PEOPLE LIKE US

WES GATES

STORY POVI PULLINEN PHOTOS NATHAN JACOBS

> KALAMAZOO, MICHIGAN, USA

THIS yearís Hot Rod Drag Week saw over 340 competitors travel through Ohio before stopping at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan for the third day of competition. Our own Australian entrant Brian Jensen had already dropped out of contention by then, with a spun bearing in his big-block Torana, but we were seeing double when Aussie expat Wes Gates stopped by to fly the flag with his own LX Torry.

What a sight for sore eyes!

Yep, sheís a í76 LX Torana hatchback with a 400ci small-block Chevy. Iíve got a couple of other Holdens too. Thereís a í73 HQ GTS coupe, a í73 HQ ute, a í64 EH Special and another í77 LX hatch that looks pretty much identical to this one, but with a 202 in it. The í76 [Torana] was the first Holden I bought over here. All these cars were already in the States; I got this and the Monaro from a guy in St Louis, the EH from California, the ute from a bloke in Texas and the other LX came from a guy in Indiana, only two hours away from here, believe it or not.

Whatís your background?

I moved to the States in 1998, so Iíve been here about 18 years now. Iím in computing and information technology and I live in the small town of Kalamazoo, Michigan, about 20 minutes from here. Hope you didnít blink when you went past; itís very small!

Is it comforting to have Aussie cars here?

I guess so. These are cars I could never afford to have over in Australia, but when they come over here theyíre cheap. Nobody knows what they are and there isnít really a market for them.

Weíd imagine theyíre a talking point for the locals.

Yeah, I get the whole Chevy Vega lookalike thing [with the Torana], and a lot of people think the Monaro is some kind of Canadian Chevelle.

Everyone always does a double-take. I have a seven-year-old daughter and I like to drive with her in the left-hand seat; the locals always get confused about whoís driving!

What brings you to US 131?

Iíve been following Drag Week for a couple of years and I knew there were Aussies coming, and itís right in my backyard, so why not? I took the day off work and now here I am. Iím local and Iíve raced this track a lot. I used to drag the Torana; it ran low 12s with a transbrake and a spool diff in the back, but Iíve recently put it back on the street with a 4L60E.

Keen to give Drag Week a crack yourself?

I dunno, maybe! The Monaro has a big-block Chevy in it and was running 10s before I cut it up. Youíve seen the [Trapnell brothersí AGRO] HQ launch Ė itís a little scary. With a chassis and rear end like that on a 10.5 tyre itís a bit skittish, so I decided to do the full tube-chassis thing on it. That was about five years ago, and Iím still working on it [laughs].

Are there any more Aussie classics due for your garage?

I think thatís it for now. Iíve seen a few for sale but Iíve had to pass them up. Iím running out of space! s

Here in the US I get the whole Chevy Vega lookalike thing with the Torana, and a lot of people think the Monaro is some kind of Canadian Chevelle