TALK about the perfect time for a trip north. While the rest of the Street Machine crew were freezing their nuts off down south in the midst of the coldest week of winter so far, I was in tropical Darwin soaking up the sun, watching burnouts and playing with fireworks (legally, of course). It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.
Straight off the plane I was rocking a Melbourne-spec jeans and jumper combo, but by the time I walked out to collect the hire car in the 33-degree heat I’d definitely had enough of the winter garb. After a cheeky wardrobe change in the car park – only offending one innocent bystander with my pale, sun-starved skin – it was off to the bustling Darwin night markets to meet with Gary and Deby Myers.
They had the SICKO Mustang parked up by the beach with Ross Heasley’s MRBADQ Monaro, drumming up some interest in the Gazzanats Darwin horsepower fest. Oh yeah, I was there for Gazzanats, not a holiday – easy to forget when you’re chowing down on some exotic Indonesian cuisine with a fruit smoothie in hand.
Friday was roll-in day for the event, but the gates at Hidden Valley Raceway were locked until late in the arvo. So photographer Davo and I, having noticed a heap of signs for fireworks vendors, did what any honest hardworking blokes would do – spent the morning being big kids by dishing out far too much money on things that go boom (see breakout opposite).
Organised by Gary and Deby, along with local car nuts Tim Bryan and Allana Lambourne, Gazzanats Darwin is a weekend of non-stop track cruising, burnouts, powerskids and drifting. Hidden Valley Raceway is the same circuit they run the V8 Supercars on every year, so it’s a truly world-class facility and only about 15 minutes from the big smoke. The main straight is about a kilometre long, so by the time you get to the end of it, you’re doing some pretty serious speed regardless of whether you’ve blazed the tyres the whole way or gone for grip.
PLAYING WITH FIRE
THE day before Gazzanats Darwin it was Northern Territory Day – a sort of semi-public holiday to celebrate being a self-governed territory rather than a state like the rest of us. In the NT it’s bigger than New Year’s Eve, or Australia Day – it’s basically the biggest party day of the year. The cool thing is, you can buy and let off as many fireworks as you want just for this day, and, crazily, you can do this anywhere that isn’t private property: the middle of the road, car parks, bus shelters, construction sites – anywhere!
Obviously, the fireworks that photographer Davo and I purchased (and claimed on travel expenses) were let off purely for editorial purposes, definitely not for our own personal entertainment.
They were cheap too. We spent about $50 on a big pack with about 20 different explosives inside. And of course that wasn’t enough so we got a $15 eight-shot contraption that was probably the best of all. We also bought a pack of single-shot rockets called 666, which we later found out were notorious for being unpredictable.
After sheepishly carrying about 20kg worth of fireworks past our hotel receptionist, we went across the road to the empty car park and let them off until one of the 666s took off on a 45-degree angle and almost wiped out the building, scaring the crap out of a poor bloke sitting on his balcony. After that we decided to be a tad more safetyconscious and found a quiet road on which to be children, sorry, responsible.
We heard some pretty crazy stories from the boys at the track too, but they are probably too graphic to print here.
Let’s just say Jason Rapoff was very enthusiastic when it came to the fireworks.
Plenty of blown cars from down south made the trek north for a weekend of smoky sideways action on track and tyre-destroying burnouts on the pad.
“Gary asked me if I wanted to go, and since all the South Oz boys were going up I knew it was going to be a good party, so I stuck the car on the truck,” said Tom Beltrame of INFERNO Land Cruiser fame. He camped at the track in Dave Cufone’s old 1FATRAT bus.
Dave, Jono Kelly and a bunch of their mates road-tripped up from Adelaide.
“Jono drove the bus the whole way while the rest of us had a party,” Dave laughed. Most of the southerners shared the same attitude: it was a party weekend with mates. Having all the cars there and a heap of fuel and tyres to burn through – plus fireworks – was just the icing on the cake.
The West Aussie contingent was strong, with two truckloads of skid rigs rocking up on Friday arvo. Matt Purnell brought his BLACKOUT ute out to play, complete with a new engine combo. It’s a 480-cuber based off a 540 big-block with a de-stroked crank and a dry sump, as opposed to the old wet-sump 496. Fresh off the dyno, the tune wasn’t quite there for the hot and humid Darwin weather, but it held together and copped a hiding, both in the burnouts and on track. Purnell placed first in the powerskid comp after ripping one of the best I’ve ever seen – or heard.
Luke Jones was another WA bloke testing a new engine for the first time. In fact, before Gazzanats Darwin, not only had Luke never driven his blown HQ tonner, he’d never competed in a burnout comp. Built by George Separovich
from Blown Motorsports, the stunning all-black BLKMRKT Quey packs a 400ci small-block Chev with an 8/71 blower. “I was pretty nervous going into my first skid, having not driven the car before,” Luke said. “I just had no idea how it was going to handle, but after I tipped it in it was all good and I was a lot more confident for my second one.” His car also cleaned up in the show ’n’ shine, taking home a heap of silverware.
It was also a weekend of firsts for young Jake Myers with the SICKO Mustang. Dad Gary reckoned Jake was ready to try his first powerskid, so he lined up on the Saturday to give it a crack after smashing a set in the burnout comp. “To be honest I was pretty nervous; you’re going a lot faster doing a powerskid,” Jake said. “By about halfway down the straight you’re going pretty damn quick and the car goes real light, then you have to be careful coming out of it not to lift off too quick, otherwise it can snap the other way. It was awesome though!”
And if you thought pedalling Jake’s Mustang looked hard, you should have seen Russell Taylor in his very-not-stock STOCKHK 540ci blown Monaro. Watching this thing dance down the track with smoke pouring off the rears and the blower whining was pretty damn cool. Russell can definitely steer.
Tom Beltrame also had his wild little blown 510-cube FJ40 Land Cruiser on track for some powerskids. Boy, did this thing look tricky to keep in a straight line! When it came to the burnouts though, the motor seemed to be experiencing some electrical gremlins that caused it to shut down mid-skid.
There were two categories in the burnout comp: blown and aspirated (though the aspirated class allowed turbos and underbonnet blowers to even things out a bit). In the latter class there
were a couple of cool little locally built LS-powered KE20 Corollas. Kristan Butler runs a carbied LS3-powered yellow weapon, while Frank Paesel was in the white BENT ’Rolla with an LS1 and TH400 combo.
Cohen Walters was in the aspirated class even though his late-model Commodore packs a supercharged L98. He was the highest-placing local at Brashernats Darwin a few months earlier and scored tow money to Red CentreNATS, but luck wasn’t on his side this time around after he spun a blower belt in the final and didn’t get the tyres off.
South Australian Jono Kelly would have been right up the pointy end of the results had his carbied LS3-powered VK Calais not given up the ghost mid-skid. A couple of jammed pistons put an end to Jono’s weekend after he’d romped on the car all day without it raising so much as a sweat. “I’m spewing, it’s been such a reliable car,” he said. “I’ll fix it and have it ready for Red CentreNATS.”
Fellow South Australian Dave Cufone’s 1FATRAT Chevelle was on-song all weekend and did it all, from powerskids to track cruising to burnouts.
Didn’t do a bad burnout either – in fact it was good enough to pick up first place after Dave nuzzled the big girl right up against the wall. Having gone for a ride myself in the very-hard-to-see-out-of Chevelle earlier that day, I
reckon Dave might not have realised quite how close to the wall he was, but he pulled it off and it was a killer skid.
In second place was Mick Hamon in his blown LS-powered WIDEOPEN VY ute, complete with the automatically opening rear deck lid for extra wow-factor. This was another car that did it all without any grumbles. Mick’s currently got the Commy for sale, so I think he was keen to make the most of it before moving it on to the next owner. He smacked a wall during his qualifying skid and did a bit of damage to the rear bodywork though – might have to take a few grand off the price!
Third place went to the ever-consistent Ross Heasley in the MRBADQ Monaro. The closest Ross came to having an issue was a loose fuel line that caused his car to conk out while cruising the track. Turned out the line had rattled loose and was only hanging on by a couple of threads. Easy fixed.
I reckon Jason Rapoff would have been up there with his hand control-operated PARALINES blown VH Commodore. But the electrical cable that basically runs power to the entire car from the battery snapped halfway through his final skid, so she had to be pushed off the pad. And if you don’t leave under your own steam, tough luck, no points.
If you’ve got a fast car that you want to let off the leash, there’s no better way to do it than cruising around a world-class race track, doing burnouts, drag racing, drifting and powerskidding.
Gazzanats Darwin brought all that together in the one event at the one sunny location. What more could you possibly want?