LAST month I promised to talk about how we can make drag racing and, in particular, Pro Slammer safer. A major step in the right direction was taken in September 2018, when IHRA Australia mandated that an auto shut-off device be installed on all cars in the Pro categories. The use of such devices was originally introduced by the NHRA, along with several other safety initiatives, following the death of Scott Kalitta in 2008. Scott was racing at Old Bridge Township Raceway in New Jersey when his Funny Car blew up near the finish line; it’s believed he was then knocked unconscious and the car ploughed into the wall at the end of the track.
The shut-off device has been refined over the years, and what we are using now in Australia is simple and effective. After crossing the finish line, if the car doesn’t deploy the parachutes or slow down, a sensor on the wall automatically deploys the ’chutes, turns off the fuel pump and shuts down the engine. The infrastructure to make this happen costs each venue about $4000, and for teams it costs around $2500 per car.
Another recent innovation coming out of the NHRA is where the crew chief on the startline can shut down the car at any time if he believes there are any problems or safety issues. He has a small computer and when he pushes a ‘kill’ button, the engine shuts down, the fuel pump is turned off and ’chutes are deployed. However, there have been reports of runs being aborted unnecessarily when triggerhappy crew chiefs have reacted too quickly.
The World Sport Compact Finals in Florida have been run and won. There were several outstanding performances from the Australian contingent. Queenslander Collin Willshire posted a 6.20@225mph – the quickest time ever from a four-cylinder car. Scott Porter clocked a 6.03 in his Nissan 350Z to become the quickest Nissan in the world, while Top Fuel champ Kelly Bettes made it to the final of Old School Modified in the Jett Racing Datsun ute but lost to Hector Mendez.
Col is a household name in the Factory Xtreme ranks here in Australia. He purchased the chassis and 2004 Mitsubishi Eclipse body from American Jerry Bickel around 10 years ago. Since then he has added a carbonfibre body, wheel tubs and brakes and transformed the car into the rocket ship it is today. But it’s in the engine department where Col’s Jett Racing team have really weaved their magic. The car runs a Mitsubishi 4G63 2.0-litre mill producing around 1500kW (2011hp). The team developed the block, heads and crankshaft and use JE pistons and Victory valves. Twin turbochargers, a clutchless five-speed transmission, MoTeC ECU and Penske shocks round out the mods. All up the package tips the scales at around 1030kg – amazing. Gotta hand it to Phil O’Brien from Performance Wholesale, who put it all together. Col’s previous best before Orlando was a 6.26. I think we can expect the five-second barrier to be smashed sooner rather than later.
There’s a healthy rivalry in Sport Compact between the Aussies and the Puerto Rican and Middle Eastern racers, who were there in Orlando vying be the first one to get into the fives. It didn’t happen there, but the Jamboree at Sydney Dragway in March could be the meeting where it does.
Later this year there will be a couple of third-generation Bray kids making their debut in drag racing. Ben has been busy building a couple of Junior Dragsters for his kids, 13-year-old Zachary and nineyear-old Dakota. They’re both keen to go racing and we reckon that Junior Dragster is the best way to get involved. To me and Ben it’s not just about jumping behind the wheel and going racing. There’s a lot more involved – being respectful of officials and your fellow racers, learning the technical and mechanical elements of the sport, and being fair and honest on and off the track. That might sound corny, but these are things I’ve tried to live by throughout my career.
My other two grandchildren, 21-year-old Josh and 19-year-old Jackson, are already involved in the sport, crewing on the Pro Slammer cars. They’ve grown up around the sport and at one stage it looked like they may have wanted to drive. They had the opportunity, but the two of them are enjoying working on the cars and learning the ins and outs of tuning.
My hope is that one day there could be three generations of the Bray family racing against each other in Doorslammer. It’s not on the cards at this stage, but who knows what will happen in the future.
The 2019 NHRA season starts in February with the Winternationals at Pomona Raceway, California. There will be an Aussie presence in Pro Stock, with Shane Tucker set to contest all 18 rounds of the championship. I join with all drag racers in Australia in wishing his team all the best for the season. Shane is a great driver and has the talent to run with the best in the NHRA ranks. The team have been racing in America on a part-time basis for a couple of years without much luck, but that could all change in 2019 after joining up with highly rated engine supplier Nick Ferri. This is shaping up as their best opportunity Good to make luck, their boys. mark s on the American scene.