Recently, we documented the journey photographer Chris Thorogood took with a few good mates from Geelong up to Coolangatta in a pair of Leon Davies’s classic Ford F-trucks. They took in Cooly Rocks On, did a day at the Winternationals, and had a fat time. The consensus? That road trips are awesome.
Leon left the F-trucks in Queensland with mates and then flew home. The plan was to then fly back in July, collect the Fords and then drive down to Gresford, NSW for the 10th-anniversary Mud Run.
And when gasser legend Damien Kemp announced his intention of bringing his Mercury Marauder up from Geelong as well, I caught a serious case of the FOMOs and decided I’d better get my EJ Holden out of cold storage and join in.
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The EJ is no stranger to a road trip, but has been fairly quiet since our epic trip to Red CentreNATS in 2015. But the Mud Run had me fired up. We’ve covered the event in the mag before and I’ve got plenty of mates who attend it religiously. It was a long-overdue trip, and the chance to do it with Chris and the crew was too good to pass up.
The EJ didn’t need much in the way of preparation, just a detail to remove the last of the Red CentreNATS grime and a sorely needed tune-up. I even drove it to work for a couple of days prior to m ake sure she was sweet and found myself really enjoying being behind the Moon steering wheel again.
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Chris flew into Brisbane on the Wednesday, where he collected Bruce the 1965 F100, then shot up to the Sunshine Coast to do a shoot with the guys at BMV Engineering. On Thursday, Leon, his best gal Leah Blackmore, and Ty Gaylard flew in, grabbed Trucky the ’48 F1, then headed down the coast, checking out the Big Prawn at Ballina before stopping for the night at Nambucca Heads.
At around the time they were checking into their motel, I was weaving through the Melbourne suburbs towards the Monash Freeway in the EJ. The plan was to tootle up to Albury, rest t here for the evening and make my way to Gresford before nightfall on Friday. The EJ was packed with camping gear, a case of Guinness, my toolbox and an iPhone full of tunes and podcasts to keep me company. Bliss!
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The downside was it was dark and wet, but that was no big deal. The EJ has been through all kinds of weather before and had always come up trumps.
I pulled onto the Monash and was heading out of Melbourne in the fast lane when the EJ coughed, died and refused to fire. I threaded my way across the lanes of traffic into what I hoped was a breakdown area. As it turned out, the highway has recently been widened, eliminating the breakdown lanes in some areas. Sure enough, I was in an actual lane of traffic, just before an exit… on a blind corner… at night… in the rain. Oh shit! I tried the key again and held my foot to the floor thinking it was probably flooded. No go. I attempted to drive the car forward on the starter motor to get it a little further around the corner, but she wouldn’t play ball.
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At this point, I made one of the best decisions I’ve made in my entire life – I got out of the car and headed for the safety of the wall. The headlights, tail-lights and indicators were on, but that wasn’t going to be enough. Some drivers saw the EJ and moved away cleanly; others spotted it at the very last second and swerved sharply out of danger. Keeping to the wall, I jogged away from the car, waving my phone torch frantically to try and slow them down, but to no avail – the car was tagged in the right-hand rear guard and the front left guard was rammed into the wall.
While I still feel sick when I think about it now, in the moment I felt completely calm. I was probably in shock. As luck would have it, Mal Schoch – he of Barra-powered Lincoln fame – pulled up behind me in his Ranger work truck and hit the safety lights. This was seconds after the crash and his actions probably prevented us being hit again. Mal checked on the passengers in the other car – they were fine – and stayed with me as the safety crews arrived to tow both vehicles out of harm’s way.
Mal drove me back to work, where we left the EJ, and then dropped me home. Having someone there who understood exactly what I was going through was a great comfort. I had a lot to process, but I was just thankful that no one was hurt in the prang. If I had been in the car – or under the bonnet – things could have been a lot worse.
Aside from getting the car to safety, my next problem was what to do about Mud Run. I didn’t want to mope around at home all weekend, the story still had to be written, and I am nothing if not a stubborn prick. I messaged Chris and he found me a flight to Port Macquarie leaving Melbourne at 6.30am on Friday. After a couple of hours of broken sleep, I got up to pack. I felt nauseous replaying the point of impact in my mind. I wondered if this was really a good idea, but I was committed and pushed the thoughts away.
I rationalised my camping gear, walked the dog, and called an Uber. Two flights and five hours later, Chris and company collected me from Port Macquarie airport. I wasn’t in great shape, but being surrounded by good mates was great therapy and we hit the road south.
Amongst the gear in the back of the trucks was Tappy’s beloved 1983-model Weber barbecue and we stopped off at Port Meat Store butchers to buy some chicken wings, chicken legs and some pork butt for Chris to work his magic on the next day.
We turned off the A1 towards Balickera and wound our way through the bumpy back roads to East Gresford Showground and the Mud Run. Gresford is out of the way, to say the least. It isn’ t the kind of place you’d be likely to stumble across by accident!
We arrived to find Damien Kemp and Stephen Biggs already there with Kempy’s Mercury off the trailer, scrutineered and ready to cut some laps. Show co-organiser Tony Webb greeted us at the gate on a quad bike and showed us to our camping area on the other side of the show ring. Not only that, but he organised for an enormous pile of firewood to be dropped of f for us. How’s that for service?
Friday was the calm before the storm, but there were plenty of cars, bikes and people. With the wind picking up, we decided to set up camp,
pitching our swags and tents on the rock-hard dirt of a cattle yard. By the time we had bent half our tent pegs and were finished, scrutineering was closed, so we piled into the Mercury for our first muddy lap of the ring. Friday is essentially a test and tune day.
“On Friday morning, the little kids are allowed out on the arena on their pee-wees to have a go in the mud, then the older kids can have a go driving on the track,” Mud Run co-organiser Joal Butcher explained. “After lunch, the adults are let loose.”
Tear-arsing sideways in the Merc was great fun, but the track was soon closed for the night and we headed back to camp. Leah built one hell of a fire and Chris stoked up the Weber to cook the chicken. Mates dropped by to chew the fat, but by the time we’d had dinner, my head was pounding – presumably from the mix of stress, lack of sleep and booze-induced dehydration. I sought the refuge of my tent and slept like a dead man.
The day dawned bright and I was feeling 100-per cent better. Damo and Biggsy cooked up breakfast and Tappy prepared his pork for the eight hours it needed in the barbecue. We then nipped out to scrutineer the trucks and procure our race licences from Soup Campbell. Joal took everyone through the driver’s briefing and we brought the trucks around to the line.
The racing was divided into orderly groups: jalopies (mostly four-banger or flathead V8-powered throwbacks), gassers, ‘big’ cars, and bikes, which were run in that order. The track is wet down at the start of each session before the jalopies go out. “If it is too dry, the jalopies just tip over,” said Joal.
For the most part, racing is done with one vehicle on the track at a time and you get three laps before you are waved off. The bikes all ‘race’ together in hilarious chaos, and at the end of the day the jalopies get to all run together – cue pirouettes galore.
The beauty of the system is that once your class has run, you line up again and then you can walk away for the best part of an hour to spectate, check out the other cars, or whatever else you fancy. For me, that meant I could race and then get busy with the notepad. Brilliant! Don’t think you can get on the piss in between rounds, though, as there is an RBT marshal on duty for the duration.
With the racing done for the weekend, it was time to crack some beers while Chris removed his pork from the barbecue and pulled it ready for the feast. If you aren’t lucky enough to have master chefs in your camp, there are a couple of excellent food trucks on site and a good pub in town.
After tea came the presentations. Mick Heawood took out Best Mudcar in his twin-turbo Studebaker pick-up. Best Two-Wheel Terror was awarded to John Lodge and Sam Allan and their mental postie-bike sidecar outfit, while Sharna Jean, who piloted two- and four-wheel vehicles all weekend long, took out Muddiest Female. Ed Radclyffe and Joel Bliss received the Drive Ya Shit award for their muddy derring-do all weekend.
The awards were followed by a performance by the Mud Run house band, The Flattrakkers, who played a heroically long set at the urging of the crowd – only stopping when the singer’s voice finally gave out. Shenanigans ensued from there, including one bloke’s ill-advised midnight swim in the river, with disaster only averted by the culprit being dragged out of the water by his mates and off to the showers to keep the hypothermia at bay.
After a sleep-in, we broke camp and said our goodbyes. It blew me away how neat and tidy the whole joint was at the end of the weekend. Compared to many other events we’ve been to, Mud Run attendees really looked after the venue. Joal was quick to heap praise on the volunteers who kept the joint running smoothly.
“We’ve got four crews – bins, dunnies, track and gate,” he said. “They are all volunteers and they’re all amazing. We’re onto a really good thing here and we want to keep it, and looking after the venue is a big part of that.”
Our c onvoy consisted of the two trucks and Damo’s tow vehicle with the Mercury on the back. Behind that was an empty car trailer, which made me think that maybe – just maybe – we might find something for sale on the side of the road that I could take home to distract me from the reality of my wounded EJ.
We headed back to Victoria the inland way, bunking down in a motel in Cowra for the night, warmed by the glow of tequila and electric blankets. In the morning, the trucks were covered in frost, but they star ted right up. Trucky, however, was battling electrical gremlins and had lost the use of his wipers and other comforts. Thankfully he still had lights!
We stopped at a small tow n on the Murray River to check out a wrecking yard that Leon had visited years before. The yard was still there, though Rex, the owner, said he’s just about retired. Rex has a fascinating collection of stuff, from horse buggies and steam engines through to Model A Fords and on to classic Holdens, Falcons and Valiants. There were no EJs, but we did find a likely looking FB ute. Like Leon’s trucks, the FB had plenty of patina, but the panels were pretty straight.
“This would be a good thing,” Leon told me. “The expensive part of building cars is panel and paint. You could get a car like this, fix the rust and put your running gear, trim and glass in it. Or go nuts and put a VL turbo driveline in it.”
It turned out that the ute belonged to Rex’s brother-in-law, so that plan was out, but Leon did get me thinking. Even if we can’t fix my EJ, maybe I can build a new car that retains elements of the old one? It may not be a bad compromise.
We stayed chatting with Rex too long and nightfall was approaching fast, so we abandoned the backroads and headed for the highway. By 9pm, we were home. I was glad to be back, and, while the sight of my empty garage fe lt like a kick in the guts, the de sire to build a gasser for next year’s Mud Run is burning brightly.
THE RUN DOWN
The Mud Run began 10 years ago as Webby’s Mud Run, on a mate’s private plot of land. When it got too big for Webby’s mate’s paddock, they called it quits for a year – until Joal Butcher discovered East Gresford Showgrounds. “It was perfect,” said Webby. “Great facilities and a natural amphitheatre. Everyone can see.”
The guys did their homework and presented their case to the showground trust. The only stumbling block was how to repair the arena surface after the event. The solution? Run the Mud Run before the annual rodeo, which needs a churned-up surface. The trust gave them a trial and off they went.
Since then, the Mud Run has become the biggest money-spinner for the town, and the organising crew have refined their formula for sustainable success ever since. The Mud Run is invite-only and strictly off the grid, with no website or emails. Car entries are limited to just 60 cars to ensure that everyone gets plenty of track time. And a strict ‘no dickheads’ policy ensures everyone has a good time!
Darren Cahill runs a hot rod shop in Brisbane and brought his family and their XK Falcon race car (above) down for some fun.
“My old man and two mates campaigned an FX Holden at Surfers in the 60s called The Executioner [black & white photo, left],” said Darren. “So we called the Falcon the same thing and Fox Signs did the signwriting in the same style. Dad helped out with the car and so did my son Mason, so we have three generations in on it.”
The car has been converted into two-door post spec and runs a small-block Chev for power. “The paint is Juicy Green – the brightest green we could find, with a heap of flake tipped into the clear,” Darren said.
Kevin Crawley and his son Trent built up this ’66 Nova for last year’s Mud Run. “We came last year with a small-block Chev in it,” said Kev. “I had a cam in it that I had in an HK drag car I raced back in the Castlereagh days. I just wanted to hear it again! But it chewed some lobes off, so Trent convinced me to do an LS2 swap.” And the rest of the car? “The front end is out of a ’49 Freightliner, with Rod-Tech disc brakes. It handles surprisingly well!” Interesting side note – after the HK, Kevin raced Wild Bunch in the ex-Superformance ’55 Chev.
1. First stop: collect Bruce, the 1965 F100, from Chuck at Fakes Engineering in the Gold Goast hinterland
2. After a quick photoshoot with Chris Wells and the guys at BMV Engineering on the Sunshine Coast, Tappy dropped in to the Big Pineapple to fortify himself with vitamin C
3. Our buddy Ty Gaylard flew in from Geelong to help Chris with the Bruce driving duties. Despite being a rock-stock 300ci six-pot with three-onthe- tree, Brucey drives like a champion
4. Never say die! Rather than stay home and miss out, Telf caught a bomber to Port Macquarie, where the Geelong truck crew were waiting to collect him
5. Gresford is an out of-the-way kind of place! There are lots of twists and turns to be navigated, but it is well worth it!
7. “This is my second year racing at Mud Run,” said Ford Mainline pilot Sonya Harper. “This year I’ve been attracted to the bollards and had a couple of ouches. The boss has reminded me that it is okay to take your foot off the gas. I’m not so sure!”
8. We featured Tony Webster’s pick-up in issue 10 of SM Hot Rod, unfinished but powered by a nitro-burning blown and injected Hemi. The monster motor is gone, but she’s now looking slicker than cat shit on a lino floor
9. Mud Run regular Clarky auctioned off his dreadlocks during the event and donated the $2600 raised to Headspace. Gasser pilot Biggsy won the raffle, which gave him the honour of removing the last dreads – and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s
10. Christian Petersen and Simon Barrow’s roadster is a little weapon, powered by a twin-carbed 202 Holden six and four-speed. It sits on a ’26 Dodge chassis, with a Ford truck I-beam up front and a One Tonner diff. The body is a mix of A-Model Ford tub, a Buick cowl and various other bits. “It all just came together from what was in the shed,” Simon said
11. Bechir Taslida’s ’42 Ford jeep sits on a 2WD HiLux chassis and is powered by a 250 crossflow six. The machine gun in the back is manned by Private Bones
12. Weird old Pommy cars make great gassers, but we reckon Matt Hendler’s ’63 Austin Freeway actually looks cool – not just quirky! Matt found the car in a paddock near Dungog and treated it to a three-quarter chassis and rollcage. The front axle is from a ’51 Chev delivery, with a Datsun 720 rear. The engine is a Mud Run staple – the mighty 253!
13. We’ve featured Alan Hale’s stunning ’28 tudor in SM Hot Rod, but he was at Mud Run in his much-lessshiny tub, powered by a repro Riley OHV-converted four-banger backed by a Mitchell all-synchro gearbox. “It is making 100hp, up from 40hp stock,” Alan said. “It outpaced some of the flathead V8s at Rattletrap, which was fun!”
14. Mick Heawood took out the coveted Best Mudcar award in this twin-turbo LS-powered Studebaker
15. One highlight of the festivities was the 10th anniversary cake, constructed by Lee McDonald. "Lee came to the Mud Run and started handing ou the most delicious cupcakes you've ever tasted," said Tony Webb. “She wasn’t charging for them, she just wanted to be involved. So when we wanted to get a cake for the 10th anniversary, we knew who to call.” The resulting work of art consumed 30 slabs of mud cake, 15kg of chocolate and weighed in at 65kg! Everything on the cake was edible, bar the buildings
16. Damien Kemp devotes a lot of time to drag racing, but he also likes going sideways! His ’63 Mercury Marauder is a ton of fun and packs a 406ci FE big-block. The plan was to drive the big girl home, but a small incident with a safety bollard nixed that plan
17. Cain Sanderman’s 1965 W11 Mercedes has only been running for a short time but has already seen plenty of action, with the initial deadline being his wedding. “I pulled the driveline out of my daily-driver VY SS, including the IRS rear end,” said Cain. “The motor is just a stock LS1 with cam, valve springs, a 200hp nitrous shot and eBay turbo manifolds”
18. Chad Latta couldn’t make it to the Mud Run this year, so he sent his newly flamed singlespinner along under the care of his Weirdo CC clubmates. The killer Von Dutch-esque flames are the work of Smith Concepts
19. Another great car built from leftovers is Carey and John Mace’s ’56 Zephyr ute, powered by a 300ci Buick nailhead V8. The body is a real Dr Frankenstein job, with ZH Fairlane quarter panels and EK Holden tailfins stitched in
20. Time to visit a sacred site. Despite being a well-travelled bunch, most of the crew had never made the pilgrimage to Mount Panorama in Bathurst before. We were joined by our mate Nadia in her cool thongslapping Tonner
21. Post-race celebrations amongst the muddy jalopies, warmed by fires and beer jackets
22. Even three-up, Bruce is a comfortable place to be, even for three full-size blokes. No wonder Ford sold millions of ’em!
23. Things were pretty chilly in Cowra the next morning! The trucks were covered in frost and the squeegee bucket in the servo was frozen solid
24. Although I was massively bummed out not to be driving my EJ back from Mud Run, piloting Bruce demands your full attention and was great therapy
25. Our last stop was the cool wrecking yard on the banks of the Murray. While I didn’t find a fairytale EJ shell, it did get me thinking about different directions I could take with the car down the track