WILD AT HEART

AT WILLOWBANK WE HAD OUR FIRST TASTE OF LIGHTS OUT RACING; IT WAS FANTASTIC. BEN RACED THE ’57 CHEVY OF US DRAG WEEK WINNER JEFF LUTZ, AND DEFEATED HIM

VICTOR BRAY

THIS MONTH I want to talk about one of the most exciting developments in drag racing I’ve seen in a long time: Lights Out.

The name refers to the fact that no times show up on the boards. Basically, the first to cross the line is the winner. It’s a simple and exciting variation on traditional drag racing, one that actively encourages spectator involvement and participation.

Lights Out hasn’t been running that long. In fact, Lights Out 7 was recently held in Georgia, USA, where they ended up having 65,000 spectators and more than 1000 entries throughout the event. By 11am each morning the organisers had to shut the gates because they couldn’t fit any more people in, and traffic lined down the road for about 5km.

At Willowbank, where we had our first taste of Lights Out racing, there were cars stretching all the way back to Yamanto, about 7km away. The place was absolutely packed. It was fantastic.

Here’s how it works: The cars come roaring into three staging lanes, with all spectators positioned behind the barriers. Once the cars start doing burnouts, the spectators are allowed to move up to the first line behind the burnout pad. They stop there until the cars have backed up, and then they are allowed to move up to the second line.

Once the cars have started to move into stage, spectators can then walk up right beside the cars.

This allows fans to get close to the action and in effect become part of the race.

Then a bit of the ‘old betting’ goes on. With the commentator pumping up the crowd, spectators stand behind the car they want to bet on and start taking bets from someone in another lane. For example, somebody might put up $20 and see somebody in another lane putting up $20. So they’ll give them a nod. It could be $20, $50, or even $100. It really drags – pardon the pun – the public into the event.

At these events you might have street cars, turbo cars, radial cars and supercharged Doorslammers, but it seems anyone can win on the day. Michael ‘Gup’ Gilbert from Powercruise has a great way of determining who races who.

Gup has all the contacts on social media, so he puts out a message asking the public who they’d like to see race. “Who would you like to see race Benny Bray?” And he gets up to 2000 people saying: “We want him to race such-and-such.”

It’s amazing. At Willowbank, Ben raced his mate Archie Kajewski in his Mazda rotary. Then because Benny’s a Datsun freak, the public lined him up against a Datsun 1200, then, on the third run, he raced the ’57 Chevy of US Drag Week winner Jeff Lutz. He lost the first run, won the second, and defeated Lutz in the third.

There were more Doorslammers at the event than what you’d get at a quarter-mile race meeting.

Ben, Andrew Searle, Bill Goonan and Stewie Bishop were out testing, and there were turbo, radial, Sport Compact and Factory Xtreme cars out there, among many others.

After the event I was having a couple of Bundys with a group of guys from Brisbane. We started talking about the Lights Out event and why these guys – with their racing club – didn’t attend Doorslammer events as often as they used to.

They said: “We already know who’s going to win.

We’ll take a $10,000 bet on who is going to win more than 70 per cent of the Doorslammer events next season.” Obviously, they’re referring to Zap’s incredible winning streak.

Is it entertaining to see one guy win all the time?

No. Is it entertaining not having a clue who will win? The answer is an absolute yes. And that’s why Lights Out has been so successful; it’s completely unpredictable. Getting so close to the cars on the startline is also a real buzz.

Lights Out is a fantastic experience for both racers and spectators. It’s one of the many new ways drag racing can present itself to the public, and social media is very important to its success. Everywhere you go, everyone is on their phones, whether it’s at a restaurant, the drags or a speedway show. The young people are on their phones 24/7. Remember when it took weeks for the news to be reported? These days, if it happened 24 hours ago it’s considered old news.

On another topic, we’re going to go to the Sydney Jamboree to race the turbo and nitrous guys in their newly established Pro Mod bracket.

I’m keen on expanding the Doorslammer image out there, and there are three categories we want to see race each other: turbo, nitrous and supercharged Doorslammers.

Will it be difficult in establishing parity? You betcha. Not only because the guys all want an advantage, but because there are a multitude of different personalities that race these cars.

Initially, we are just out to have some fun, but if the category is going to be strong and flourish in the long term, it will take a dedicated, independent technical department to ensure parity, growth and fairness in racing.

Benny currently races a blown Doorslammer (but wants to go turbo), Simon Kryger races a 800+ci nitrous-powered big-block Chevy, and then you’ve got the turbo guys who call us blown Doorslammers the ‘black-belt brigade’; we call them the ‘hairdryer heroes’. The nitrous boys have inherited the name ‘bottle babies’, for obvious reasons.

No malice is meant by the nicknames, and it’s an exciting part of the sport to have all these categories passionate about moving things forward and engaging with the public. I’m sure there’s nobody in drag racing that doesn’t want to give the public what they want.

I’m excited, and if you love drag racing like I do, the future for the sport is looking grand. s

AT WILLOWBANK WE HAD OUR FIRST TASTE OF LIGHTS OUT RACING; IT WAS FANTASTIC. BEN RACED THE ’57 CHEVY OF US DRAG WEEK WINNER JEFF LUTZ, AND DEFEATED HIM