1: Andrew Haintz’ HT Holden Kingswood wagon may not look too wild, but it’ a super-cool cruiser that I’ love to have in my shed. While it looks stock, there’ an injected 5.0L and TH700 combo under the bonnet. For last year’ RCN, Andrew and family drove the car down from Darwin and added some sightseeing into the mix too. For 2018, the car copped a bunch of upgrades, including an Active twin-throttlebody intake
2: Yuri Kardashyan took out the motorkhana for the second year in a row in his 1998 Mazda MX-5, while his fellow Central Australian Rally Sport Club member Chris McCormack won the Driver’ Champion gong in his 97 Subaru WRX
3: Craig Morrow’ stunning VH cleaned up in the Street awards, picking up Top Engine Bay, Top Bodywork and Top Engineered
4: Matt Lampard was at the very first Red CentreNATS in 2015. Back then, his HZ Kingswood was running a basic aspirated combo, but these days she is packing a whole lot more. The twin-turbo 427-cube LSX combo performed exceptionally at Red CentreNATS. Not only was the HZ the Dyno Cell Champion with 1355hp at the hubs, but it was also the quickest car down the slippery ASID quarter-mile, running a flat 9sec pass at 158mph
BEFORE the first Red CentreNATS was held in Alice Springs in 2015, the idea of having a major car show in the middle of Australia was preposterous. Who in their right mind would drive or tow their car all that way? Turns out, plenty people – including me! In fact, this year’s event pulled 802 entrants from all corners of the country and more than 15,000 spectators. That first year I drove out in the EJ in the company of a bunch of mates in much faster cars than mine. Then in 2016 I flew there and realised that at least half the fun of Red CentreNATS is in the drive.
Scott Taylor and I towed the just-barely finished MX5.7 last year, but wouldn’t classify that trip as a pleasure cruise. Even before we left, we were stuffed from weeks of thrashing on the little Miata. We ended up leaving late and drove 28 hours straight through, with just an hour’s sleep at the side of the round.
We made it to Alice unscathed, but the plentiful wildlife that frequents our nation’s outback highways at night made it a dangerous game Russian roulette. One our mates had of of his car destroyed by a cow on the way home last year, and since my EJ got pranged (see Telfo, SM, Sep ’18) I’ve become a little more risk-averse. Consequently, I was determined to restrict my trip to Alice to daylight hours.
This time, was doing the journey solo. Scotty was needed at home – and was scheduled to fly out to Hot Rod Drag Week just days after Red CentreNATS. Even in a brand-new Ford Ranger, the 2300km trip from Melbourne to Alice is a long haul, and without night driving it is a three-day trip.
Bubba from All Race leant us his car trailer for the occasion, so we grabbed it and got it serviced to make sure it was in tip-top shape.
I also went through our straps, weeded out the ones that looked suss and replaced them with brand newies for peace of mind.
With that done, I grabbed tools and got everything we might possibly need for the MX5.7 at the track. The car hadn’t been used in anger since Powercruise Tassie and our preparation for Red CentreNATS focussed on adding extra safety gear. Besides a spanner check and a tune on the MPW chassis dyno, we’d done little to improve the set-up of the car besides adding a new set of radials to the rear.
Probably the biggest question mark hanging over the car was the front pulleys, which have a less-than-optimal set-up that means the belts tend to squeal and eventually break. It needs re-engineering to fix, but that wasn’t going to happen, so threw in a spare belt and pulleys and hoped for the best. The last task on the way out of town was to fill up a few fuel containers with E85 – since that is the MX5’s sole diet and they don’t sell it in Alice.
In previous years, we’ve taken the route from Melbourne across to Adelaide and then up to Port Augusta, but this time I decided to head up to Mildura for the first stop of the night, just for something different. This is the shortest leg of the journey, just six hours according to Google Maps. The next leg is a proper haul – 11 hours to the mining town of Coober Pedy.
1: If you’ looking for something different in your burnout cars, check out Justin Bell’ MUTANT VY ute. “I’ ve been a speedway fan for a long time,” said Justin. “When I first skidded the car, I just ran it with an LS motor, but decided to look for something different. I considered a NASCAR motor, then came across the 410 sprintcar motor. It’ dry-sumped, mechanically injected and just awesome.” Justin and his crew finished the conversion just in time to make it to RedCentreNATS, and their dedication paid off with MUTANT scoring a place in the Burnout Masters finals
2: Tim Barby always impresses in his MOJO Austin A50, and he nabbed second place in the Burnout Masters comp
3: Sean Basford knocked out one of his best burnouts ever in his SKIDRAGIN Celica, finishing in fifth spot in the Burnout Masters
1: Another car that made us smile every time we saw it on public roads was Allan Applebee’ Gemini. While the Gem used to run a big-cube rat motor on methanol, Allan has fitted a basic LS mill, hyped up with a single turbo and water-air intercooler on E85. As a result, the Gemini runs hard, requires little maintenance and handled the Alice Springs traffic with ease
2: Here’ a blast from the past! This time-capsule Camaro was owned by Lindsay Hannington, who was art director of Street Machine during the Geoff Paradise era. The 454-powered beast remains in Lindsay-specification under the guardianship of current owner Brett Richardson
3: Russ Mayes is never shy about giving his BURNT1 32 tudor a hiding! They nabbed a spot in the Elite Top 10
4: Adam Rogash gave the MX5.7 an absolute hiding in the motorkhana. He’ possibly the first person to use a transbrake in this type of event and finished within cooee of the fast guys
5: Michael Sapienza’ HQ Monaro scored well in the street judging, taking out Top Interior, Top Paint, Top Coupe and a spot in the Top 10
Coober is well worth a visit as a tourist destination, with its crazy lunar-like landscape and opal mining history. As a stopover, it’s a beaut, with plenty of good tucker to break up the truck-stop feeds, and some outthere accommodation. I stayed in one of the underground motels, which was fun and great value.
The final leg to Alice takes just over seven hours, so I got into town with plenty of time to meet up with the SM team and check out the fine iron rolling through scrutineering at Lasseters Casino. Upon arrival, I discovered there is a killer field of 410 sprintcars in town for the Dance In The Desert meeting at Alice’s Arunga Park Speedway. Local speedway fans tell me that the track is a beauty and I was sorely tempted to check it out. But my eyes were hanging out of my head and we had to be up early for the final day of scrutineering in the morning. Next year for sure!
With the MX5.7 looking much more presentable than last year – and with a bunch of new safety gear in place – I was quietly confident we’d pass scrutineering and nab the coveted temporary licence to drive an unregistered vehicle during the event.
These permits are a pretty big deal, and the NT Motor Vehicle Registry sets up a temporary office at Lasseters to handle the paperwork. There are a number of levels of access for vehicles on these permits – from open access 24 hours a day down to access for the street parade only.
The MX5.7 was one of the wilder cars applying for the scheme, and with our giant turbos poking out of what is left of the bonnet, we copped the second-highest level of restriction: cruising on the limited route during daylight hours only, with a mandatory passenger to assist with driver vision and a mandatory pilot vehicle.
That was okay with us – we had the big advantage of being able to cruise from town, out to Red CentreNATS HQ at Blatherskite Park and then to Alice Springs Inland Dragway under our own steam. While car trailers are handy, it’s much more fun to leave them behind and just drive your race car.
For entrants, Red CentreNATS is one of the best-value shows on the planet. Earlybird entries were just $50 this year and $75 at full whack. That includes entry to whatever events you like, including the drags, burnouts, motorkhana, grass-driving events, dyno, street parade and the show ’n’ shine. We plumped to do everything bar the burnouts and the dyno – and that kept us pretty busy, let me tell ya! With scrutineering done, the remainder of Friday was devoted to covering the burnouts. But despite the late night at the skids, we were up shite and briny to check the tyre pressures in the MX-5 and then head down to ASID.
With Scotty unavailable to pilot the MX5.7 we turned to Adam Rogash and Luke Foley from MPW Performance to handle the driving duties – in between running the Mainline hub dyno. Adam had the first two hits in the car and reckoned that on the unprepared and dusty surface, a low-boost 11-second pass in the MX5.7 was scarier than a seven-second pass in his VK.
The boys nudged the boost up one notch and we got Luke strapped in. Even though the computer reset itself and reverted to the lowest boost setting, the track was improving and Luke smacked out a 10.5-second pass straight off the bat. As the car wasn’t quite teched, ANDRA officials warned us that any further passes under 10.99 would put us out of making full passes for the day. Luke reset the boost and nailed the launch, pulling the front left wheel up in the air. The car planted beautifully and Luke ran it out the back door without a pedal to record a 9.96-second pass at 141mph.
With the addition of an anti-roll bar and on a decent surface, there is no doubt our MX-5 could do a whole lot better, but we were so happy to crack a nine that you’d think we’d have won Drag Week.
Making the (rare for us) mature decision to quit while we were ahead, we packed up ready to participate in the street parade. With over 500 cars cruising on a 14km loop through the Alice Springs CBD, flanked by the MacDonnell Ranges, it was simply spectacular. And doing it in an open-top, wildly illegal race car made it all the sweeter!
The parade was followed by a concert at Blatherskite Park, but we skipped it in favour of getting clean, fed and ready for the last day of action. For the MX-5, that meant taking on the motorkhana with Adam Rogash again behind the wheel. Despite healthy dollops of showmanship, Adam actually ran some respectable times, within reach of the faster guys in cars far more suited to the tight course.
Our last event was the grass motorkhana, with me behind the wheel. I don’t think I set any records, but it was fun to give the MX-5 plenty of curry, without having to worry about being the guy to ventilate the block.
In between all of that, we followed the Grand Champion contenders as they put their cars through their paces in the driving events, and then set up camp back at ASID to watch the burnout finals. After a freezing-cold winter in Melbourne, it was great to be out at the track in T-shirts and shorts, watching burnouts under lights.
1: The hard luck award goes to Paul Buenfeld from Humpty Doo. Paul’ EK Holden wagon had an altercation with a bush turkey who tried to pick a fight with it. The turkey came off second-best, but the EK was left with a nasty ding in the bonnet. Paul wasn’ too worried, and reckons that the bonnet emblem was the deciding factor in the bird-versuscar battle
2: Greg Carlton built this killer FJ Holden van as a street car to match his wild FJ ute. This one is powered by a blown V6. He had a crack at Grand Champion and won Top Custom in the Street judging
The next day, we loaded the MX5.7 back onto the trailer, put the SM crew on a plane and I headed back to Melbourne. It’s a big haul on your own, but enjoy these trips – they give me time to think, rock out to some tunes and dig into some podcasts. And enjoy all the roadhouse steak sandwiches I can manage.
Next year, the plan is for the missus and I to take some holidays and do some tourist stuff after the event. Besides Uluru (which is an overnight detour off the highway on the way home) there are some magical places within easy reach of Alice Springs, including Ormiston Gorge, Ellery Creek Big Hole, the Larapinta Trail and Simpsons Gap. I’ve got a mind to do it in my One Tonner (what could be more Aussie than that?) but it might be a good trip for our Carnage Dodge Phoenix – if not a little thirsty with 440 cubes under the bonnet! Either way, I can’t wait. The event kicks off 30 August 2019 redcentrenats.com.au and runs through until 1 for September; all the info. check s out redcentrenats.com.au for all the info.