AUSSIE STORMERS

NINE AUSSIE TEAMS TAKE ON HOT ROD DRAG WEEK – AND A HURRICANE – AND COME AWAY WITH THEIR BEST RESULTS YET

STORY POVI PULLINEN PHOTOS POVI PULLINEN & LUKE NIEUWHOF

IT’S America’s biggest automotive torture test: Hot Rod Drag Week. With 400 entries for this year’s event sold out in six minutes, there’s no disputing its allure, but while it may be popular, Drag Week is hardly a carefree cruise. Five days of racing, 1000 road miles, and whatever else the racing gods may throw your way see to that.

This year, the weather forecast told us we’d have a hurricane bearing down on us – just to make things more interesting. Foreboding tales of Hurricane Florence were pouring from every news channel and radio station in the south-east, and since the route this year would take us from Georgia, through the Carolinas, to Tennessee and back, it would be a game of cat-and-mouse with a potential Category 3 hurricane.

A total of nine Aussie teams were breaking beams this year, with two others out before the event began due to unfortunate US customs hang-ups. Seasoned Drag Weekers John Faraone, Mark Arblaster, Harry Haig, Richie Crampton and Brian Jensen were all back for business, joined by both Jamie Farmer and fatherand-son team Ross and Brenton Gault driving different cars this time ’round. The Skid Factory crew of Ben, Alan and Woody were newcomers this year, alongside Robby Abbott piloting his own car for the first time.

Hot and sticky weather, hurricane warnings, a bunch of fast Aussies, and five straight days of tooth-and-nail racing? Let’s go.

THE ROUTE WOULD TAKE US ON A GAME OF CAT-AND-MOUSE WITH A POTENTIAL CATEGORY 3 HURRICANE

NO place does ‘muggy’ quite like the Deep South, and Georgia certainly turned it on, with 70-90 per cent humidity and temps flitting around the mid-30s. Still, that didn’t deter the 375 confirmed entrants who fronted for Day One of Drag Week at Atlanta Dragway. While you wouldn’t expect many to run a PB given the temps, it was a solid day of racing in Hot-lanta, where competitors tried to get in their groove for the week-long onslaught.

John Faraone’s VH Charger came out swinging to start. After spinning the tyres on an 8.21@190mph, John rolled back through the staging lanes to clock an impressive 7.55@195mph before hitting the road.

A fair few of the Aussies opted for a oneand-done day, given the combination of heat, threatening rain and the 250-odd mile drive to the next track. Mark Arblaster struggled to get on boost in his VG Valiant hardtop, but was happy enough with a 9.82@147mph. Similarly, the Skid Factory turbo-powered Cresta of Ben, Alan and Woody punched out a 9.80@145mph before skipping town.

Before the day kicked off, Richie Crampton and Jonnie Lindberg decided to pull their monster ’57 Chev wagon from official competition, instead opting to run alongside the event for shakedown passes. They recently dropped a 521ci Noonan billet Hemi kitted with a Top Alcohol supercharger and hat into the patinaclad wagon, and Richie reckoned it was just not ready for the full gruelling five days – not to mention his NHRA Top Fuel obligations would cut his week short regardless. With Jonnie manning the beast, they popped off a no-sweat 8.39 at just 134mph.

After swinging spanners with the crew, Harry Haig had the Aussie Chevelle back for its third year on Drag Week. Managing only one pass, and a bit all over the place, he ran an 8.89@146mph with a couple of damaged wastegate diaphragms.

Brian Jensen ripped a killer skid in his LX Torana hatch before trapping a wheelspinning 10.94@136mph, while Ross and Brenton Gault ran 11.54@116mph on the first pass of their freshly built ’55 Chevy.

After Jamie Farmer’s ‘Dirty Bird’ Falcon got caught up in the Charleston docks, he decided to run the week in a newly purchased Fox-body Mustang. Jamie, Kev Morton and crew had a hard slog on registration day to get the Mustang in one piece in time for Day One racing, but in the end managed to fire off a 12.09@104mph.

Robby Abbott and Dan Nissen also had a big lead-up to the event, dropping a borrowed 396-cuber into Dan’s old ‘Week Wagon’ ’83 Malibu, now co-owned by Robby and Harry Haig. Robby built and shipped an 800hp bigblock over initially, but was also caught up with shipping woes. After fixing a few niggling issues in the morning, Robby went 14.08@95mph before hitting the road.

An afternoon storm rolled through quite aggressively and pretty much put paid to the rest of the day’s racing, denying many a chance to better their times.

Armed with route maps, the huge field – some running slick tyres – braved puddles and washoffs en route to Darlington Dragway in South Carolina for Day Two.

AN AFTERNOON STORM ROLLED THROUGH QUITE AGGRESSIVELY, DENYING MANY A CHANCE TO BETTER THEIR TIMES

THE MECHANICAL FUEL PUMP IN ROBBY ABBOTT’ S MALIBU GAVE UP THE GHOST RIGHT AT THE BURNOUT BOX

AFTER some slippery interstate travelling, concerns about Hurricane Florence had ramped up and the decision was made by event organisers to scrap the road section for Day Two in order to keep the field moving away from the hurricane’s path. But despite the storm being on everyone’s lips, a full day of solid racing buzzed through Darlington Dragway. We still had a full field of Aussies, although Richie Crampton opted to skip Darlington – no need to chance hurricane conditions voluntarily!

Harry Haig had a slight scare on the way from Georgia after he hit a concealed pothole and bent the Chevelle’s front wheel. With the help of some locals, they managed to get it trued and the tyre remounted before finally reaching Darlington. He managed to run an 8.80@156mph on Day Two.

John Faraone had tried to stick out the rainy route with his slicks on, but in the end went for the far safer option of swapping to road tyres 50 miles into the drive. That process took a few hours, since he had to drop the rear coil-overs and anti-roll bar to get clearance under the Charger. Having to fit the racing rubber back on the following morning meant he missed the cooler temps of the first session, but he came through in the afternoon with a clean 7.66@185mph to maintain his third position in the Unlimited class.

Ben Neal in the Cresta hit the track superearly to try and avoid the heat and humidity affecting his turbo Barra. It was looking much closer to form with a 9.29@146mph, and Benny reckoned the near-four-hour drive from Commerce was easy in the old Toyota.

After a similarly cruisy drive, Mark Arblaster ran into a few issues with his VG Val on Day Two, thrashing to fix an electrical problem with the thermo fan in the staging lanes, then having the engine protection mode kick in halfway down the track. After sensing low oil pressure, the system cut the engine and Arby cruised into a 9.79@112mph despite having looked very solid off the mark.

Both Brian Jensen and Jamie Farmer managed to get through the day with no issues before getting out of Dodge amidst the weather concerns – Brian with a much healthier 9.68@139mph and Jamie with a no-drama 12.28@109mph.

The father-son Gault duo were having problems with their alternator and managed to fry a starter motor on the road section, but son Brenton ripped an improved 10.96@123mph at Darlington before hitting the road early.

Robby Abbott’s Week Wagon had no chance of leaving early after an eventful night due to a lost fanbelt; they were stranded ’til morning with no spares or parts shops open. The team’s woes continued when the mechanical fuel pump gave up the ghost right at the burnout box in the arvo session. Thrashing to diagnose and remedy the problem before the organisers called stumps for the day, they managed to splash some fuel into the carby, get the car onto the line and Robby bumped it through to break the beams for a default 20-second timeslip to stay in competition.

With no road section for Day Two, it was the first time in Drag Week’s 14-year history that everyone had a straightforward drive. Most got to North Carolina early enough to fix issues in daylight, and undoubtedly cracked open a few tins before an early night’s sleep.

DAY THREE: ZMAX DRAGWAY, NORTH CAROLINA

WITH the continual threat of Florence looming, everyone was keen to get to the track early, get their passes in and hit the road. Racers flooded into zMAX Dragway in Concord, North Carolina but were held up by lingering fog and misting rain, halting any early-morning rush hour. Despite zMAX being a four-lane engineering marvel of a facility, it was set up for two-lane racing for Drag Week competitors.

Ben and the Cresta were early to the line again, keen to capitalise on the cooler air. After several hours sitting in the staging lanes on Day One, the boys’ aim was to hit the track early each day. It paid dividends with an Americansoil PB of 9.26@147mph; by week’s end the crew would be chasing eights.

Jamie Farmer in the Fox-body Mustang improved on the previous day, running a 12.20@111mph.

Brian Jensen was successful in turning it up a notch too, putting down a 9.61@140mph in the Torana, which brought him up to fourth place in the Street Race Big-Block N/A class, where he’s traditionally been a topend contender.

JAMIE FARMER IN THE FOX-BODY MUSTANG IMPROVED ON THE PREVIOUS DAY, RUNNING A 12.20@111MPH

Harry Haig’s Chevelle seemed to be wandering across the lane and having a few issues, only managing a best of 9.08@156mph after three runs. But a slower timeslip didn’t hurt them too badly for the halfway point, as Harry and the boys found themselves in third place in Street Race Big-Block Power Adder.

Arby also experienced a few problems with his VG and took a hit to the ET average, mustering a best of 11.61@109mph after smoking the tyres badly. Rather than try again and chance weather issues, he took it on the chin and hit the road west.

John Faraone had a scare in his first pass when the Charger wouldn’t start just as he rolled towards the burnout box. Managing to identify a broken rotor button after a few minutes of scrambling, John fired off a haphazard run before lining up again to try and coax more out of the all-steel VH. A 7.70@187mph solidified his third-place spot in Unlimited and seventh overall at the halfway point.

The Gaults were looking to improve with their baby-blue shoebox Chev, but lifting the floats to richen up the fuel-air mix proved detrimental to their timeslip, running an 11.09@123mph while leaving a trail of black smoke.

Robby Abbott managed to re-diagnose yesterday’s fuel delivery woes and felt more confident in giving the Malibu wagon the berries. A 13.88@98mph was his best so far, but Robby knew there was more in it, and was looking to improve his shifting strategy to eke out a few more tenths.

The stop at zMAX would be the final day for Richie and Jonnie in the ’57 wagon, given their obligations at upcoming NHRA race events. Some fettling with the blower’s overdrive and a first-gear swap in the Lenco saw the car belt out a 7.12@207mph on its second-ever pass. Before hanging the gloves up for the week, Jonnie returned for an extra hit and wowed the crowds with a screaming 6.98@207mph – an encouraging sign for the team and a worrisome one for Drag Week’s regular big guns.

Given the hurricane threat, there was only one mandatory stop for the road section; then it was free reign to skip out from under Florence’s path and head towards Thunder Valley, nestled in a lush valley in Bristol, Tennessee.

JOHN FARAONE’ S AVERAGE OF 7.76 LOOKED GOOD TO TAKE THIRD PLACE IN UNLIMITED – IF HE COULD MAKE IT BACK TO ATLANTA IN ONE PIECE

DAY FOUR: THUNDER VALLEY, TENNESSEE

DESPITE being picturesque, the Thunder Valley track’s higher elevation kept competitors on their toes for the penultimate day’s racing. Right out of the gate, Ben Neal and Mark Arblaster went head-to-head in what looked like an evenly matched bout. The Cresta got the holeshot, and while Arby looked to be running him down, a huge fireball blasted out from the bottom of the Valiant – not a good sign. The 5.3-litre LS had lunched a head gasket and done a fair bit of damage to the block in the process, putting an end to Arby’s week just a day short of the finish line. Ben had managed to run a 9.73@142mph, and that would be his best of the day.

John Faraone was maintaining a seriously impressive average ET, despite a few hiccups and several fried rotor buttons along the way. Thunder Valley was no different, and with a solid 7.78@183mph, his average of 7.76 looked good to take third place in Unlimited – if he could make it back to Atlanta in one piece.

The Chevelle had been going through the wars lately too, and after damaged front shocks hurt the car’s ability to leave the line how Harry intended, a quick trip to a local parts store yielded new shocks and some fresh 315 radials for the orange monster. An 8.97@156mph cemented Harry’s third place in his class, with the potential to possibly jump to second on the final day if he could run the right big number.

Robby Abbott ran only one pass at Thunder Valley in order to survive the week rather than fall short, managing a slower 14.16@96mph – perhaps due to the elevation – but otherwise had a trouble-free day. Also in the one-and-done crew, Brenton Gault ran an 11.26@121mph while still a little rich on the tune and Brian in the LX hatch kept a good grip on third in his class with a 9.83@136mph.

Jamie and the Fox-body crew spent a few hours overnight replacing a rattly roller lifter, ensuring the mill stayed in one piece for a 12.62@109mph at Bristol.

Outside the Australian camps, the battle for top spot was seriously heating up leading into the final day. Tom Bailey and his ’69 Camaro had a nice gap coming into Day Four, with Bryant Goldstone’s twin-turbo AMC Javelin and Dave Schroeder’s nitrous Corvette nipping at his heels. Bailey and his mechanic Steve Morris had replaced a hurt piston overnight, and despite running sixes at every other track were only able to bust out a 7.46 at Bristol, their lead over Bryant tightening to only one tenth of a second. Schroeder was a mere fourhundredths back from that by stumps, too.

With the Drag Week rodeo finally pointed away from Hurricane Florence, a mandatory 209-mile road section with two checkpoints would test the remaining strength and endurance of both drivers and vehicles on the road back to Hot-lanta for the last day.

DAY FIVE: ATLANTA DRAGWAY, GEORGIA

IT WAS trails of exhaust and exhaustion pulling into Atlanta Dragway for the final day of racing. With temps expected to be in the mid-30s, it would be a race to soak up as much of the cooler air as possible to scratch those last few fractions out of ETs, while keeping cars together to actually finish the torture test.

Ben Neal and the Skid Factory crew were the first Aussies to get ’er done; from three solid passes, a 9.41@146mph best gave Benny a mid-nine average for the week. They’d barely had to swing spanners on the turbo Barrapowered Cresta all week; it was an outstanding result for the crew.

Jamie Farmer changed the nitrous plate before giving it a few hits and he finally made it into the 11s with an 11.63@109mph. He’ll be shipping the car back to Oz with the intention of stuffing a twin-turbo Coyote in the Fox-body.

Robby Abbott first made sure to square the ledger with a 14.60@80mph, but then decided to give it one last hit for a 13.79@99.8mph for a nice finish to his week with the Malibu. A good result considering it was a last-minute build with a borrowed engine.

Ross and Brenton Gault were keen to dip back into the 10s on the final day, but after trapping an 11.72@115mph to be safe, a harder pass only mustered an 11.39@116mph out of the 540-cube big-block.

Brian Jensen came through the traps at a best of 9.78@137mph to seal the deal on third place in Super Street Big-Block N/A – his third gong in his class with the white LX Torana.

ROSS AND BRENTON GAULT WERE KEEN TO DIP BACK INTO THE 10S, BUT ONLY MUSTERED AN 11.39@116MPH

Already sitting third in class, Harry Haig and the Chevelle boys were looking to grab second place. An initial pass of 8.92@155mph looked like it had a chance, but rather than play it safe Harry went out and in the blistering heat stomped out an 8.72@156mph. This bumped them up into second place in the Super Street Big-Block Power Adder class, and with the elation on the blokes’ faces you could’ve sworn they’d just won the entire event. Never ones to give up, Harry and the boys had worked hard on the car since it was dragged out of a field in 2015, and a second-place result was very well deserved.

Another competitor to walk away from 2018 Drag Week with a deserved accolade was John Faraone. After getting sick of breaking rotor buttons, John turfed the MSD 10 in exchange for a spare MSD 8, and a first pass of 8.28@149mph was enough to give him a seven-second average. Diagnosing a cracked cylinder head might’ve put an end to his effort, but with the determination to run a seven at each track and with the likelihood of a trophy in the Unlimited class, John drained the water out of the engine and managed a 7.93@183mph, which was sure enough able to secure third place in the toughest class of Drag Week. Congrats mate!

For top spot on the final day, the intense competition between Tom Bailey, Bryant Goldstone and Dave Schroeder remained. Goldstone in the Javelin was unfortunately running on seven cylinders and could only muster a 7.41@192mph, which wouldn’t be enough to keep the pressure on the others. Schroeder’s Corvette came out next but got squirrely halfway down the track; Dave had to pedal it to a 6.98@201mph, which nonetheless put him ahead of Goldstone. Only two runs later, Bailey’s ’69 Camaro smoked through the burnout box before flexing a 6.76@214mph, keeping him in line for the crown.

Schroeder and Bailey lined up side-by-side late in the day for what would be the ultimate showdown. At the fall of the tree, Schroeder’s Corvette smoked the tyres, and with a cunning reaction, Bailey didn’t even break the beams – he didn’t need to. A thrilling end crowned Tom Bailey’s Camaro once again America’s Fastest Street Car.

For the Australian contingent, it was the most successful Drag Week ever. Tinware was awarded to Brian Jensen, Harry Haig and John Faraone, and with all but one official Aussie team finishing after a humid, gruelling week of racing, the boys from Oz had earned as themselves tough racers. a thirst-quencher s and a reputation as tough racers.