in the world of drag racing
The latest update as of May 29, 1999
Another race day dawns... bright and sunny and warm.... as usual here in South Queensland. Last week's rain seems like a distant memory as we're well into a stretch of typical winter weather here. This is my fourth consecutive day out to Willowbank and the car seems to be on auto-pilot today, despite all the detours and roadwork and relocated highway exits.
No hurry to get going today.... until we all sleep in and then sit around chatting until 11:00 am. Oops, we're late and Ken is waiting and we've still got some work to prep the car for today's race. Thankfully, the truck and trailer are ready, today's essentials are quickly loaded and we're off shortly after 1:00 pm -- and the gates don't open until 2 o'clock.
Despite making a couple of enroute "pit stops", I'm into the pits almost twenty minutes ahead of the truck and trailer. When they do arrive and today's scheduled driver, Ashley Bailey, pulls in, a small mix-up is discovered. Seems we have two entry forms -- and only one race car. Quick solution: "Hey Bob, you've got the Hertz-supplied Falcon right here... why not race it in Street Eliminator?" Hey, why not? I haven't bracket raced for over twenty years (and wasn't very good, heck, let's be honest, I was downright awful at it), but why not give it a whirl.
Scrutineering (tech inspection) consists of filling out the entry form and having a number shoe-polished on the passenger side windscreen. $5 for a Divisional Drag Racing License (valid for the day only) and off I go to the staging lanes. Oops, forgot my helmet. Back to Ken's trailer to retrieve that and then back to the lanes. "No long sleeves?" asks the young blonde shiela at the head of staging.... back to the trailer for my jacket. Then back to the lanes yet again.
At this point the story slows considerably, as I quickly remember what I disliked most about bracket racing: hurry up.... and wait.... and wait.... and wait some more. Ninety minutes later I'm at the head of the lanes and preparing for my first lap in the "rent-a-rocket". During the long wait I tried to remember some of the key points of racing a box-stock sedan: tyre pressures up, drive through the water in the burnout box, then spin the tyres only hard enough to dry them off, leave at idle in drive and don't forget to turn off the air conditioning.
Preliminaries taken care of, it's time to stage, into the rapidly setting sun. Barely able to see the tree, I'm relieved to see the top bulb come on, bump forward into the second one and then before I know it, sit and watch the green light start to glow. Uh, Bob, that means it's time to go... or hadn't you noticed your "opponent" already in motion? Despite the "rather late" start (.713 RT), I nearly catch the Holden Ute at the finish line with a 16.44 at 85.23 mph. Not exactly "ludicrous speed" but it's only a 4-litre straight-six four-door sedan.
Since qualifying will close in another hour, and it's going to take more than one pass to have any idea what to dial-in at, it's straight back to the staging lanes. (After a quick pit-stop to buy a cup of chips, a sausage roll and a coffee). While passing the time, I tune in to the track PA on 88.0 FM and try to review my race strategy. Yeah right, Bob. Well, I've got to work on the reaction time if I don't want to be out in the 1st round, so I decide to leave when the second amber goes out this time. By the way, in Australia the sportsman tree is a three amber, .400 second light style. My second shot comes just after 6:30 pm and the car responds to the better air (and better driving?) with a 16.31 at 85.49 mph. And the reaction time improves -- all the way down to .578 -- not great, but better.
Only problem is, I can't remember if I left when the second amber came on or went out. Hmm, we'll have to think about that before the 1st round, won't we? Highlight of this second time trail had to be the 10-second Torana in the other lane. After a hundred foot past the starting line burnout and then another vicious dry-hop, he finally pulled into stage. Burning me down? Hardly; I just cranked up the stereo, kicked back and relaxed while he went through his pre-race routine.
Back at Ken's trailer, I borrow the shoe-polish and try to pick a number to dial-in. With no dartboard handy, I figure that since the air is getting better and since I don't want to break-out, that 16.25 should be reasonable. After nominating that number, I'm told that dial-ins are fixed for the evening -- no changing between rounds -- oops, that might be a problem if I go "deep" into eliminations tonight. The first round shouldn't be a problem though, since it should be coming up fairly soon.
10:30 pm: "First call for Street Eliminator. All Street Eliminator cars to Lane 4". Guess which round they're calling? You got it... FIRST round. Even with only 30 cars, this could be a long night. As I pull out of the lanes, I'm pleased to see that I'll be matched with a car close to my dial-in. He's at 15.98, while I'm stuck with the 16.25, picked four hours ago. The air has dropped from 861 ft. to 221 ft. in the meantime. What the heck, just plant the throttle and go for it. Burnouts done, we both approach the line and then my first mistake occurs. I turn down the radio (tuned to the track PA) so I can concentrate better on the task at hand.
Mentally flipping a coin, I decide to leave when the second amber goes out -- don't want to risk a red-light after all -- and am "rewarded" with another "stellar" RT (.574 this time). The bloke in the other lane regains consciousness in time to carve an .809 light. Then I make my second mistake. Eyes focused solely on the groove to the finish line, I fail to notice the huge advantage I've got built up and keep my foot planted all the way through the lights. Crossing the finish line, I reach over and turn up the radio in time to hear those fateful words: "and he's broken out, with a 16.16 on a 16.25 dial-in." Bummer!!! I had the race in the bag and blew it... big-time.
While all the dial-your-own racers in the audience are rolling on the floor laughing, the only excuse I can muster is that I was running on auto-pilot. Running a Top Alcohol car dispenses with so many of the nuances of other categories of drag racing, and despite the complexity of building and tuning the cars, is really much simpler in execution than bracket racing.
So now it's time for a big admission on my part. In the past, I've looked down my noise at any class below my own... let's face it, it is partly human nature... and partly ego... and partly stupidity. I now admit my biggest mistake: Not being out at a drag strip at every possible opportunity, running whatever I drove there and making lap after lap. In other words: practice, practice, practice. For sure, it would make me a better driver than sitting in front of a keyboard writing about it does.
Almost forgot to mention the high-point of the evening. During one of the several oil-downs, Ken introduced me to Ray Heggie, ANDRA Steward for South Queensland. Ray confirmed that our plan to make my Top Alcohol License passes in Ken's A/Modified Dragster next Saturday is a "go". Good show. All I have to do is make two full passes at the June 5 Test 'n' Tune... then a full pass in the Top Alcohol car on the first day of the Winternats on June 11th. Too easy, right? We'll see, won't we? Stay tuned.