THERE’S something serene about the sky above Alice Springs. Casting my eyes towards the cloudless blue flanked by the rusty red of the MacDonnell Ranges, I spot a trio of wedge-tailed eagles wheeling silently on the thermal drafts. Suddenly, the silence and wonder are broken by 1000hp of 440-cubic-inch Windsor, grunting with ferocious anger. Damo Kemp is behind the wheel of his 1964 Fairlane gasser, ‘Funderbolt’, and is grinning like a lunatic. “Are we going to Macca’s?” he yells over the deafening din. We sure are Damo, we sure are.
This article was first published in the November 2019 issue of Street Machine
That brief moment sums up the craziness of Red CentreNATS. Set against the picturesque backdrop of Australia’s Dead Heart, 700 show cars, dragsters, burnout rigs and buggies congregate, and are welcome to travel Alice Springs’ public roads just so long as they pass a basic scrutineering check.
Although festivities officially kick off on Friday with an evening of fire and fury on the burnout pad, experienced punters know to fuel up during the calm before the storm. The Krazy Train Diner offers an unofficial welcome party on Thursday night, supplying succulent burgers to travel-drained entrants and spectators alike, the car park a throng of rods, customs, rock ’n’ roll music and stray lettuce.
Friday sees the bulk of the entrants filter in from across the nation. Scrutineering at Lasseters Casino is a hive of activity. It’s there we come across Chook, Luke and Craig who have road-tripped from Whyalla in a seemingly busted-arse XB Falcon wagon. “We dragged it off a salt pan,” says Chook, aka Anthony Fowler. “It runs Luke’s 351 Windsor and EB Falcon five-speed, Craig’s Bathurst Globes, and a pair of my jeans for a dashpad,” he adds.
As day turns to night, the Outback presents a stunning dusk, with the sun setting on an impossibly low horizon. Above the Alice Springs Inland Dragway, purple smoke mixed with the last vestiges of sunlight signals that the Burnout Competition Qualifiers are underway. The crowd cheers with each successive skid as the once-warm air drops quickly to single-digit temperatures.
The evening closes with the Burnout Masters Qualifiers, with entrants presenting a quality show until Lynchy hits the pad, bonks the wall, then stops. “Me rods fell out of me engine!” he laughs afterwards. “I was just trying to send it, then realised I was going to tap the wall. I could have lifted, but you know – never lift!” He’s philosophical about his mechanical maladies, though. “It’s all over for this weekend. Looks like I’m here on holiday now.” And with that, both he and his broken Corolla disappear into the dark, cold night.
With Saturday a day of rest for burnout enthusiasts, there’s still epic action at the Dragway, with heads-up grudge racing held all morning. But for those looking for quality show-stoppers, Blatherskite Park is where it’s at, the oval quickly filling with locals and interstaters, their rides polished and preened. In the sheds, Elite cars await judgement, their owners eager to get the stressful bit done.
The show is filled with quality inside and out, with many cars that those on the coast rarely get to clap eyes on. We spy an XD Falcon Phase V, some brilliantly ratty Kombis, a rare VY Sandman, and no less than two FJ utes, coincidentally each with 29,000 miles on them. Another FJ ute, ‘PRIMED’, owned by Troy David, stands out for different reasons. Winner of last year’s RCN Grand Champion trophy, he’s keen to repeat the feat, as well as announcing plans to compete in Street Machine Drag Challenge in 2020.
As the sun tips towards the horizon once more, commotion descends on the Show ’n’ Shine. Cars are moving into position for the Yeperenye Shopping Centre Street Parade, with drag racers, burnout kings, chunky fourbies and trophy karts all joining the impressive queue. I spy an awesome HK Monaro; blue with a beaut flame job and Dragway Tri-Y alloys. It would have been the duck’s guts in 1990, and thankfully, it hasn’t changed. Owner Brad See is cool for me to ride shotgun for the parade, his son Zakobie and mates Paul Duke and Clint Miller relegated to the back seat.
Unless you’ve done something like Bay to Birdwood in Adelaide, nothing really prepares you for the Street Parade. Most of Alice Springs is lined up along the streets, cooking barbies, sinking beers and waving to everything passing by. Brad had considered giving the Monaro a more sensible paintjob one day, but after seeing the reaction of the kids and boomers alike, plans may have changed. We loop through town, wave to the masses as Brad gives the 350 a few loud blips and suddenly we’re back at Blatherskite Park, the tail of the parade just setting off as we return. It only takes about 30 minutes, but after seeing elite streeters, off-tap burnout rigs and two vintage gassers cruising through town like it’s not a thing, I can see why people travel so far just for this one aspect of Red CentreNATS.
Watch the video: Cruising Alice Springs in the Funderbolt and Loose Cannon gassers
Hot on the heels of the street parade is the Heavy Hitter drag racing – seven- to 11-second cars vying for a chunk of the $15,000 prize money. All eyes are on Troy David in PRIMED, since he’s audacious enough to enter Heavy Hitters while still chasing Grand Champion glory, but his enthusiasm is his undoing. While running a personal best at 7.90, he breaks out of his eight-second class and hurts the motor, putting him completely out of contention. Simon Daley takes the outright gong; running a 7.13 in his Pontiac Trans Am, with Todd Knight a close second having broken out of the 7.00 bracket at a swift 6.99.
The chase for Grand Champion starts on Sunday morning, with all contenders putting in a pass. Portland native Brett Parkes gets troublingly squirrelly in his BADEGO TD Cortina, but best mate Brent Murray has the run of the day, his candy-apple red Dodge Dart turning over a 10.21@134mph, snapping an alternator belt and losing half the blower belt in the process.
“I saw belts flying through the bonnet and I thought we were in trouble,” he says later. “There’s only an inch of belt left. They asked me if I wanted to pull out, but there was no way.” Brent’s tenacity is rewarded with a good showing in the grass events and motorkhana, the latter seeing him get a least one wheel off the deck as he drives the Dart hard around the cones.
Come sundown, trophies are handed out and a party atmosphere descends on Blatherskite Park as DJ outfit Hot Dub Time Machine takes over the speakers and cranks it to 11. With the music thumping, newly crowned Grand Champion Brent Murray steps off the stage, exhausted. “I’ve been vying for Grand Champion for a while now; to win is just amazing,” he says. Giving his wife Tiffany a big hug, she confirms the win is worth it. “And now we’re up for a big night, for sure,” she adds.
As the dust settles on the fifth Red CentreNATS, few can feel slighted. With a dyno comp, off-road 4x4 action and trophy karts running across the weekend, there was something for everyone at Red CentreNATS 5; the event proving that the Dead Heart beats strong.
Steve Biggs was part of the popular gasser duo, his ’56 Chev pulling just as much attention as Damo Kemp’s Funderbolt. The tiny fuel tank hanging off the front proved to be a liability when cruising, with the big Chev sucking down plenty of E85 on the go.
Although running for Grand Champion, Dave Carpenter’s Camaro is no big-dollar job. “I painted it in the corner of the yard under a Bunnings gazebo,” he laughed. Despite some paint imperfections, the Camaro put in a good showing thanks to the 750hp, 434ci small-block up front. Dave took home Top USA for his effort.
Wayne Draper was a Ford designer who worked on the XD Falcon-based Phase V project after hours. Few were built, and Danny Orr’s brilliant orange example is build number two. Son Joe explained: “You could get them built to your spec; some were sixes, some had smaller flares.” A resto got the big Falcon up to scratch, showcasing what must be the fattest Simmons B45s in the country.
Despite looking like an Adventra, Cohen Walters’ Commo wagon skidder actually started life as a V6 VT Series 1 with wind-up windows. Cohen has since added a blown LS, but the real story is in the journey. “My BT50 tow car broke down,” he said. “We were stuck 20 kays out of Elliott for nine hours waiting for my mate to rescue us. The next morning we got two flat tyres and had to wait five hours for the tyre shop to open!”
This burnout rig ain’t no mock-up; owner Joe Thring built it up out of a genuine but written-off VF HSV GTS. With a 1500hp, 510ci big-block up front, the car runs a full GTS interior despite the prolific tubbing under the HSV’s bum.
Known for his black Chevelle burnout car that was toasted to a crisp while being transported last year, Dave Cufone has hit back with a whole new car in his trademark colour. The Nova runs a 358ci Mopar NASCAR motor and is good for around 750hp at a lofty 9500rpm. He laid down some pretty successful skids for an untested car, the Mopar singing to the redline faultlessly. It’s no one-trick pony, either, taking out Top Bodywork Street and, quite appropriately, Top Tuff.
One thousand angry horsepower from a 440ci Windsor sounds amazing, whether echoing off the ancient red walls of The Gap or the 80s red walls of McDonald’s. Ordering a Frozen Coke has never been so hard to do.
Local copper Cameron Vivian is fully behind the event, having entered his LS1-powered Tonner. On top of that, he saw Damo Kemp having problems getting his Funderbolt gasser through scrutineering due to the crowd-endangering exhausts. Cameron went home, bent up a set of covers, and delivered them to Damo the next day. Ledgend.
Despite the looks, this XB is actually pretty solid. Chook, with mates Luke and Craig, have worked tirelessly on it for several months. Liberated from a salt basin near Whyalla, SA, it was miraculously good for rust and everything else is either brand new or has been dug out of one of the boys’ sheds. It runs a 351 Windsor, five-speed and John Goss coupe seats!
Grand Champion Brent Murray was keen to get some help holding the trophy – it was made of stone! Wife Tiffany was more than happy to lend a hand. “We’re just stoked, it’s been amazing. Brent’s put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this car,” she said. Brent and Tiffany wanted to shout out their mates Parkesy and Benny, as well as sons Cale and Coen, who have contributed so much to get EVL68 to the podium.
Revealed at Summernats 32, Joe Tyler’s LS3-powered EH Holden wagon was last month’s SM cover car. Joe brought some class to the burnout pad in his MATURED wagon, but the highlight was seeing it cruising on the street alongside mate Matthew Fleming driving his LSPAC XF Falcon.
“You can tell I’m from Adelaide by the hubcaps!” Chris Haddon laughed. He and wife Kerry only recently finished their LJ Torana GTR, swapping out a 202 for a 383ci Chev, Turbo 350 trans and 9in rear with 4.11 gears. The couple took home a Top 10 Street trophy for their efforts.
Queensland’s Warren Gersekowski won the Burnout Masters, with 1TUFHG punching out hoops until late into the skid before blowing both the bags and taking out the trophy.
The Holden Racing Team’s 1991 promo car is alive and well in Alice Springs, having been rescued and restored by owner Mark Coulton. Starting life as a five-speed Commodore SS, it was lifted from the line and fitted with a Calais interior and VN Group A bodykit. Genuine VN Group As stopped at build number 302, so the Group A build number 304 on the dash is a bit of a surprise.
Ross Mayes is known for his immaculate and hard-punching 1932 Ford tudor, but he’s now also known for issuing a marriage proposal on stage at Red CentreNATS, while wearing thongs. How could Hayley say no?
John ‘Snapper’ Curwen-Walker has owned his mint humpy for 23 years. Originally built by Ken Neilson, it’s changed little in that time, its stance, colour and wheels representing the 1990s like few other surviving street machines do. The FX won the very first Red CentreNATS Grand Champion gong and this year took out Top Engineered Street, Top Sedan Street and a spot in Top 10 Street.
Do not adjust your set; this Ford Cortina ute is 100 per cent factory-built, supplied out of South Africa. Owner Allan Campbell points out the many differences to the Aussie sedan – five-stud wheels, TC Cortina suspension, a 3.0L V6 as fitted to the Capri GT, and window winders that go the wrong way.
In 2003, Chris Nightingale needed a fast delivery van to supply cakes and pies to his bakery in Tennant Creek. He ordered a brand-new VY ute with the Sandman canopy option, then set about racking up 1000km per day. “We had open speed limits then, so I’d sit on anywhere between 150 and 200km/h,” he said. “I’ve hit a few eagles, some cattle, some roos and an emu. It’s had more fronts than Myer!”
Well-known Rambler aficionado Michael Brown brought along his latest and wildest creation, a 1500hp, 14/71-blown LSX-powered Hornet. It’s an Elite car in the truest sense of the word, and Michael and his team were still screwing bits to it on Thursday before heading off from Sydney. They were rewarded with Top Engineered Elite, Top Paint Elite, Judges’ Choice and a spot in Top 10 Elite.
Ryan Miller ran a 12 in his tiny Datsun 1200 coupe a few years back but poked a hole in the block doing so. He’s thrown together a new combo with a banging 454 LSX crate motor running E85. “We’re using this weekend as a bit of a test run,” he said, “just to make sure everything is good.”
Casey Tolcher’s HIRI5K VK Commodore took out the Burnout Competition, Casey laying down a healthy skid in his carb-fed, LS1-powered beast.