WELL, by the time you read this, most of you would have heard that round five of the 400 Thunder Championship, which was scheduled for Calder Park on 26-27 January, has been cancelled.
Not racing at Calder is disappointing. Over the years it has produced some of the best racing and best-attended meetings in the history of the sport. However, racing at Calder Park over the past couple of years has been problematic and the cause of great concern to many drivers and teams. There are several issues involved that are to do with the age of the track, combined with the fact that itís also a multi-purpose facility Ė not that anyone can do much about that.
The first issue is safety. Nowadays, if you were going to build a race track, you would never have the staging lanes parallel to the drag strip. Let me tell you, when youíre sitting there in the staging lanes itís somewhat nervewracking to have cars about five metres away from you racing down the track at speeds of up to 200mph. Another issue that needs to be addressed is the amount of time and distance you need to travel to get back to the pits after you run. One time they had the pits on the infield and that worked really well, and completely solved both problems. Getting the guard rails up to international safety standards is also a priority, and thatís going to cost money.
However, for the racers, there is another issue. Over the past couple of years the track has developed a couple of bumps. Thatís not uncommon, because even though there is a solid base, subsoil can move and that can create bumps and an unsettled and uneven track surface. Thatís whatís happened at Calder Park, particularly in the right-hand lane where the drag strip and the circuit track meet. I guess you could call it an oblique bump. When you hit a a perpendicular bump, you can usually handle the situation with shock absorber settings and tune-up. However, with an oblique bump, where the bump is at an angle to the drag strip, what happens is that initially one front wheel hits it, then the other front wheel, followed by the rear wheels Ė also at different times Ė and that tends to throw the car to the left pretty hard. You can try and drive around it, but you just canít get away from it.
It also means, given the way the rules are structured, the best-qualified cars get lane choice and gain a major advantage by running in the left lane. I canít remember the last time a car won out of the right lane unless something happened to the car in the opposite lane. Thatís a major issue, particularly when youíre running for championship points at what is basically a single-lane race track.
I would love to go back to Calder Park and hopefully that will happen in the not-too-distant future. Everybody loves racing there, and with some improvements, entry lists of 400-500 will return Calder to the halcyon days of the 90s.
It was great to see that Richie Crampton has picked up a ride for next season with one of the leading NHRA teams in Kalitta Motorsport. Richie is a great bloke. The first time I met him he was telling me how much of a fan he was of Victor Bray. Well, these days, Iím leading the chorus singing the praises of one of the best Top Fuel racers this country has produced. Thereís a lesson to be learnt: Itís not only the way he can drive a car, but equally important is his off-track demeanour.
He has a great rapport with the fans and sponsors and a winning smile Ė a bit like the West Australian Daniel Ricciardo who races in F1.
Richie, through hard work, talent and perseverance, has worked his way up to achieve his goal of landing a drive in Top Fuel.
If you want to succeed in drag racing, what you need to do is start at the bottom, learn how to wash out a sump, move up to rockers, get into tuning, then move on to the clutch converters. know the car from the inside and then jump into the driverís seat. Richie is such a good driver because he understands how a fuel car works from front to back. He knows how to drive soft and when to drive it hard.
The other factor in his success has been how he handles himself. If you act like a smartarse, you wonít get a ride in the NHRA.
No sponsor or team owner wants to deal with that type of behaviour in this day and age.
Pro Stock is back in the news, with the NHRA allowing different-brand engines in different cars. For example, you will be able to put a GM motor into a Ford Mustang. Hmmm, I donít think thatís going to do them any good in the eyes of the fans. The attraction Pro Stock has had over the years has been brand and converters Spend a few years getting to loyalty and the fact that you have GM versus Ford versus Mopar. How do you explain to the fans when you put a Chevy motor in a Ford or Mopar? No one will want to follow the category. If you look at what happened this year, a possible scenario in 2018 will see GM engines in the majority of the cars!
Time for an update on whatís happening with a couple of restoration projects in the Bray garage, particularly with our latest addition of a 1957 Buick Caballero wagon. I remember Street Machine ran a story around 10 years ago on what dream car you would love to build. I nominated a chop-topped Buick Caballero.
Caballeros are different from most wagons, as they are four-door pillarless hardtop wagons. There are a few out there, but a lot are in poor condition. Some were asking up to $40,000 for one that needed a full-on resto. I finally have got my hands on a fairly rust-free model in good condition.
As far as Iím aw aware thereís only one other in Australia. I could be wrong. If youíve got a í57 Caballero wagon, let the team at Street Machine know and they will pass it on; Iíd love to hear from you.
There is a bit of intrigue regarding the engine that will go in the car. Currently it has a 364-cube V8. What I will say is that we are planning on dropping a GM motor in it, but it will surprise a lot of people. A clue: Think of a very rare, cool-looking big-block Chev engine.
If you think you know what it could be, drop me a line and Iíll organise a prize for the first correct answer.
Weíve got another car in the shed that Iím getting ready to work on: a 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Ville. Iíll fill in the details of whatís planned in next monthís column. s