others, unwilling or unable to adapt to local track and weather conditions, failed miserably, very much to the delight of the obviously highly partisan Aussie spectators.

"The good old days", eh? Yes, and no. As Ken keeps reminding me, ten years from now, today will be the good old days. It's an ongoing process, in theory always moving forward to bigger and better things, but, in practice.... well, sometimes I just wonder how much things have changed for the better. That's not to say I'd ever be willing to give up the internet, computers, VCR's and digital everything for the media of the past. With the speed the world seems to run at these days, one would be so hopelessly behind so quickly that they'd never "catch up".

10:00 pm:   Enjoying an after dinner coffee on the verandah and exchanging small talk about all the really important issues facing the world today. Like, is an inertia dyno really the best way to measure horsepower, will a Waterman fuel pump live longer than me and the single biggest issue facing us: When will that darn container arrive with the race car? We're out in rural Oxenford, nearest neighbour nearly half a mile away, no municipal water or sewer, but.... we do have the internet.

Let's look up the ship arrivals and while we're online, see how the drag racing is going at Mission Raceway over the weekend. Then we can check my e-mail and see who's been trying to reach me since we left Canada.

When we left Vancouver four days ago, the weather forecast looked pretty good for the weekend... but on the West Coast of Canada, trapped between the ocean and the mountains, conditions can change very quickly. Wednesday's sunny day turned into showers by Friday and rain on Saturday, putting the completion of the Division Six FMDRS event in doubt. Bad news.

(Confirming the internet report was a phone call to my mother the next day, during which she mentioned snowfall over the weekend only a few miles from the track). Snow, in May, when it's allegedly almost summer?? Remember, it's winter down here and snow is only a rumour to most Queenslanders. They may have seen it on the "telly" but actually experiencing it... "not a chance, mate".

Opening up my e-mail produced a bit of a shocker: 51 new messages. Yikes, lots of writing to do, and as this is being written (on paper with a pen - analog, eh?) I still have no way to reply, without abusing Ken and Tracey's hospitality (ie: tying up their computer for a few hours and using up the rather pricey connection time). Oh well, at least it's nice to know that not everyone's forgotten us already.... much as some might like to, eh?

11:00 pm:   Back to the verandah in time for the nightly visit from the possum family. They are just part of the menagerie that calls the Lowe's property home. Besides the domestic dog, cat, ducks and cockatoo, a family of possums, a family of magpies (birds slightly larger than crows with black and white feathers), a family of wallabies (small kangaroos) and a couple of lizards - who live under the verandah, call this place home.

Combine that with the almost jungle appearing vegetation around the house, the strange sounds of all manner of exotic birds, cane toads, tree frogs and other nameless creatures in the night, and you can almost imagine yourself somewhere in the jungles outside the railing. So what the heck do possums have to do with drag racing? Absolutely nothing, but at this moment, we're definitely a world away from all the cares and complications of the modern world out there. Enjoy the moment; tomorrow will come all too soon.

Black Bar
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