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The latest update as of January 20, 2011

Welcome back to the second, and final, installment of the Round-The-World vacation from February 2010. We left off in Dubai, and now we've flown quite a few thousand miles east to Brisbane, Australia. After a few days visiting our friend Mike on the Gold Coast, we then headed a few hundred kms north to the Sunshine Coast, namely Noosa Heads.

Stopping at a local pub on Mt. Tamborine for some "quick" service, we got a great view of a thunderstorm down in the valley below us, and sunshine in the distance at Surfers Paradise.

Living large in Noosa, in a two-storey villa in the canal section of town.

Australia is full of the "big this" and the "big that", and Noosa's no exception, with the "BIG Pelican" on the Noosa River. And the river is a real study in contrasts, with million dollar condos on one side and hillbilly shacks on the other.

We picked the perfect day for a hike through Noosa National Park, with a nice cooling sea breeze offsetting the 30 celsius (mid 80's F) temperatures.

Moving further north in Australia, we next ventured up the coast to Fraser Island, the largest island on earth formed entirely of sand, accumulated over thousands of years. The flora and fauna (note the "baby" monitor lizard on the tree in the picture on the left) on this island are quite unique. Our only disappointment was not seeing one of the native dingos that inhabit the island.

Ramping up the scale of exotica was our next destination: Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. Just like a postcard from paradise, it was everything one could hope for. Totally laidback, gorgeous and absolutely tranquil. No phone, no TV, no internet, one radio station that played island music and broadcast typhoon warnings. Fabulous.

Unfortunately, all good things must end eventually, and our 33-day round the world adventure did, with a final (half) day in Auckland, New Zealand, "The City of Sails" as it's virtually surrounded by water and so beautiful on a summer day. All too soon though, it was time to head for the airport and the 14-hour flight home to get involved in the final day of the Olympics. The Gold Medal men's hockey game started as we landed, we saw the first goal by Canada while waiting for our luggage at the carousel, and got home in time to watch the third period and the overtime. What a perfect ending to the trip!

Returning to Vancouver on the last day of the Olympics, February 28th, it was time to start catching up on the start of the drag racing season in North America. While the NHRA had kicked off their season with the 50th annual Winternationals at Pomona, and the "new" IHRA (aka: NitroJam) swung into action with the Palm Beach, Florida NitroJam event. The contrast between these two races was so enormous that it wasn't comparable on any level: pro racers, sportsman racers, spectators, media coverage, etc.

The new IHRA format of four booked-in Top Fuel dragsters, eight Pro Fuel (aka: injected nitro) dragsters and eight Prostalgia (what a cumbersome name) Funny Cars. No Pro Stockers, No Pro Mods, No Alcohol Funny Cars. Starting off the event, only four of the advertised eight injected dragsters appeared, the nitro funny car field only had two or three "hitters" and the Top Fuel "race" was almost certain to feature Bruce Litton and Bobby Lagana in any final round. Entertainment value? Marginal.

Meanwhile, out on the west coast, NHRA put together a race with full or oversubcribed fields in every category, and plenty of "name brand" racers in the show. Even though the grandstands weren't as full as in earlier years, and the TV viewership was down over previous broadcasts, the race was successful on all counts and kicked off another season of close, fast racing.

Let's move on to the first event that Northern Thunder covered for the year, the Mission Raceway Lucas Oil Series race at the end of May. With the race date firmly settled in the late May - early June timeslot, the weather issues that plagued the late April - early May events of the past seemed behind the good folks at the BC track. Think again though, as this is the Lower Mainland, wedged between the ocean and the mountains, and geographically a virtual magnet for precipitation.

Despite some good forecasts in the week leading up to the race, the weatherman gradually downgraded his estimates to the point that every day of the event saw at least some rain, with Saturday being a total washout as seen in the first pair of photos below.

Backtracking two days, here's a couple of shots of the test 'n tune day which saw the public debut of several new and nearly new cars, including Rick DiStefano's new '70.5 Pro Mod Camaro from Calgary and the now Mike Austin-driven Top Alcohol Dragster from Oregon.

The rain held off long enough for everyone to get through the day, but the rubber laid down was washed away in an evening downpour, starting a series of such showers that dogged the racers and officials throughout the weekend.

Friday morning dawned cloudy and cool, with the promise of a later in the day rainstorm, so everyone hurried to get ready for the all-important first qualifying session. Below we've got something new, as in the almost brand new Shawn Cowie Top Alky car and something (very) old next door was the Bill Edwards family dragster. Two cars built more than twenty years apart, with nearly as wide a gap in technology contained in them too.

With the weather getting really threatening, the racing came to a close with a major sportsman oildown that took nearly an hour to clean up and no sooner was that accomplished then the skies opened up and brought the racing for the day to a halt. No, it wasn't Neil Lachelt or the car in the near lane that did the dirty (oildown) deed.

With Saturday being a total washout, the chances of finishing the race in a marathon effort on Sunday looked pretty slim, and when the first few drops of rain hit early in the morning, the odds looked even more remote. Here's what the first couple of hours looked like, with lots of folks standing around, ready to race, but unable to do anything more than watch the track drying crew.

The racing finally got underway just before noon, and in the three hours before the next rain shower wiped out the day's proceedings, lots of race cars got to strut their stuff in front of only a handful of spectators. Sad, but who would risk driving out to the track when the weather forecast was so bad? Here's some of the cars that did get down the track while the racing continued.

Epilogue: The race was scheduled to resume at 9:00 AM Monday, but a heavy overnight rain put the plan down the drain in a hurry, and most of the eliminations were re-scheduled to run the day before the Pacific Raceways Lucas Series event in late August. A rather ignominious end to a troubled race that never really gained any traction, so to speak, from start to finish. Maybe next year, eh?

Just a few quick notes before we sign off for today: NHRA has announced some very harsh oildown penalties for the coming season, but in true corporate-speak has heralded the move as "a plan to improve the fan experience at Full Throttle events". While the last two national events of the 2010 NHRA season saw a plethora of oildowns and an obscene amount of downtime, the new penalties, cash and points, are aimed at the racers and the fans are only going to benefit indirectly. However, if it works, then it's going to be good for everyone. I'll have more to write on this issue soon, and especially on the current level of track preparation being done by NHRA.

In other developments in drag racing, IHRA has announced that their rather lame NitroJam program of 2010 will be even more handicapped in 2011. Apparently a four car Top Fuel show wasn't cost effective, so this year's offering will consist of just two cars. Yes, TWO top fuel dragsters at IHRA races this year. And if you thought eight (or more often than not, less) injected nitro cars were just cluttering up the pits and staging lanes, well you've got your wish as this year's edition of the NitroJam show will have just four cars competing at each race.

The Prostalgia Funny Car fields will remain at eight cars, and with the replacement of a couple of the also-rans by serious hitters such as Mark "Mr. Explosive" Sanders and Paul "Man o' War" Romine, that show should be much improved. Additionally, IHRA has allowed the tracks to pick from an option list of pro classes to fill out their events, with Pro Mods, Nitro Harleys and Fuel Altereds on offer, along with Jet Dragsters, Jet Trucks and.... get ready for this one: Monster Trucks. Can the end of drag racing as we know it be that far away, with Monster Trucks racing on a dragstrip? Lord save us.

The season opener at Palm Beach has Nitro Harleys and Fuel Altereds on the schedule, while the second event, at Baton Rouge, is bannering all the classes named above, from Pro Mod to Monster Trucks. It's a little too early to see the feature cars on the balance of the schedule, but you can expect to see a full house at the bigger tracks and fewer feature classes at the smaller venues. What I'm waiting to see is what Rob Reeves does with the Castrol Raceway (Edmonton) event where the largest variety of classes has been offered on the entire circuit over the past few years.

Finally, we'll close with two mentions of changes in longtime Northwest Drag Racing websites. SpeedZone Magazine is now sponsored by Sonny's Racing Engines and joins the ranks of the "bucks-up" online magazines. Well, not quite, but webmaster/editor Dean Murdoch reports that it will make things better for everyone connected with SpeedZone in 2011. Hey, maybe even new hats and shirts, eh Dean?

The other website to mention, and he's been at it almost as long as the internet has been in existence, is Larry Pfister's venerable Horsepower Heaven, which continues to reinvent itself, now moving into the preservation of personal histories, for drag racers and the general public. For more info on just what direction Mr. Pfister is headed, click on the link to his Horsepower Heaven Blog (in the upper left hand corner of the page) and see what's brewing. All I can say at the moment is Welcome back Larry, we've missed you.

The next update will be late tonight when I fill in the missing segment of the Round-The-World trip, then over the weekend we'll tell the stories of two back-to-back roadtrips to Alberta last June, for the Calgary Father's Day Funny Car Classic and the IHRA Rocky Mountain Nationals at Edmonton's Castrol Raceway. You won't want to miss those posts. Here's a couple of teasers from Edmonton just to whet your appetite.

To see previous updates go to the What's Old page