AFTER one of the wettest and windiest West Aussie winters I can remember, I was more than happy to jump on a plane and head north to Darwin for a few 32-degree days and a touch of humidity. The reason? To check out the happenings at The Shed Company Gazzanats, a jam-packed one-day event held at Hidden Valley Raceway.
What a great venue for an event like this! Not far from the airport and just a 15-minute drive back into town, the track itself is a cracker, with a 1.1km straight and a good mix of corners, all completely visible from the viewing platform above the pits. The burnout pad is pretty tight – especially when you’re used to the expanse of the Snakepit at the Perth Motorplex – but that didn’t deter any of the competitors when it came time to tip it in! The car park area behind the pits was perfect for the show ’n’ shine, and beyond that was a skidpan where the drift display ran non-stop.
Apart from the sunny weather, the other great thing about visiting Darwin – or the NT as a whole – is the laidback atmosphere, where everyone is happy and smiling and having a great time. I admit, we may have sampled a bit too much of that laidback vibe on Friday night and paid for it on Saturday morning, but the beers were cold and the music was great, so what’s a bloke to do?
The smell of methanol and the sound of blown and injected engines warming up soon woke us up, and the action was coming on thick and fast right from the start at Gazzanats, with the go-to-whoa taking place on the main straight. While there were a handful of Skylines in attendance, the cream eventually rose to the top and Eddy Furlan in his 1931 Ford Model A coupe took the gold – on crossply tyres no less!
Hidden Valley is also perfect for running a superskid competition. That aforementioned 1.1km straight means there’s no problems with people running out of road. The skill lies in keeping the car in a straight line while blazing the tyres at ever-increasing speeds – with concrete walls on both sides of you. Proving that he’s not just a pretty face, Barry Hall – yes, he of AFL fame – took the win in a car he’d never driven before! He was invited by the Castlemaine Rod Shop guys to drive BLOWNHJ, an HJ ute that they’ve fitted with one of their tube front-ends and massive Wilwood brakes, powered with a blown and carbed 6.2-litre LS built by BNR Engines making almost 1000hp on methanol. He also tackled the burnout competition, something he’d never done before, putting on a pretty good show for a first time out but getting stuck a couple of times due to very little wind and a hell of a lot of smoke. “I was just happy to give the car back in one piece!” said Barry.
The great thing about visiting another city is that you get to see a whole bunch of cars you’ve never seen before, and there were a few that stood out for me over the course of the event. For a high-quality cruiser, it was tough to walk past Mark O’Callaghan’s ’69 Mustang fastback. A beautifully built car with a few modern updates, including a full coil-over suspension, air con, power steering and 18-inch Magnum 500s. Powering it was some good old-fashioned Ford muscle in the form of a 432ci Windsor, but it was also dragged into the 21st century with a FiTech EFI system. With almost 600hp on tap and a TKO600 five-speed, it’s the perfect car to soak up the miles.
In complete contrast to Mark’s Mustang was Matthew Berry’s Toyota Starlet, but before you start sending abusive emails about why SM is talking about small Japanese cars, hear me out – this isn’t your usual Japanese appliance. For a start, the car’s got eight cylinders, it’s just that they’re kind of spread evenly around the car. There are four up front in the usual place, then another four mounted behind the rear seat. Oh, did I mention the turbos? Each engine also has a GTX 28/67 turbo attached to it, and on E85 each mill makes 300hp. So, just in case you don’t have your calculator handy, that’s 600hp, all-wheel drive in a package that weighs around 1100kg. Absolutely stark raving mad – but brilliant at the same time. A lot of thought – and trial and error – went into making the car work, and when I say work, I mean not spit Matt off the road every time he sinks the boot in. The car has already run 10.50s with just 420hp, so it should be in the single digits very soon.
There was plenty of other tough stuff running around all day, with a strong West Aussie crew including Paul Settatree in HWY2HELL, Matt Hughes in MON5TA and eventual burnout winner and show ’n’ go champion, Sam Lord in BADHABIT. The Rod Shop boys helped Gazzanats head honchos Gary and Deby Myers out after a few late withdrawals and brought up three cars: the previously mentioned ute, the bare-metal REAL DEAL GTR Torana, and the WARBIRD XP Falcon. The little Torry was a big hit all weekend, smashing plenty of tyres and taking a bunch of people for hot laps with the Rod Shop’s Heath Waddington at the wheel. Unfortunately for his brother Marc, the Falcon rejected the big-block Chev early Saturday morning while being warmed up: “We noticed that number eight didn’t have any temperature in it. It turned out to be a couple of broken pushrods, Marc explained. “Luckily they fell down into the valley, so hopefully there isn’t too much damage.
2: There was a pretty heavy West Aussie presence at Gazzanats, with Paul Settatree in HWY2HELL and Matt Hughes in MON5TA both taking home prize money in their respective burnout classes. They did a ton of cruising and smashed plenty of tyres throughout the day
It was a real shame, because the car performed flawlessly at its last outing and it would have been great to see it out on the track. If you ever needed an excuse to visit Darwin, or the NT in general, then Gazzanats offers the perfect opportunity to get away and enjoy some sun and the Top End’s laidback lifestyle. There’s plenty to see and do, a wealth of history and culture to absorb and a thousand other places of interest you could visit with the whole family.