I WANT to pick up where I left off last month and talk about the escalating costs to go Pro Slammer racing and how and where the category can reduce these costs.
A worrying trend over this season has been teams bypassing events because racing has become more expensive. This is especially the case for a lot of guys from Western Australia and Darwin, who would love to race at Sydney Dragway and Willowbank Raceway but canít afford to.
The considerable costs of drag racing are not anything new, of course. Ever since the beginnings of Doorslammer in 1996, the mantra has always been: ĎGo quicker and quicker regardless of the cost.í Technology and better equipment like heads, magnetos and camshaft profiles have been the main reasons behind times getting quicker and speeds going through the roof; the actual engine rules havenít changed much over the years. But all of that costs money. In 1996 I ran a 6.30-second pass to win the Nationals. In 2019 we are running in the 5.60s and 5.70s because teams have a lot more knowledge and experience in putting together a better combination. We also have more sophisticated computers and software packages that can provide an incredible amount of data to teams.
There are also other elements at play. There was a time when you could build a car literally in your own backyard, but today that wonít cut it. You need to go to someone who builds íSlammers or Pro Mods for a living and have the latest chassis tweaks at their fingertips and know their way around carbonfibre and composite materials. So thatís another huge cost.
Another trend that has developed over the past couple of years has been teams paying guys from the US to come over and set their car up for race meetings. Again, that costs big money; youíre probably looking at somewhere between $5000 and $15,000 per event. Then on top of that they will probably bring a crew guy or two with them, and itís often the case that you are locked into buying parts and gear from them as well. They also may be on an incentive program, where if you do well, they get extra dollars. Anecdotally, I have heard of one top-gun US tuner who came to Australia and over the course of a season pocketed around $250,000.
These days thereís around $10,000-$15,000 worth of electronics in almost every car, too. A control EFI package would go a long way to cutting costs in that area. There was a time when you could literally throw some shocks on your car and go racing. Not anymore. These days you need to spend about $40,000 on shocks and control boxes to be competitive.
As you can see, the dollars just keep adding up, and what can happen Ė and often does Ė is that the quicker you go the more likely parts will be damaged or broken. For example, the automatic cars were destroying diffs. So íSlammer racer Steve Ham and Rapisarda Top Fuel driver Wayne Newby put their heads together and built a new diff that includes better gears and an improved engineering set-up.
Most teams that are running US-built cars have $15,000-$18,000 five-speed Liberty transmissions in them. Do you need to spend that amount of money? Well, the answer is yes and no. No one is forcing you to, but if you want to race at the front of the pack thatís the price you will pay. If you run your eye over the entry list at Pro Slammer events you will see that more than half the field are running Americanbuilt cars.
When you talk about reducing or containing costs, you also need to consider safety factors as well. Pulling up a 1225kg Pro Slammer car running 420km/h over 1320 feet is harder than stopping a Top Fuel car weighing 1050kg doing 500km/h over 1000 feet. In the past we were able to stop with just parachutes and brakes.
But these days we have auto shut-off systems, carbonfibre brakes and íchutes that can be deployed automatically. These measures are expensive but necessary when youíre talking about safety; however, everything must work exactly right. As we saw at Sydney Dragway earlier this year, when one part of the package doesnít work the repercussions can be catastrophic. Sam Fenechís íchutes got tangled in the wheelie bar and he went through the safety net.
No one wants to slow the cars down, but the sanctioning bodies and a lot of racers and track managers are becoming increasingly concerned. You canít put more weight on the car; that will only make them more dangerous. You canít take overdrive out or fiddle with supercharger boost, because the way around that is to up the compression and rpm. In the US, alcohol funny cars picked up ET and speed soon after the overdrive was dropped from 125 per cent down to 92 per cent. History shows that when drag racing officials make changes to slow cars down it only takes about six months for teams to work out ways to get around it.
As much as I donít want to mention it, there is an answer: 1000-foot racing. It does work. The IHRA, which governs Pro racing in Australia, has set up a safety committee, which Iím on, and one of the areas that the group will be looking at will be the possibility of 1000-foot racing. When Australian Top Fuel introduced the 1000-foot race distance in November 2017 they took a real hammering. You would have thought the world had come to an end! But go to a Top Fuel meeting today and you canít tell the difference in the race distance. Life does go on.
I very rarely go to a drag event when Iím not actually racing. The last time I was a spectator was at the Super Thunder meeting at Willowbank. As competitors, we too often look at drag racing from a single perspective, so it was good to see the event as a member of the public. Drag racing attracts some of the most dedicated followers in the world of motorsport. I sat in the grandstand and had a great time talking to people who had travelled from all over the country for the event. Unfortunately, as is often the case, Mother Nature intervened and the event got washed out. Crap.
In June weíre off to the Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway Ė the one event people in the American scene know about when theyíre talking about Aussie drag racing. If youíre around, call by the Team Bray Gulf Western pits. Unless Iím working on the car, Iím always happy to have achat.