We sat on the side of the road at 5am, parked up outside Winton Raceway, watching the around-the-clock bustle of the Hume highway in the distance.
Trucks passed us, as you’d expect out there, but in this part of Victoria the trucks weren’t shifting your stock standard freight, nor were the drivers your ordinary truckies.
On the back of these trucks, were more trucks. Racing slicks, livery and outlandish spoilers gave away the fact these weren’t road-going rigs.
We were at Winton to witness the outrageousness that is Australian Super truck Racing, a motorsport for people who find regular car racing…well… kinda cute.
Now we’d better clear up a few rumours before we get started…walking around the pits we heard murmurs that truck racers could undo wheel nuts with their bare hands. We also spotted a couple of the quicker drivers filling empty Tabasco bottles with diesel, a condiment substitute said to shave a few tenths off your lap time.
It’s unlikely any of this is true - in fact, I can assure you it isn’t - but these guys are certified mad men, in the best possible way.
Super Truck Racing is a blue-collar sport, born out of a few truckie’s desire to go fast, really fast, back in the 1980s.
Back in the early days, you’d drop a trailer, race your truck, hook it back up afterwards and hit the highway.
This all started with working trucks that the crazy buggers would drive to and from the track.
Veteran of the Super Truck Racing game and still a front runner in the series today, Frank Amoroso, tells us he even had a roll cage in his truck, the same one he drove day in day out delivering freight!
It’s come a long way since the early days and Super Truck racing is now recognised worldwide. But nowhere is it as wild as right here in Australia!
To get my head around what this sports all about, I spoke with a couple of the drivers in the pits, all of whom were dead keen to show the ins and outs of the sport.
Legend of the game Frank was first up, I mean after all he had his truck idling in the pits at the time and it was blowing that much smoke he was hard to miss.
"I still get the same buzz today as I did 31 years ago, I can tell you that," he tells us with a smile you could spot from a mile away.
I was interested in getting to the bottom of these so-called truck racer rumours, particularly this wheel nut business.
After tracking down the quickest bloke in the series, Steven Zammit, I got straight to the point and asked him if the whispers were true.
When I asked about the wheel nuts, well, he looked at me blankly and refused to give up any trade secrets.
He did, however, highlight the dangers of truck racing, with speeds down the straight that are up there with the quicker circuit racing series doing the rounds.
"I’ve got three bulging discs in my back from hitting the wall at Oran Park raceway!"
Steven’s father Charlie, another old-time legend in this sport, speaks of the camaraderie, something that Super Truck Racing is well known for.
"People will go and get gearbox parts or whatever, and we’ve got expertise in different fields around the pit area, so if it’s a gearbox and someone knows about that – they’ll step in and fix it," Charlie explains.
These trucks have got some serious gonads; the red Butwell Racing Mack runs 1000kW the little MLC Racing Isuzu puts about 320kW down, and Frank Amoroso’s famous blue Kenworth ‘FATE’ packs a wild 1200kW.
They say smoking kills... well, I don’t quite know if these fellas got the memo. There aren’t many places you can see and hear trucks going flat out without all the rules we’re used to.
It’s all well and good to talk about it, but to see it in person…this sport will literally blow you away.
Steven stepped up to the plate and offered to take me for a few hard laps – mind you, this was shortly after telling me about the bulged discs in his back from hitting a wall in the same truck!
I’ve been in plenty of race cars before, but tightening down a racing harness in a full-size truck definitely gets you thinking about whether that chicken burger might be making an encore appearance.
I don’t know whether it’s the sky-high cab height and driving position when compared to a race car, or just the fact your brain has trouble comprehending how much lateral grip and braking potential these heavily modified machines achieve.
Either way, it’s pretty bloody scary in a "let’s do it again!" kind of way. It all makes sense to me the moment we’re hard on the brakes for Winton Raceway’s first right-hander at the end of the straight. This is just hilariously boisterous rev-head fun - It’s that simple.
The braking points are pretty similar to that of race cars, which it definitely takes a couple of laps to wrap your head and stomach around. It’s also a testament to how much engineering goes into these beasts.
Braking aside, the sheer acceleration of these trucks is also mind-bending – enormous slicks put every last pony down and Jesus you feel it coming out of corners.
Again, you’ve got to keep reminding yourself you’re in a truck because these things are rocket ships.
We had a small off in the second lap, onto the grass, which I was convinced for a split second might be the end of me. Steven expertly steered us back onto the track at pace and was straight back on the go pedal before I could wrap my head around the whole ordeal.
The only proof that it’d actually happened was the grin I could see under his helmet when he looked across at me. I think he either found the near-miss fun or got a kick out of seeing me almost crap myself!
While I was happy to get my land legs back, the rush lasted a day or two – impressive for someone who gets to jump in as many wild machines as I do.
Once the rush had worn off, I got thinking about the more philosophical side of Australian Super Truck Racing. What was really so special about this sport, beyond the trucks themselves?
There are countless racing classes in the world, from Minis to Formula 1, two wheels, four, or in this case six. But none in my humble opinion, regardless of whether they’re faster or louder or sexier, are as awesome as this.
The trucks are one part of it. But, what makes this series so great is the salt-of-the-earth people. The mateship, camaraderie, and constant banter.
It’s a fierce battle on the track, but no matter what happens, when they get back into the pits they’re all mates, and they’ll stay up all night helping change a gearbox, rebuilding an engine, or whatever is needed to get someone back on the start line for the next race.
Modern motor racing, from Supercars to F1, has become incredibly competitive, expensive, and there are more rules than you can poke a stick at.
Super Trucks though, is a reminder of how motorsport used to be, and quite frankly, should be. It’s about getting out there, having fun and testing the limits of what you and your vehicle are capable of. Afterwards, it’s mateship and banter over a stubbie.
Let’s make grassroots motorsport great again – and I think it starts with Australian Super Trucks.