WELL, this is pretty freakin’ cool. It’s a warm, sunny Saturday morning. It’s my birthday. I’m seated in my just-finished, restored-with-patina ’68 dak-dak that I’ve been spannering on during those long chilly winter evenings, and I’m about to take it for its first real drive. And it gets better: I’m peering through my helmet at two white lights, waiting for the orange lights to drop to green for my first-ever run at the inaugural Taree Airport drags. Alrighty!
This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of Street Machine
The event is organised and hosted by the Mid Coast Drag Racing Association (MCDRA), and the privilege of using the local airport’s handy stretch of bitumen to have some fast fun is the result of a stack of effort and negotiation by the club’s committee.
The task began nearly two years ago, when the club was established and immediately began negotiating to host an event at Taree’s three-flights-per-day-except-Saturday airport. Originally scheduled for July, a last-minute objection to the event postponed it. With those concerns addressed, the 50 available entries filled quickly after the new October date was announced.
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It’s easy to see why: Taree is more than three hours north of Sydney, so a cruise to Sydney Dragway on a Wednesday night for a quick number is impossible for most locals. Gunnedah Airport hosts regular drag meets in the currently devastatingly dusty New England region beyond Tamworth, but for coastal locals that’s a five-hour trek via Newcastle.
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“We’re a new club, so we’ve never put an event on before,” says MCDRA President Nathan Cooper. “We had to think about and plan everything from parking to getting to know the timing system. We needed to get the cars safely down the track, and we wanted everyone to get plenty of runs.
“The event is also a test of the timing system – it hasn’t been used in about 18 years,” Nathan continues. “It’s a hand-me-down from Tamworth Drag Racing Association, which runs the Gunnedah Airport drags. Bill Ausling and the crew from the Tamworth club provided behind-the-scenes advice to us for the 18 months of planning, and some travelled down to help out today.”
The day begins with a steady trickle of participants arriving nice and early. The pits area is the blunt end of the airstrip, so it’s easy for those of us with trailers to park spoke-like on the grass and roll off the ramps onto the bitumen. However, being an event for street-registered vehicles, most participants drive to arrive. The MCDRA clubbies have already set up most of the required witches’ hats and the spectator area, but the startline gantry and Christmas-tree lights need to be heaved into place, plugged in and tested.
Considering it’s the club’s first event, there are few frayed tempers, and even with the emerging heat as the morning cloud scatters, plenty of spectators are making themselves comfy behind the orange fencing, waiting for the action. It’s announced later that just under 2000 people have paid their money at the gate to watch. Awesome! That’ll help bankroll the next event.
There’s a warm welcome to the drivers and crowd from the club captains, before the mayor jumps on the microphone. “I’m a very proud bloke right now!” he froths, and I soon learn he’s not just blowing hot air. Mid-Coast Council Mayor David West is an ex-highway cop, so he knows kids will be kids and that regional motorsport events and facilities lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Towns such as Taree thrive – in some cases, just survive – on tourist and event bucks, so he’s been a strident supporter of the event since its first planning.
Drivers briefing: It’s someone else’s airport surface, so there’s no tyre smoking. Don’t f**k it up. Thankfully, all 50-odd entrants honour that request all day. A show of hands reveals there are around 20 first-timers, so we’re all shown how to approach the startline and stage our cars.
With all that out of the way, we get into the action, happily running what we brung to the eighth-mile in our Commodores and Toranas, our Falcons and Capris, our rods and bikes, Chevs and Nissans – and my lone little Bug. We have the opportunity for three practice runs in the morning, before we nominate a dial-in to be painted on our windows for the runs in the afternoon. Not that we’re racing for sheep stations; as Nathan Cooper says, the day is as much a test-and-tune for the club as it is for the participants. “Dial-ins on the cars are a learning tool for the club – getting numbers into the system,” he says. “We have to hand-write the timeslips.”
Thankfully, the old girl doesn’t embarrass me, but even if I’d busted something during its first run, I would’ve gone home happy just to have been at Taree’s first event.
Even with the menace of the heat and bushfires on the horizon, the whole day goes down as great as the icy-cold beers we enjoy after it. The first-ever Taree Airport drags proves it’s not all doom and gloom in rural Oz.
“The intention is for another event to be held in early May 2020,” Nathan says. “Our next step is to have a debrief with the council. As far as we know, they are happy with everything, but the terrific interest from spectators means we’ll think about traffic management and parking a little better for next time.
“We’ll also run proper elimination-style next time: three test runs in the morning then racing in the afternoon.”
1. Brian Vernon: Triumph Trident – 6.58sec
2. Stewart Tinson: Pulsar GTiR – 6.69sec
3. Bruce Forsyth: Ford Capri – 6.75sec
John Sullings’s VF GTS Maloo has nearly 800hp at the treads thanks to its built 7.0L mill. John has a Falcon XR6 ute as a daily, so the Maloo relaxes until the weekends, when it can stretch its legs at events such as Taree.
Rod Bods’ Ian Davis (aka Elvis) built this ’32 Ford with a punchy blown 6.2L LSA crate motor. With 500-plus horses and a short wheelbase – and a hot track that he later found was boosting tyre pressures – it’s not surprising he looped it. “I was halfway down the track with my foot into it and she shifted hard!” Elvis said of the electronically controlled 4L80E auto.
Barrie Young has owned his ’57 Chev for a decade, importing it from the USA. “It had a little blown 327 in it, but I destroyed that at the drags in Alice Springs!” he chuckled. The junk was replaced with a Pryce Engines-built 400 stroker under the 6/71 blower. With just 2psi boost, it delivers its 500hp with great manners.
Dave Jones was another local keen to be a Taree drags pioneer. The now-13B turbo rotary-powered Mazda 1300 is Dave’s first car, and he admitted to being a bit of a lunatic in it when he first hit the road more than 25 years ago. These days it’s a cruisy toy that can knock out a 7.3, though it popped a gearbox at Taree.
With a time of 6.69, Stewart Tinson’s 1991 Pulsar GTiR was the second-quickest vehicle (and quickest car) of the event. It’s powered by a SR20DET DOHC four-cylinder upgraded with a VVL head taken from a later-model X-Trail. Boost of 35psi and 9000rpm are impressive numbers, but it’s the paddle-shifted, air-controlled Holinger sequential six-speed that really gives his car the performance.
More than 500hp at the wheels means Jake Tyrrell’s 1980-model wagon is one of the nuttiest Corollas getting around. The stroked and 30psi-boosted turbo Nissan CA18 has an Aussie-made PPG six-speed sequential ’box behind it. It was the third quickest car at Taree, with a 6.88sec pass.
Dave Andrews made the trek up from Newcastle for Taree’s first event. “This has been a bloody great day,” he reckoned. His 80s-built HB Torana is something of an Aussie pro street legend, with a 350ci small-block and Powerglide feeding a four-link rear end with 15x10s. It’s a regular at Gunnedah Airport’s eight-mile, and hopefully at Taree Airport drags in the future.
It wasn’t a good start to the day for Adam Williams and his beaut red EH. A loose wire stopped the zappies to his triple sidedraught-injected 208ci Holden six. But it was just a tiny setback in this car’s remarkable life: Adam bought it more than three decades ago at age 16, and got his licence in it! With the electrical issues fixed, the EH laid down a 9.04.
“How good was this!” Mid-Coast Council Mayor David West exclaimed at day’s end. “Regional Australia needs places and events like this, where people can demonstrate a bit of driving skill, and of course their mechanical skills. Plus, with an event like this there’s no excuse for doing it on the street. It was great to be there to support it.”