AS FAR as regional Aussie drag strips go, itís hard to beat Portlandís seaside South Coast Raceway. Itís got green grass, nice food, and thereís the marina and some cool wind farms nearby.
But we werenít there for sightseeing. We were camping at the track, eating Damien Kempís pasta and anticipating the next dayís racing, when the Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars would be gunning for 200mph while scaring the shit out of anyone without ear protection within a half-mile radius.
After sleeping in Hayden Iversís car trailer (read: very enormous, very cold Esky) because I couldnít be arsed setting up the tent, we woke on Saturday morning to find the eighth-mile track prepped to perfection.
The mental Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars fired up in the afternoon. For those that donít know, these cars are front-engined monsters powered by a big-block with a maximum capacity of 500ci, with a 6/71 blower strapped on top. They make around 4000hp, which hits the tarmac through a two-speed gearbox Ė thatís where things get interesting, and what makes these cars such a challenge to drive. They really need to be man-handled, and the drivers are correcting the car the whole way down the track.
The Outlaw Nitro Funny Car series started in 2013, when Top Fuel legend Graeme Cowin decided he wanted to play with floppers again, and create a crowd-pleasing new race series along the way. He set the rules to make the cars affordable to build and run, hence the baby blower, relatively small cubes, one fuel pump and a single magneto. Drinking nitro, they have about half the horsepower of a Top Fuel car, and are much more reliable and cost-effective.
Donít go thinking theyíve lost the wow-factor though; as I discovered at Portland, these cars are still mind-bendingly fast. When they come past at full throttle youíll feel like youíve taken a whack to the chest. And even though theyíre cheaper than running a Top Fuel car, so is flushing $100 bills down the dunny; it costs around $400 just to fire them up, and these blown big-blocks use about 40 litres of fuel and 20 litres of oil per pass. Ouch.
Once these Nitro cars hit the track it didnít take long for the records to start tumbling. Shane Olive in the Red Devil í57 Chev was the first to set a new record during round one with a email@example.com, claiming the fastest mph ever at the track. Then Rick Gauci came along on the very next run and smashed Oliveís time with firstname.lastname@example.org!
The competition was fierce, and most races saw side-by-side 200mph passes as the drivers fought for position. Gauci remained unbeaten in terms of highest top speed, and raced for overall first spot in the final round. But shortly after leaving the line the car took a vicious swing to the left and grazed the wall for half the track. That killed his chance of a podium finish, and in the end Shane Olive won first place in the Red Devil í57, after going email@example.com in the final round. Paul Messineo came second with the Dark Horse Mustang and the Bandit Trans Am of Darren Fry was third. It was actually Darrenís first-ever event in the Outlaw Nitro Funny Car series, and he was stoked to pick up a trophy!
This being my first Nitro car experience, I thought it was bloody awesome and somewhat terrifying to see these 4000hp weapons
AFTER Shane Olive clinched first place in the Nitro racing in his Red Devil í57 Chev, we just had to find out what it takes to drive an insane Outlaw Nitro Funny Car.
Honestly, it is something that you get used to. When Iím in the car I just black out everything else and my focus is 100 per cent on the finish line, which is a little weird because I canít actually see the finish line! I sit behind the blower so all I see is the wall on one side and the centre line on the other.
Like a lot of people, I started off with a street car as a young guy and of course I wanted to make it faster, so I modified it and raced at the local drags. Then the street car turned into a race car, and it all just evolved from there.
This is the fastest car Iíve driven and itís probably the most difficult to drive, too. This is the third outing for this car; before that I raced the Fast Company Plymouth Arrow funny car, and I have been racing Nitro cars since 2009.
I absolutely love it here. The fans have been amazing, and the track is one of the best-prepped in Australia. The only issue here is braking, because there isnít a lot of room to stop and the track turns slightly. When you cross the finish line at 200mph, those sheds at the end of the strip are coming up real fast!
consistently hitting 200mph. I never got used to their sheer ferocity and violence when they hit full noise. Nor could I quite get my head around what it must feel like to be in a car thatís doing 0-200mph in three seconds while changing gears and steering (so I asked Shane Olive for some tips Ė see breakout). If youíve never seen or felt the brute force of an Outlaw Nitro Funny Car, you need to.
But it wasnít all about the Nitro cars; the sportsman drivers kept the tarmac warm in between funny car sessions. With everything from dragsters, Super Street and Super Sedans to modified bikes, the racing was fast and loud, with plenty of guys and gals running some really quick times.
In the Super Sedan class, Scott Foreman was looking to improve on his Friday 5.5-second practice run in his ProCharged VB Commodore. The super-clean streeter packs a 383-cube small-block Chev with an F1R blower strapped on. Foreman was the model of consistency, hitting mid-fives on every pass. ďIím going to screw some more timing and fuel into the engine and lean on it a bit more once I adjust my suspension settings,Ē he said.
The increasingly popular Nostalgia class, led by Damien Kemp and his crazy mates, also brought plenty of action. Damienís Funderbolt í64 Fairlane gasser was running a little off during Fridayís practice, due to it racing at sea-level. To make things worse, the car was also pulling to the right, so it was only running sixes.
But overnight the boys gave her a bit more fuel to liberate some extra ponies, and corrected the suspension so it wasnít trying to switch lanes after take-off. The blown
440 Windsor-powered gasser ended the event with a best pass of 5.6 seconds.
ďAt the end of the day though, for me itís about putting on a good show for the crowd and showing them a style of racing that they might not have seen before,Ē Damien said. ďGoing fast and having a good time with my mates is a bonus.Ē
The Loose Cannon í56 Chevrolet of Damienís mate Stephen Biggs ended up taking the win in the Nostalgia class, while Hayden Iversís neat Thunderbolt Fairlane came second.
The modified dragsters were also awesome to watch and it was great to see around half the field made up of fast females. Jess Turner took out the top spot, running a scorching 4.52@148mph in her home-built 420ci small-block Chev-powered Competition Eliminator dragster.
Iíve got to hand it to the great people at South Coast Raceway; they know how to put on a top dayís racing. Theyíre all volunteers, doing it simply because they love drag racing. Itís no surprise that this is one of the best-prepped strips in the country, and our quickest eighth-mile track. s