Nostalgia drags in record cars
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Drag racing nitro nostalgia means there isn't a dry eye in the house. At least not for the crowds surrounding the pit tents on a misty morning last Saturday at Meremere Dragway as the sinus-searing nitro-methane engines were warmed up in preparation for the annual Bay Rodders' Nostalgia Drags.
With a three-car Cowin Family Racing effort shipped from Australia, and Kentucky-based Ron Hope with his Rat Trap altered making a second Kiwi appearance -- plus a trio Kiwi nitro cars -- it was the largest gathering of "fuel" burning drag cars seen in New Zealand.
The 3000-horsepower short-wheelbase cars didn't disappoint, with a mix of fast times and concrete-scraping wild rides during the Aeroflow World Fuel Altered Challenge.
On a cool morning track, the times were slow and Justin Walshe in Graeme Cowin's "Pyscho" T-Bucket skimmed the left-hand wall but sustained remarkably little damage.
By the early afternoon, Sydney-based Kiwi Morice McMillin, driving the Fiat Topolino-bodied Spooky, was setting the pace with a strong second round 6.206secs pass at 216.41mph and Australian Rick Gauci also got hold of the track in the Austin Bantam-bodied Berzerk but had the 'chutes out early on a 6.301s/206.35mph run.
The final matched McMillin and Gauci in the Australian cars. "Spooky" unloaded its left rear tyre just before half track, got sideways and tagged the wall.
"I thought she was going in head-on for a moment but it got straightened up," said McMillin.
The impact took the left front wheel off the car while, in the other lane, Gauci was already powering ahead and delivered the best pass of the meeting at 6.149s/236.84mph.
For Hope, there was the satisfaction of adding New Zealand to a list already comprising the US, Canada, England and Germany where "Rat Trap" has clocked a 200mph pass. The veteran US racer was proudly wearing his 200mph Club red hat at the end of the day.
Tauranga's Karen Hay notched up another personal best with a 222mph pass in the Evil II turbocharged roadster. Picture / Colin Smith
The most significant slice of Kiwi nostalgia last weekend was the long-awaited return of "Hombre", the Fiat Topolino altered built and campaigned through the mid-70s by Pete Lodge.
Hawera's Grant Stables bought the car in 2011 and has worked with the Lodge family to complete an authentic restoration to its mid-70s configuration. The iconic car has been returned to its original short-wheelbase form -- with period Amco Jeans livery and a steel-block 392 blown Hemi V8 -- and was piloted by Shane Lodge who made three observation runs.
The Bay Rodders' Nostalgia Drags has evolved into the Kiwi quarter-mile equivalent to the Tasman Revival Formula 5000 series for 1970s single seater racing cars -- and what the Otago Rally represents to classic rally fans.
The spectacle extends from the unpredictable 3000-horsepower fuel altereds and front-engine dragsters to 80-year-old four-cylinder street cars running the quarter-mile at a sedate 20secs.
Among the fast cars in action on Saturday was the Top Alcohol front-engine dragster of Bryan Norman who made the trip from Alexandra. His self-built racer is now running low-6secs passes and is being developed with the potential of dipping into the fives.
Tauranga's Karen Hay driving the Evil II twin turbo '27 T-Roadster roadster nudged up her personal best top-end speed to 222mph on a 6.34secs run and another highlight was the return of the twin-engine small block Chev powered "Freight Train" dragster campaigned by Aucklanders Ken Hopper and Mark Vincent. Last seen at the Nostalgia Drags three years ago, when one of its engines suffered some damage, "Freight Train" was quickly back into its screaming 16-cylinder mid-6secs routine with Vincent behind the wheel.
A strong field in Competition eliminator saw Hay become the fastest qualifier, however the final was decided in the evening with Rotorua's Fabian Goldbert in his 1970 Chevrolet El Camino edging out the Fiat Topolino altered of Auckland's Steve Milliken.