FOR THE past dozen years, the toughest street cars in the USA have assembled in the American Midwest to take on the ultimate street car challenge: Hot Rod Drag Week.
But it’s not just an American event anymore; this year Drag Week had more international flavour than ever, with spectators from all over the globe and teams from Sweden, Denmark, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands. Australia had the biggest international contingent, with five teams hailing from Down Under; Drag Week has become the ultimate bucket list adventure for many Aussie street machiners.
Don’t be fooled though, Drag Week isn’t a holiday. Long hours combined with searing temps and oppressive humidity take as much of a toll on the entrants and spectators as the long miles and intense drag-strip action takes on the cars themselves. With around 350 entrants this year, Drag Week has become almost too big; track time is severely limited and many racers elected to make just one pass and then hit the road.
We were there to follow the Aussies through their trials and tribulations, and there were plenty of both.
John Faraone is a Drag Week veteran; this was the fifth time he’s taken his twin-turbo Valiant Charger to the US. Each year John ships the car back and forth from Perth, and last year it copped a fair bit of panel, paint and engine damage during the transit home – to the tune of $40,000. Luckily there was insurance, so the Charger copped a fresh coating of Mercury Silver, and John added a new air dam to help keep the front end on the ground during those 190mph+ top end charges.
John was looking to push the Charger to low sevens at over 200mph, and with a best of 7.43@192mph during Drag Week last year, the car was certainly capable.
Queenslander Ross Gault splits his time between the US and Australia, living in Los Angeles for six months of the year and his hometown of Brisbane for the other six. Ross competed in Drag Week in 2014 with his bright orange ’69 Camaro, and then did a couple of the smaller Drag Weekend events in 2015 and 2016, so he knew what he was in for.
Under the hood – as they say in America – is a Reher-Morrison 583ci that produces just over 900hp and runs high nines. This year Ross’s son Brenton was handling the driving duties, and got his first opportunity to face the tree with the Camaro during pre-event testing on registration day – 9.99@138mph.
Brian and Dianne Jensen have been coming to Drag Week for the past few years, as both spectators and competitors. They had their first chance at competition in 2015 and loved it so much they decided to leave the car in the States for another go this year. The plan was to improve on their third-in-class result last year, so they decided to add Holley HP fuel injection to the 582ci big-block. Brian was also planning to freshen up the engine before competition started, but it took a while to get his head around the EFI, so he ran out of time to see to the engine. The guys also shipped over a new bonnet to replace the one they lost on the highway last year.
The Trapnell brothers also left their car in the US after last year’s event, despite claiming they wouldn’t do Drag Week again. The old bigblock was sounding pretty sorry, so the boys went shopping for a new 598ci beast to drop in the Monaro and converted their mechanical fuel injection over to Holley EFI. They managed to get some dyno time in before the event, which saw the EFI squared away, but they didn’t have much time to sort the new dry nitrous set-up. The idea was to feed the extra fuel for the nitrous into the system via the main fuel injectors, all controlled by the computer, but without time to tune it properly they elected to just start rich and lean it out run by run.
The Aussie Chevelle team of Harry Haig, Terry Seng, ‘Pyro’ Jennings and Ryan Jones had a full week of work rebuilding the Chevelle at King Hotrod & Restoration in Kansas before the event, and it still wasn’t finished when they got to Columbus. The boys made sure they got scrutineered early then headed to the pits to finish the car with a little help from some friendly Canadians. Their plan was to try and make a pass that afternoon, but time was against them, which meant their first pass was going to be on Drag Week – Day One.
IT WAS supposed to be an early start at National Trail Raceway at Hebron, near Columbus, Ohio. The organisers’ plan was to give the drivers’ briefing and then head straight into the action, but the ambulance was very late getting to the track, which pushed everything back an hour.
Harry and the boys were at the head of the line, looking to maximise their track time. The idea was to do a shakedown pass and then Terry would load some power into it, but a fuel pump issue saw the guys push the Chevelle back from the startline and they swarmed the car looking for the problem.
That saw the Trapnells move into the burnout box, and it wasn’t long until the Monaro was three-wheeling away from the start for a 9.60@143mph naturally aspirated. The Americans shake their head in amazement every time the Monaro launches – it’s awesome and insane in equal parts.
By this time the Chevelle team had found the culprit – a blown fuel pump fuse – and with the problem sorted the rusty junker headed to the line. With a bunch of wheelspin and a big pedal, Harry ran an 11.46@132mph; it was nothing to write home about, but as Terry said: “Now we’ve got some data to work with.”
Brian’s white Torana sounded crisp in the burnout box, but the 9.94@137mph wasn’t really where they wanted to be, and the orange Camaro driven by Brenton Gault wasn’t much quicker, with a 9.82@138mph. The Aussies were going okay, but nobody was breaking new ground.
John Faraone was the next of the Aussie contingent to face the line, and we were hoping to see the Charger run a number, but wheelspin and then massive tyre shake saw John pedal his way down the track for an 8.76@182mph. Having waited over three hours for that first run John decided to hit the road, as did Ross and Brenton Gault.
Brian Jensen improved slightly with a 9.90@138mph, but the Trapnells ran another 9.6 despite trying the nitrous; both hit the road after their second pass.
That just left the Chevelle boys, and they were ready to party. The tree came down and Harry held the car on the transbrake building boost, then released the button and the radials stuck. It wasn’t a wheels-up launch or anything fancy, but the Chevelle tracked straight and true for a 9.06@153mph, and all of a sudden things were looking serious. Then it was time to hit the road.
Drag Week isn’t just about racing; anyone can set their engine on kill and run a number. Making your ride last all week through the 1000-mile road trip, that’s the trick. Day One saw the route take racers through Ohio’s Amish country on a 234-mile trek to Summit Motorsports Park in the northern part of the state. With a late start and two checkpoints to cover, nobody was getting to bed at a reasonable hour.
THE road trip is where all the stories are. Transmissions, ignition systems, fuel pumps and valvetrains all suffer during the journey. Then there are the police to contend with as well.
Harry and the guys found themselves pulled up for having no taillights; the officer had already written out the ticket at the rear of the car before he’d noticed the two turbos hanging through the bonnet!
Summit Motorsports Park is a familyowned facility in Norwalk, Ohio, and it was one of the better tracks on this year’s tour.
From the ample grandstands to the food areas and the pits, the place just oozes quality, and you could buy a pound of ice cream for a dollar; that was a deal almost everybody took advantage of.
A late night of driving coupled with long hours editing video and photos meant we were later getting to the track than intended, so we missed Brenton Gault running a 9.75@139mph before hitting the road for Michigan.
The Trapnells ran 9.78@148mph, leaving the line in a cloud of black smoke, indicating how rich the nitrous was running, while Brian followed with an off-the-pace 10.25@133mph. Then the Chevelle blew off an intercooler pipe and ran a 10.05@122mph; things weren’t looking great for the Aussies.
The horror story continued with the white Torana running a 10.66@125mph before Brian and Dianne realised that the engine was severely hurt, and they started looking for ways back to Columbus to pick up their tow rig. John Faraone also had a shocker, with an explosion of flame appearing under the Charger at the 330ft mark. Up to that point the car was looking like it was on a number, but the Valiant rolled across the line for a 9.59@87mph.
The purple Monaro rolled back out for another run and squirmed its way down the quarter for a 9.46@146mph – it was the best run so far, and the boys hit the road.
Then it was time for the Chevelle to make another run, and the car was quickly developing a following. With a good launch the rusty Chevelle fired down the track and pulled a new PB – 8.84@156mph! The boys were on Cloud Nine.
Back in the pits, John Faraone was checking out the damage. “It’s definitely torched a head gasket,” he said, “but I won’t know how bad until I pull the head off.” John was in for a big night.
Everyone else hit the road for the massive 260-mile drive to Martin, Michigan; even though that may not sound far, at an average of 60mph that’s still 4.5 hours of driving.
Then you’ve got the mandatory stops. The route instructions were always eyed with a grain of salt, but when the very first direction out of the track is to turn left when you actually need to turn right, you realise the route map is little more than a guide.
THE third day at US 131 Motorsports Park in Martin, Michigan saw the Torana hatch of Brian and Dianne on a trailer behind the bargain-basement Chevy Suburban they’d bought to tow it.
Surprisingly Brian had a grin from ear to ear: “The pressure’s off now,” he said. “I can just hang out and watch.” A couple of minutes later he was on the road to a parts store with Greg Trapnell to find a new alternator for the Monaro.
The ’69 Camaro of Ross and Brenton got a pass in early and they were happy with another 9.75@138mph, so they hit the road. ‘One and done’ seemed to be their motto.
Nobody had seen or heard from John Faraone, so we didn’t know what was happening with the Charger. All we knew was that the guys had been still working on it when Brian had picked up the Torana from Norwalk the previous night.
With the purple Monaro sorted, Greg launched it hard on three wheels and headed for the centre line, taking the long way down the strip. The result was a 9.22@152mph – it was their best run in America to date.
Then it was time for the Chevelle again. The boys looked confident to beat the previous day’s effort, but when Harry activated the transbrake on the first pass the car settled backwards slightly and uncovered the stage beam, which started the timer. The result was a mid-11 at 157mph. Terry looked at the data after the run and grimaced: “That would have been an 8.70.”
Harry came back out again but wheelspun and pedalled to a 9.42@158mph, which meant they had to give it another go to maintain an eight-second average. It was the third run that did the trick; the Chevelle hooked up and reeled off an 8.90@158mph.
Then John Faraone rolled in with the Charger.
Overnight they’d had to replace one of the heads and the ECU. “I don’t know why I didn’t replace the ECU in the first place,” he said. “I knew the injector driver was faulty and it’s just set me back a long way. We’ve had no sleep at all.”
The exhaustion was clear as day on John’s face, and they hurriedly prepared the car to run, just making it to the staging lanes before they closed. Then the fuel pump packed it in, and John decided to just make a slow pass to stay in the show – 16.33@73mph wasn’t going to set any records, but they were still in with a shot.
When John came back through the pits we caught up with him. “Yeah, as soon as I rolled into the burnout box I could see from the fuel pressure that the rear pump had died, so I just cruised it down the track.”
Then he looked up and said: “Mate, I’m so tired I’ve forgotten where I was pitted.”
We pointed him in the right direction, but more than anything that shows the level of exhaustion these guys put themselves through, and they still had a 237-mile drive to Indy.
LUCAS Oil Raceway in Indianapolis was the only track Drag Week 2016 had in common with the 2015 event, and last year it was one of the better places for traction. From experience we knew the racers would be a bit stressed on Day Four – they know there’s only one more drive between them and the final track. But one team that didn’t seem to be feeling the pressure were the Aussie Chevelle boys.
Harry made sure he hit the track early and the traction was perfect – 8.77@159mph. It was their quickest run so far, and with a massive queue to get another run the guys decided to hit the road. As did Ross and Brenton with the Camaro; they’d also got down the track early with a 9.74@138mph and headed back towards Columbus.
John Faraone was all fired up after a big wait in the staging lanes. “It’s bullshit. They closed off the first session while we were already in the line, so they could run the daily-drivers. Now we’ve got to line up again!” When he finally got to the startline John didn’t hold back – 7.65@182mph. The Charger did it easy; the Mopar was back to its normal self and you would think that John would have been happy with that, but he came back around for another run.
This time wasn’t so good. The Charger turned the tyres on the launch and then broke the mandrel on the front of the balancer that holds the mechanical fuel pump drive pulley, basically shutting off the fuel supply to the engine. It meant even more work for the Faraone Engines team.
That left the Trapnells to do their thing. A problem with the tree saw the guys get no time recorded for their first pass, and it looked like a beauty.
“I need a better driver,” Geoff quipped when we asked how they were doing. “I can hear you!” Greg responded from the Monaro’s driver’s seat.
Brotherly love – it’s a beautiful thing.
Their next pass did the trick, with a 9.21@151mph as the purple Monaro snaked its way down the track. The tune was still looking rich as hell, but the car was obviously making power.
The last stint back to Columbus was 244 miles, which would see us travelling almost directly east past Dayton and Springfield to our starting point in Hebron, Ohio. After a huge day we decided to skip Checkpoint One and head straight for the second checkpoint in Fairborn, Ohio. Watching six-, seven- and eight-second cars cruising down ‘Main Street America’ is a hell of a sight.
As the sun set we wandered across the street for a pretty decent dinner in a local sports bar; if you want good food in America, stay away from the big chains – local bars and restaurants are the places to go.
BACK at National Trail, the racing didn’t start until midday on the last day, which gave racers an opportunity for some muchneeded sleep or to sort out their mechanical issues.
The Trapnell brothers had a cascade of fuel pump failures, with the rear electric pump seizing and then the front mechanical pump also failing in the Monaro. So they decided to head to Jegs and replaced the whole fuel system in the car park – pumps, lines, regulators, the whole lot. If you’re going to do it, then that was the place.
On Day Five the air temp was high and the humidity oppressive; you could just tell that nobody was going to be running their best, and the Chevelle proved that with its first pass. Small radial tyres don’t like a hot track, and it was bloody hot. Harry smoked the tyres on the line and only managed an 11.3@108mph. The boys were really hoping to turn it up on the last day, but it was clear they were going to have a hard time even running an eight.
The father-and-son team of Ross and Brenton were slightly down on their best with a 9.80@137mph, so they tried again and only managed a 9.83@137mph. After that they called it job done and finished the week with an average of 9.77@138mph, and fourth in the Street Race Big-Block Naturally Aspirated class.
After getting told that the track was looking pretty ordinary John Faraone turned down the power at the startline and the Charger left about as soft as we’ve ever seen it go. Then the rear end squatted as the power piled on around the 150ft mark, and the silver R/T screamed through the finish for a 7.90@183mph. That gave John an average of 10.05@142mph and eighth in Unlimited – the 16sec
run on Day Three really hurt his average, but just finishing Drag Week is a reward in itself.
Replacing the fuel system in the Monaro didn’t work the way the Trapnells wanted, and their first pass of the day was a 13.05@123mph, followed by a 10.42@107mph. The guys looked shattered, but they came back out for one last blast. Off the line the Monaro seemed to launch well, but then limped down the track for a 15.17@57mph. It wasn’t the way they wanted to finish Drag Week, but they did finish, and their average of 9.58@140mph wasn’t terrible.
And then there was one: Harry and team with the Aussie Chevelle. It was clear that the car was going to have a tough time running an eight on the 275-width drag radials with the track the way it was. The second attempt wasn’t much better than their first, with the Chevy needing to be pedalled several times after breaking into wheelspin; a 9.74@150mph wasn’t going to cut it. So they bided their time and waited until the sun had dipped over the horizon for the last possible moment to make a pass.
Off the line things were looking good until the tyres started to screech at the 60ft mark. Harry gave it a light pedal and then got back on the gas with full traction. At the deep end the Chevelle went 9.19@159mph; it wasn’t an eight-second pass, but the run was good enough to give the guys an average of 8.95@157mph and fifth in the Street Race Big-Block Power Adder class. It was a solid finish for the team; they’d built the car in a week, finished Drag Week and averaged in the eight-second zone.
It’s too early to call what will happen next year; the Monaro, Torana, Charger and Camaro are all headed back to Australia.
Harry reckons they’re going to tub the Chevelle and make it even quicker for 2017. But as to who will join them, it’s way too early to say. One thing is for sure: Drag Week is one of the coolest things you can do with a car. s