AMERICAíS annual cross-country streetand- strip bonanza, Hot Rod Drag Week, has certainly become one of the most iconic motorsport events in the world.
This year a record 301 cars made the pilgrimage to Gateway Motorsports Park in Illinois for the start of the gruelling week-long event, which included racing at four drag strips over five days and over 1000 miles of driving on public roads in between.
At a grassroots street-car level, the competition was fierce, especially in the lower classes. For example, the Street Machine Eliminator class (formerly known as Daily Driver) required a 10.0- 11.0sec time to be among the top 32 cars in the field Ė thatís a damn quick street car!
Unlike previous Drag Weeks, this year there were no real headline acts in the Unlimited class, despite many cars looking good to run into the mid-fives. Larry Larson, multiple outright winner of the event, failed to front in his S10 pick-up this year. In its maiden event last year, the car ran a 4.0
on the eighth-mile, and despite claiming last year that he had built a car to take on the new line of Pro Mod composite-body cars, Larson remained on the sidelines.
Tom Bailey took last yearís loss in the Project Sick Seconds Camaro on the chin, and went away to build a new Camaro that could potentially be the greatest street car of all time, with the ability to run into the mid-fives every day during Drag Week.
Larsonís decision not to meet arch-rival Bailey on neutral ground for a showdown came as an enormous disappointment. Like Larsonís car, Baileyís new Camaro has run bottom fours over the eighth-mile, but unlike the S10, it had no removable doors for street and race driving Ė hell, it even had power windows.
Unfortunately, Bailey struggled all week, at one stage making a pass on only seven cylinders.
He bounced back, but retired to the pits on the last day with steam pouring from the turbo dump pipes. Engine builder Steve Morris normally rides shotgun with Tom, but broke his leg in a bike-riding accident prior to the event. His absence almost certainly made things a lot harder for Bailey.
Last yearís overall winner Jeff Lutz rose to the challenge by bringing his Pro Mod Camaro to Drag Week this year. Seeing Lutzís car in the flesh, it was hard to believe it would ever make the drive; it looked like an all-out strip monster, with the interior barely covering the driveline.
To his credit, he laid down a couple of insane passes on Day One, the best being a 6.05, but the engine knocked out the big-end bearings not far into the drive that evening. Despite making an appearance later in the week, Lutzís Camaro didnít run again.
One of the most anticipated classes at Drag Week in recent years has been Pro Street Big- Block Aspirated, which was won last year by Eddie Miller in his 572ci Mopar-powered Duster.
Miller is one of the more successful Ė and vocal Ė racers of the event, and was overall winner back
in 2006. He has won his class multiple times, and last year his comments that the class was soft sent ripples through the racing fraternity. His nemesis Doc McIntire responded with a 670ci billet Hemi engine with five-inch bore spacing (really a cross between a Hemi and a Chev) in his first-generation Camaro. It was rumoured to make more than 1500hp and cost over US$80,000. McIntire won the class, but with a higher average than Miller has run in the past, so this argument isnít over; watch out for fireworks if they both show up next year.
Fortunately the weather was a lot cooler this year, with only one day nudging the high 30s, so the drive stages were a lot more bearable, with around 280 miles covered (450km) on most days. The drives were broken up with deviations to some pretty cool checkpoints that were off the beaten track.
The course on your daily map (which you received once you handed in your timeslip for the day) needed to be followed to the letter.
While 450km doesnít sound that much of a drive, it is when you are sitting in a car with 4.3 gears. Just sitting on 60mph (100km/h) is quite an accomplishment, and we found ourselves stumbling through the doors most nights well after 1.30am, and as late as 4am one morning.
It was brilliant to have such a large contingent of Aussies taking part this year and there were many highs and lows. John Faraone struggled with breakdowns but must have been ecstatic to punch his twin-turbo Charger through the top end with an incredible 7.43 and 192mph at Cordova.
One of the great stories of the week was seeing Brian and Dianne Jensen finish third in the Street Race Big-Block Aspirated class. They came over in 2013 and 2014 as spectators to get the lay of the land, and to his credit, Brian totally rebuilt the car and engine before shipping it over with Greg Trapnellís HQ to his buddies at 417 Motorsport. He did have some big problems with the carby early on in the week, caused by E85 corrosion, but the car had very few issues compared to most. Itís really an incredible accomplishment for them, and they have left the car in the USA with plans to return a few weeks before the event next year, to freshen the engine for another crack.
The Trapnell team certainly had their share of problems too, but should be congratulated for getting there and finishing the event.
Their Monaro arrived in the States needing a transmission overhaul by M&M Transmissions in Jefferson City, Missouri, and it was then discovered that the new engine had torched a couple of pistons during testing back in Australia. The boys at 417 Motorsports welded a new ícage into the car, but when the new pistons arrived it became apparent that they had been incorrectly ordered, so they ended up having to patch up the old motor. It was disappointing that the Monaro didnít reach its potential Ė it ran 9.70s most of the week Ė but the lads thrashed
on the car the whole week and made it all the way through.
Steve Reimann and I teamed up once again in the Capri, and after running second in the Street Race Small Block Aspirated class last year we were hopeful of a better result after a few years of transmission issues.
We arrived to find that the TH350, which had been rebuilt under warranty, was still dragging when you launched with the transbrake Ė the same issue that had plagued the car last year.
We took the car to M&M Transmissions to have it repaired.
We added a two-step so we could leave on wide-open throttle, but struggled with the car frying the tyres on the startline. Our class had certainly stepped up, and unless you were running into the 9.40s you werenít in with a shot.
We had run into the high nines before, but could not catch the leader this year so were happy with low 10s, taking it easy on the car to make sure we finished. Aside from fuel supply issues caused by a blocked pick-up in the tank, the car ran faultlessly.
Harry Haig, Brett Ford and Shannon Jennings were originally going to take Reimannís other car, a 500ci 1963 Dodge, but ended up using a 1969 Chevelle that we dragged out of the weeds from behind The Car Shop. They had one hell of a time throughout the week, after a huge thrash to get the car going.
Unfortunately the boys were disqualified for not running the exact course as set out in the daily drive sheets. It was a cruel blow, especially after getting through the whole week, but the lads had a blast and have plans to get Lutz to do some work on the car during the year, which will probably include a bigger engine combination. s