FORCES OF NATURE

SCORCHING HEAT, DRIVING RAIN, INSECT PLAGUES – STREET MACHINE DRAG CHALLENGE 2017 WAS A TRIAL OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS 115

STORY MATT REEKIE, ANDREW BROADLEY, CARLY DALE, IAIN KELLY, AIDEN TAYLOR & GLENN TORRENS PHOTOS CHRIS THOROGOOD, NATHAN JACOBS & MICHELLE BRIGHT

THERE’S nothing more boring than talking about the weather, but in the case of Drag Challenge 2017, it’s unavoidable. The shocking conditions that competitors endured throughout the week are a big part of the narrative.

Apparently Mother Nature had gotten wind that Scotty Taylor had devised a rigorous course of strip racing and street driving through South Australia and Victoria to determine who has Australia’s quickest street car in 2017, and she just had to get in on the action. Nature was an absolute bitch all week, throwing down scorching heat, plagues of flies, buckets of rain, and we’ll blame her for all the potholes too!

Starting and finishing in Adelaide meant most competitors had to drive or trailer their cars over great distances before the real challenge had even started. From every state and territory except NT (again), they converged on the hot and flyblown AIR strip for driver rego and vehicle scrutineering.

Despite a few pull-outs during the weeks and hours leading up to the event, a healthy field of 110 very tough cars fronted to be checked for safety by ANDRA and have their windscreens stickered up with DC decals, numbers and class names.

It’s testament to the esteem in which Drag Challenge is held that many former competitors had thrashed to put together new combos (almost everybody had switched to bigger turbos this year), but this also meant that some showed up without much test time.

The two-time Drag Challenge-winning LH Torana of Quentin Feast

was back after a one-year sabbatical, freshened up under the bonnet, including a new twin-turbo set-up. Other contenders with new turbo set-ups included reigning champ Brenden ‘Bubba’ Medlyn in his Holden-powered VH Commodore, Harry Haig in his HQ SS and Jarrod Wood in his HQ one-tonner. Mark Drew had upgraded the suspension in his Crusty LH Torana after his big wheelstand on the final day last year, while Adam Rogash was in a completely new car, having left the NOSHOW ClubSport at home to compete in his recently unveiled Blue Meanie VK, ALLSHOW.

Tough cars everywhere, but how many would be back here in five days’ time? Let the Challenge begin!

DAY One saw dashboard readings of over 40 degrees Celsius.

That’s hot enough to melt a driver’s brain inside their helmet, so it was no surprise that cooler heads ultimately prevailed. Two guys in Toranas set the pace for the week by taking a less-is-more approach, dialling down power off the line and getting on down there with minimal bluster.

Mark Drew in the Crusty Torana claimed an early lead in the Haltech Radial Blown class and overall with a quickest pass of 8.262, followed closely by Quentin Feast in the pink LH with an 8.283. This pair seemed to breeze through the first few days, handing in their timeslips early and making relatively light work of the shorter driving legs.

Third overall for the day and first in the Turbosmart Outlaw Blown class was Jarrod Wood, going 8.292 in his gnarly onetonner.

Though only a hundredth of a second behind Quentin, he, like a lot of the big-horsepower guys, was made to work hard in the greasy conditions. While mile-per-hour readings remained stable, ETs were on the wane due to the difficulty in hooking up on the piping-hot surface.

Which is not to say everyone was having a bad day. A couple of first-timers from WA turned heads with their upfront speed – Josh Lopreiato in his VZ ClubSport knocking on the door with an 8.580, and Lorenzo Gullotto in his VL going 9.080.

DAY ONE SAW DASHBOARD READINGS OF OVER 40 DEGREES CELSIUS. THAT’S HOT ENOUGH TO MELT A DRIVER’S BRAIN INSIDE THEIR HELMET

ADELAIDE INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY VIRGINIA, SA

The hottest six in the parade, Jason Ghiller’s turbocharged Barrapowered XD sleeper, ran a tidy 8.973 and then proceeded to punch well above its weight all week. And speaking of streetability, Luke Foley’s ever-reliable VH Commo drove up from Geelong without missing a beat and promptly knocked out an 8.652.

A handful of seven-second cars that had battled to get into the mid-eights hung back until the 4:00pm cut-off hoping for the weather to cool. Unfortunately, it didn’t much.

Among the stragglers was Adam Rogash in the ALLSHOW VK, who was disgusted with his 8.409@175.57mph, which turned out to be the fastest mile-per-hour pass of any finisher all week. Bubba Medlyn was quickly discovering that it’s hard to win it when you’re winging it. He couldn’t get his trick new twin-88 turbo set-up to come on boost at the startline and was disappointed to be off the pace with a best effort of 8.84. Harry Haig’s 8.437 was enough to nab fifth spot, but that was of little consolation as he spent the night working on the transmission, which had started smoking soon after leaving Adelaide.

Cooling systems were tested on the drive east to Mildura, and those without air con had every window unwound as they made their way roughly 370 kays through the balmy night.

COOLING SYSTEMS WERE TESTED ON THE DRIVE TO MILDURA; THOSE WITHOUT AIR CON HAD EVERY WINDOW UNWOUND

DAY ONE: TOP FIVE OUTRIGHT

1 MARK DREW, Holden LH Torana 8.262 2 QUENTIN FEAST, Holden LH Torana 8.283 3 JARROD WOOD, Holden HQ one-tonner 8.292 4 ADAM ROGASH, Holden VK Commodore 8.409 5 HARRY HAIG, Holden HQ 8.437 STREET MACHINE 123

SUNSET STRIP, MILDURA, VICTORIA

MILDURA’S eighth-mile is not called the Sunset Strip for nothin’. It was so damn hot you just wanted to rip all your clothes off!

Scorching conditions in the high 30s and track temps that crept towards 70 during the day made it tough for everyone except Quentin Feast, who took top spot overall and top in Haltech Radial Blown after nipping in for an early 5.385. In response, Mark Drew could only manage a 5.415, which was still second-quickest for the day. Once again, on a day when horsepower was going up in smoke on the startline, the key for both of them was to take a milder approach upon launch before bringing on the boost further down the line, keeping their passes as straight and clean as possible.

There was a surprise early on when a four-cylinder Gemini driven by Scott Forrester momentarily held the quickest ET with a 5.728. Unfortunately for him, the Isuzu motor gave up the ghost after the finish line and put the Gem out of the event.

Another on the attrition list was Bubba Medlyn, whose Holden V8 donk threw a rod late in the day and ended his campaign – he would later receive the Hard Luck Award for his troubles – while Harry Haig continued to struggle with the Shonky HQ’s transmission right up until stumps.

Meanwhile, Jarrod Wood and Adam Rogash were mounting last-minute assaults on the timing boards. Both were finding it impossible to maintain traction, but that didn’t stop them from circling back through the all-butempty staging lanes and cutting laps until the bitter end.

BUBBA MEDLYN’S HOLDEN V8 DONK THREW A ROD LATE IN THE DAY AND ENDED HIS CAMPAIGN – HE WOULD LATER RECEIVE THE HARD LUCK AWARD FOR HIS TROUBLES

While it was certainly no advertisement for the sport of drag racing, the way those guys were driving them with bitter determination and no shortage of skill was one of the highlights of the week for a viewer. For the competitors it must’ve seemed like hell.

Jarrod laid down a 5.559 at a stonking 143.88mph, which was enough to hold down third spot, while Adam eked out a meagre 5.862 after struggling with fuel pump problems and dropped a place in the overall standings.

The two West Aussie Commodores adapted well to the eighth-mile track and claimed the third- and fourth-quickest passes of the day, Lorenzo Gullotto with a 5.458 and Josh Lopreiato with a 5.460. Josh nabbed fourth spot overall from Adam Rogash. Harry Haig dropped to seventh with a 5.996, but top of his list of worries at the end of the day was replacing his failing gearbox.

The drive to Swan Hall was a relatively short 220km. Small mercies are all you can hope for during Drag Challenge.

DAY TWO: TOP FIVE OUTRIGHT

1 QUENTIN FEAST, Holden LH Torana 13.668 2 MARK DREW, Holden LH Torana 13.677 3 JARROD WOOD, Holden HQ one-tonner 13.851 4 JOSH LOPREIATO, Holden VZ ClubSport 14.040 5 ADAM ROGASH, Holden VK Commodore 14.271

JARROD WOOD LAID DOWN A 5.559 AT A STONKING 143.88MPH, WHICH WAS ENOUGH TO HOLD DOWN THIRD SPOT

SWANHILL DRAGWAY SWANHILL, VICTORIA W

HATS off to Swan Hill. The track has experienced a few bumps in the road (so to speak) since we christened the virgin surface here last year, but that’s all been smoothed out. All it needs now is some grass to quell the excessive dust, a little bit of shade here and there, a dunny block… It’ll get there. First things first, the cooling (though conditions still muggy), it really came to the party on Day Three of Drag Challenge.

It seemed like half the township had turned out to watch, including the mayor, and they got to see a great day of racing, with PBs rung up for cars in every class. Also worth mentioning were the delicious pulled pork rolls: “Do you want flies with that? Too bad. You’re getting them regardless.”

With the threat of rain looming and more dire weather forecast for the long drive to Portland, the staging lanes were packed solid from the start. But once everyone realised that this was a track where it was possible to lay a decent number down, they stayed packed until mid-afternoon.

Sadly for Harry Haig, he spent the day replacing the gearbox in his car, but was unable to front before the lanes closed.

Overall leader Quentin Feast reached deeper into the eights with each lap before notching up the first and only seventhe freshly resurfaced strip is utterly mint, and with temperatures seven

IT SEEMED LIKE HALF THE TOWNSHIP HAD TURNED OUT TO WATCH, AND THEY GOT TO SEE PBs RUNG UP FOR CARS IN EVERY CLASS

second pass of this year’s tour when he ran his LH down there in 7.996@174.14mph. With that pass he scored the coveted Seven- Second Club trucker cap and extended his lead over Mark Drew, Drewy again going second-quickest with an 8.146. Third for the day was Adam Rogash with an 8.183, which moved him back into fourth overall.

Swan Hill local Jarrod Wood, who had previously run a PB of 7.60 at the track, had to resort to powerskidding all the way down for his 8.208. He scored a piston on his final run, so as everyone else was hitching up trailers and heading south for faraway Portland, he and his team were pulling heads off and bunkering down for a long evening on the tools.

We were now more than halfway through the toughest Drag Challenge ever held, and the biggest challenge was yet to come.

WE WERE NOW MORE THAN HALFWAY THROUGH THE TOUGHEST DRAG CHALLENGE EVER HELD

DAY THREE: TOP FIVE OUTRIGHT

1 QUENTIN FEAST, Holden LH Torana 21.664 2 MARK DREW, Holden LH Torana 21.823 3 JARROD WOOD, Holden HQ one-tonner 22.059 4 ADAM ROGASH, Holden VK Commodore 22.454 5 JOSH LOPREIATO, Holden VZ ClubSport 22.570 STREET MACHINE 131

SOUTHCOAST RACEWAY PORTLAND, VICTORIA

THE 450km drive from Swan Hill to Portland was the perfect shitstorm.

Competitors drove through pouring rain while cursing the barbaric triumvirate of Mother Nature, Scott Taylor and his route map, and any manufacturer of aftermarket door rubbers. Some copped it worse than others, but nobody escaped with their socks completely dry.

Thank heavens for South Coast Raceway’s clubhouse. If this monsoon had hit us at any of the other tracks, we would have all risked being drowned. At least here there was enough shelter for everyone to convene, as well as some fine steak sangas, and even a fireplace! Racing? Forget about it. That dream evaporated overnight.

As the Portland eighth-mile was being pelted sideways, competitors were snuggled either inside the clubhouse or under the awning exchanging war stories from the previous night – topics included hairdryers as makeshift demisters, squeegees as a substitute for windscreen wipers, and the best way to wring out a sopping towel while still mobile.

Scotty nearly lost his umbrella in the wind when trying to deliver the drivers’ briefing – that was good for a laugh. All competitors were keen to check in, get their route maps, and get on the road north to Adelaide.

Despite the fact that there was no racing, there was still movement at the top of the leader board. The terrible driving conditions meant Jarrod Wood and his team decided against a risky blat to Portland in the tonner, which put him out of the contest and gifted third spot manufacturer of aftermarket door rubbers. Some copped it worse

COMPETITORS DROVE THROUGH POURING RAIN WHILE CURSING MOTHER NATURE, SCOTT TAYLOR AND HIS ROUTE MAP, AND ANY MANUFACTURER OF AFTERMARKET DOOR RUBBERS

to Adam Rogash, while Josh Lopreiato moved into fourth and Luke Foley also shuffled up to make it an all-radial Top Five.

Jarrod’s exit paved the way for Rodney Browitt and his HQ ute to assume the lead in the Turbosmart Outlaw Blown class, just ahead of a surging Paul Hamilton in the XA sedan.

And still there were more twists to come. Adam Rogash, who had been on tenterhooks with the imminent birth of his third child, got the all-important call from his wife Kelly, and his crew dropped him off at Mount Gambier Airport where he flew home to Melbourne for the birth. Into the driver’s seat slid Johnny Pilla, who had pre-registered as a co-driver of ALLSHOW in case the baby couldn’t wait.

DAY FOUR: TOP FIVE OUTRIGHT

1 QUENTIN FEAST, Holden LH Torana 21.664 2 MARK DREW, Holden LH Torana 21.823 3 ADAM ROGASH, Holden VK Commodore 22.454 4 JOSH LOPREIATO, Holden VZ ClubSport 22.570 5 LUKE FOLEY, Holden VH Commodore 22.786

ADELAIDE INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY VIRGINIA, SAW

WITH such a massive drive from Portland back up to Adelaide, racing was mercifully scheduled for the afternoon and evening, starting at 2pm.

It rained on and off throughout the roughly 580km drive, which didn’t bode well for a fine day of racing.

But the diligent AIR track staff only needed half a break in the weather to mop those lanes into shape. And fair play to them – they’d had a shocker on Monday in the oppressive heat, but went above and beyond on Friday in the intermittent wet. They didn’t even bat an eyelid when the VC Commodore of Dusty Benson shat its tailshaft and a mess of shattered driveshaft componentry into the left lane.

What troopers.

With light rain falling here and there, the bulk of the racing was done between 3 and 7pm, at which point the smattering of rain we’d had throughout the day started to smatter too hard and too often.

Some classes went right to the wire, including Dial Your Own, where Blake Jefferys in the VK Commodore pipped Daniel Grima’s Chev at the post. Daniel was next in line to make a pass when the final rains came, so he never got a shot at redemption.

Paul Hamilton in the XA sedan ran an 8.967 to sensationally overhaul Rodney Browitt in the HQ ute for a tight win in the Turbosmart

SOME CLASSES WENT RIGHT TO THE WIRE, INCLUDING DIAL YOUR OWN, WHERE BLAKE JEFFERYS IN THE VK COMMODORE PIPPED DANIEL GRIMA’S CHEV AT THE POST

Outlaw Blown class, while in the Tuff Mounts Outlaw Aspirated class, Stephen Micallef in his HQ tonner scored another winner’s trophy, but was pushed all the way this time by Mark Clifford in his ’69 Mustang.

Alon Vella in his Capri ran several tenths quicker than anybody else in Pacemaker Radial Aspirated at every track to secure his third straight class win. Alon’s Top 10 overall finish is a credit to him, especially after breaking a rocker arm overnight between Portland and Adelaide!

John Pilla overcame a lack of experience behind the wheel of the ALLSHOW VK to make it down in 8.51 seconds to help solidify third position overall and third in Haltech Radial Blown.

First-day leader Mark Drew did everything he could to make up the deficit to fellow Torana owner Quentin Feast, but in the end had to settle for second on the day (8.202 seconds), second in Haltech Radial Blown and second overall.

And so Quentin Feast and his GMPWR Torana claimed a third Australia’s Quickest Street Car title with an eight flat at 174.04mph, and did so with no mess or fuss. For the most part it was a spectacularly unspectacular victory, which is further kudos to him and his crew. It’s called Drag Challenge because it’s damn hard. Watching Quentin do it this year, you wouldn’t know it. s

DAY FIVE: TOP FIVE OUTRIGHT

1 QUENTIN FEAST, Holden LH Torana 29.668 2 MARK DREW, Holden LH Torana 30.025 3 ADAM ROGASH/JOHN PILLA, Holden VK Commodore 30.966 4 JOSH LOPREIATO, Holden VZ ClubSport 31.095 5 LUKE FOLEY, Holden VH Commodore 31.157

THE AIR TRACK STAFF DIDN’T EVEN BAT AN EYELID WHEN DUSTY BENSON’S VC COMMODORE SHAT ITS TAILSHAFT INTO THE LEFT LANE