TOUCH MUDDERS

IT WAS A WEEKEND OF TRAGEDY AND TRIUMPH FOR OUR MUD RUN ROAD-TRIPPERS

LAST issue, we documented the journey photographer Chris Thorogood took with a few good mates from Geelong up to Coolangatta in a pair of Leon Davies’s classic Ford F-trucks. They Winternationals, took in Cooly had Rocks a fat sOn time. dida The ada consensus? the eWin That road yat are awesome.

Leon left the F-trucks in Queensland mates and then flew home. The plan was to then fly back in July, collect the Fords and then drive down oGr Gresford, rd, NS NSW Wfo the e10 10th-anniversary rth Mud Run.

And when gasser legend Damien announced his intention of bringing his Mercury Marauder up from Geelong as well, I caught a serious case of the FOMOs and decided I’d better get my EJ Holden out of cold storage and join in.

The eEJ Jis sno nostr stranger aroa road dtr trip, dCe but tha hasbe been rto fairly yqui quiet since our epic trip ipto oRe Red CentreNATS dup. We ctr n201 2015. But heMud udRun unhad dme fired We’ve efi covered the event in the mag before and I’ve got plenty of mates who attend it religiously. It was a long-overdue trip, and the chance to do it with Chris and the crew was too good to pass up. The EJ didn’t need much in the way of preparation, just a detail to remove the last of the Red CentreNATS grime and a sorely needed tune-up. I even drove it to work ssw for eetan a couple dfo of days yspri prior oma make kesur sure esh she ewa was sweet and found myself really enjoying being behind the Moon steering wheel again.

Chris flew into Brisbane on the Wednesday, where he collected Bruce the 1965 F100, then shot up to the Sunshine Coast to do a shoot with the guys at BMV Engineering. On Thursday, Leon, his best gal Leah Blackmore, and Ty Gaylard flew in, grabbed Trucky the ’48 F1, then headed down the coast, checking out the Big Prawn at Ballina before stopping for the night at Nambucca Heads. their At rmo around motel, l, Iwas the weaving time they gthr through were checking heMel Melbourne into suburbs towards the Monash Freeway in the EJ.

The plan was to tootle up to Albury, rest there for the evening and make my way to Gresford before nightfall on Friday. The EJ was packed with camping gear, a case of Guinness, my toolbox and an iPhone full of tunes and podcasts to The keep downside me company. was Bliss! it was dark and wet, but that was no big deal. The EJ has been through all kinds of weather before and had always come up trumps.

I pulled onto the Monash and was heading out of Melbourne in the fast lane when the EJ coughed, died and refused to fire. I threaded my way across the lanes of traffic into what I hoped was a breakdown area. As it turned out, the highway has recently been widened, eliminating the breakdown lanes in some areas. Sure enough, was in an actual lane of traffic, just before an exit… on a blind corner… at night… in the rain. Oh shit! tried the key again and held my foot to the floor thinking it was probably flooded. No go. I attempted to drive the car forward on the starter motor to get it a little further around the corner, but she wouldn’t play ball.

I’ve vemad At made this point, ein my yen I entire made life one e–I of got the out l.The best tof hehea fthe decisions car and headed tail-lights edfor san and hesaf din indicators safety yof swer the were ewal wall. eon but headlights, that atwas wasn’t elif going to be enough. Some drivers saw the EJ and moved away cleanly; others spotted it at the very last second and swerved sharply out of danger. Keeping to the wall, I jogged away from the car, waving my phone torch frantically to try and slow them down, but to no avail – the car was tagged in the right-hand rear guard and the front left guard was rammed into the wall.

While still feel sick when think about it now, in in the shock. moment As felt luck tco completely would have calm. it, Mal was Schoch probably – he of Barra-powered Lincoln fame – pulled up behind me in his Ranger work truck and hit the safety lights. This was seconds after the crash and his actions probably prevented us being hit again. Mal checked on the passengers in the other car – they were fine – and stayed with me as the safety crews arrived to tow both vehicles out of harm’s way.

THE EJ WAS TAGGED IN THE RIGHT-HAND REAR GUARD AND THE FRONT LEFT GUARD WAS RAMMED INTO THE WALL. I STILL FEEL SICK WHEN I THINK ABOUT IT NOW

THE RUN DOWN

THE Mud Run began 10 years ago as Webby’s Mud Run, on a mate’s private plot of land. When it got too big for Webby’s mate’s paddock, they called it quits for a year – until Joal Butcher discovered East Gresford Showgrounds. “It was perfect,” said Webby. “Great facilities and a natural amphitheatre. Everyone can see.”

The guys did their homework and presented their case to the showground trust. The only stumbling block was how to repair the arena surface after the event. The solution? Run the Mud Run before the annual rodeo, which needs a churned-up surface. The trust gave them a trial and off they went.

Since then, the Mud Run has become the biggest money-spinner for the town, and the organising crew have refined their formula for sustainable success ever since. The Mud Run is invite-only and strictly off the grid, with no website or emails. Car entries are limited to just 60 cars to ensure that everyone gets plenty of track time. And a strict ‘no dickheads’ policy ensures everyone has a good time!

Mal drove me back to work, where we left the EJ, and then dropped me home. Having someone there who understood exactly what I was going through was a great comfort. I had a lot to process, but I was just thankful that no one was hurt in the prang. If had been in the car – or under the bonnet – things could have been a lot worse.

Aside from getting the car to safety, my next problem was what to do about Mud Run. didn’t want to mope around at home all weekend, the story still had to be written, and am nothing if not a stubborn prick. messaged Chris and he found me a flight to Port Macquarie leaving Melbourne at 6.30am on Friday. After a couple of hours of broken sleep, I got up to pack. I felt nauseous replaying the point of impact in my mind. I wondered if this was really a good idea, but was committed and pushed the thoughts away.

FAMILY TIES

DARREN Cahill runs a hot rod shop in Brisbane and brought his family and their XK Falcon race car (left) down for some fun.

“My old man and two mates campaigned an FX Holden at Surfers in the 60s called The Executioner [black & white photo, left],” said Darren. “So we called the Falcon the same thing and Fox Signs did the signwriting in the same style. Dad helped out with the car and so did my son Mason, so we have three generations in on it.”

The car has been converted into two-door post spec and runs a small-block Chev for power. “The paint is Juicy Green – the brightest green we could find, with a heap of flake tipped into the clear,” Darren said.

Amongst the gear in the back of the trucks was Tappy’s beloved 1983-model Weber barbecue and we stopped off at Port Meat Store butchers to buy some chicken wings, chicken legs and some the next pork day. butt for Chris to work his magic on

We turned off the A1 towards Balickera and wound our way through the bumpy back roads to East Gresford Showground and the Mud Run. Gresford is out of the way, to say the least. It isn’t the kind of place you’d be likely to stumble across by accident!

We arrived to find Damien Kemp and Stephen Biggs already there with Kempy’s Mercury off the trailer, scrutineered and ready to cut some laps. Show co-organiser Tony Webb greeted us at the gate on a quad bike and showed us to our camping area on the other side of the show ring. Not only that, but he organised for an enormous pile of firewood to be dropped off for us. How’s that for service?

Friday was the calm before the storm, but there were plenty of cars, bikes and people. With the wind picking up, we decided to set up camp, pitching our swags and tents on the rock-hard dirt of a cattle yard. By the time we had bent half our tent pegs and were finished, scrutineering was closed, so we piled into the Mercury for our first muddy lap of the ring. Friday is essentially a test and tune day.

AT THE END OF THE DAY THE JALOPIES GET TO ALL RUN TOGETHER – CUE PIROUETTES GALORE

“On Friday morning, the little kids are oin out on heare arena naon nth their rpe pee-wees sto oha have veago the mud, then the older kids can have a go driving on hetra track,” Mud udRun uncoco-organiser rJo Joal alBut Butcher explained. “After lunch, the adults are let loose.”

Tear-arsing gsi sideways nth theMe Merc rcwas asgre great but the track was soon closed for the night and we headed back to camp. Leah built one hell of a fire and Chris stoked up the Weber to cook the chicken. Mates dropped by to chew the fat, but by the time we’d had dinner, my head was pounding – presumably from the mix of stress, lack of sleep and booze-induced dehydration.

I sought the refuge of my tent and slept like a dead man.

The day dawned bright and I was feeling 100per cent better. Damo and Biggsy cooked up breakfast and Tappy prepared his pork for the eight hours it needed in the barbecue. We then nipped out to scrutineer the trucks and procure our race licences from Soup Campbell. Joal took everyone through the driver’s briefing and we brought the trucks around to the line.

The racing was divided into orderly flathead jalopies (mostly four-banger or V8-powered throwbacks), gassers, ‘big’ cars, and bikes, which were run in that order. The track is wet down at the start of each session before the jalopies go out. “If it is too dry, the jalopies just tip over,” said Joal.

For the most part, racing is done with one vehicle on the track at a time and you get three laps before you are waved off. The bikes all ‘race’ together in hilarious chaos, and at the end of the day the jalopies get to all run together – cue pirouettes galore.

The beauty tyof the esy system isth that once your rcla fth has run, you line up again and then you can walk away for the best part of an hour to spectate, check out the other cars, or whatever else you fancy. For me, that meant I could race and then get busy with the notepad. Brilliant! Don’t think you can get on the piss in between rounds, though, as there is an RBT marshal on duty for the duration.

With the racing done for the time ocr crack kso some beers rswhi while eChr Chris isrem removed edhis pork from the barbecue and pulled it ready for the feast. If you aren’t lucky enough to have master chefs your rca camp, there ear are aco couple leof excellent ea sin food trucks on site and a good pub in town.

After tea came the presentations. Mick Heawood took out Best Mudcar in his twin-turbo Studebaker pick-up. Best Two-Wheel Terror was awarded to John Lodge and Sam Allan and their mental postie-bike sidecar outfit, while Sharna Jean, who piloted two- and four-wheel vehicles all weekend long, took out Muddiest Female. Ed Radclyffe ean and dJo Joel Bliss ssrec received dth the eDr Drive eYa YaShi award for their muddy derring-do all weekend.

The awards were followed by a performance by the Mud Run house band, The Flattrakkers, who played a heroically long set at the urging of the crowd – only stopping when the singer’s voice finally gave out. Shenanigans ensued from there, including one bloke’s ill-advised midnight swim in the river, with disaster only averted by the culprit being dragged out of the water by his mates and off to the showers to keep the hypothermia at bay.

WINNERS

-MUDDIEST FEMALE- SHARNA JEAN

-BEST MUDCAR- MICK HEAWOOD, STUDEBAKER

-TWO-WHEEL TERROR- JOHN LODGE & SAM ALLAN

-DRIVE YA SHIT- ED RADCLYFFE & JOEL BLISS

After a sleep-in, we broke camp and said our goodbyes. It blew me away how neat and tidy the whole joint was at the end of the weekend. Compared to many other events we’ve been to, Mud Run attendees really looked after the venue. Joal was quick to heap praise on the volunteers who kept the joint running smoothly.

TRUCKY WAS BATTLING ELECTRICAL GREMLINS AND HAD LOST THE USE OF HIS WIPERS AND OTHER COMFORTS. THANKFULLY HE STILL HAD LIGHTS!

SUPER NOVA

KEVIN Crawley and his son Trent built up this 66 Nova for last year’ Mud Run. “We came last year with a small-block Chev in it,” said Kev. “I had a cam in it that I had in an HK drag car raced back in the Castlereagh days. just wanted to hear it again! But it chewed some lobes off, so Trent convinced me to do an LS2 swap.” And the rest of the car? “The front end is out of a 49 Freightliner, with Rod-Tech disc brakes. It handles surprisingly well!” Interesting side note – after the HK, Kevin raced Wild Bunch in the ex-Superformance 55 Chev.

“We’ve got four crews – bins, dunnies, track and gate,” he said. “They are all volunteers and they’re all amazing. We’re onto a really good thing here venue and is a we big want part to of keep that.” it, and looking after the

Our convoy consisted of the two trucks and Damo’s tow vehicle with the Mercury on the back. Behind that was an empty car trailer, which made me think that maybe – just maybe – we might find something for sale on the side of the road that I my could wounded take home EJ. to distract me from the reality of

We headed back to Victoria the inland way, bunking down in a motel in Cowra for the night, warmed by the glow of tequila and electric blankets. In the morning, the trucks were covered in frost, but they started right up. Trucky, however, was battling electrical gremlins and had lost the use he still of his had wipers lights! and other comforts. Thankfully

We stopped at a small town on the Murray River to check out a wrecking yard that Leon had visited years before. The yard was still there, though Rex, the owner, said he’s just about retired. Rex has a fascinating collection of stuff, from horse buggies and steam engines through to Model A Fords and on to classic Holdens, Falcons and Valiants. There were no EJs, but we did find a likely looking FB ute. Like Leon’s trucks, pretty the FB straight. had plenty of patina, but the panels were

“This would be a good thing,” Leon told me. “The expensive part of building cars is panel and paint. You could get a car like this, fix the rust and put your running gear, trim and glass in it. Or go nuts and put a VL turbo driveline in it.”

It turned out that the ute belonged to Rex’s brother-in-law, so that plan was out, but Leon did get me thinking. Even if we can’t fix my EJ, maybe I can build a new car that retains elements of the old one? It may not be a bad compromise.

We stayed chatting with Rex too long and nightfall was approaching fast, so we abandoned the backroads and headed for the highway. By 9pm, we were home. I was glad to be back, and, while the sight of my empty garage felt like a kick year’s the guts, Mud Run the desire is burning to build brightly. a gasser s for next

I rationalised my camping gear, walked the dog, and called an Uber. Two flights and five hours later, Chris and company collected me from Port Macquarie airport. I wasn’t in great shape, but being surrounded by good mates was great therapy and we hit the road south.