WITHOUT sounding too much like a hippy, there is something special about Red CentreNATS in Alice Springs that sets it apart from any other car show. Alice sits at the heart of Australia, both geographically and spiritually. Unless you’re a local, Alice is a long way for just about anyone, and whether you fly or drive to get there, you’ll have plenty of time to observe and reflect on our mighty continent and its unfathomably long history.
It also means most folks arrive having had plenty of time to decompress from the daily grind, so are fresh and ready for anything.
What they find is an incredible place full of great natural beauty, amazing weather and friendly locals that is worth a visit any time of the year – let alone when the joint has 750 stunning cars and bikes ready to party!
And despite the COVID-19 related drama that 2020 has brought upon us – or perhaps because of it – this year’s Red CentreNATS was one of the biggest and best yet.
Read next: Red CentreNATS 2020 judging
“It was as magic as the first event,” said organiser Andy Lopez. “The first Red CentreNATS was so surprising and this year was the same, just with more people. The Street Parade had a real feeling of excitement.
“I think people appreciated that the government pushed so hard to make it happen this year. They were totally committed to doing it, even if it was just for NT residents. And of course, people were so happy to be out having fun with their cars after a pretty quiet year. It was a big couple of weeks for Alice. They had a Demons versus St Kilda AFL game in town the week before, so there was a really good vibe around town.”
Border closures meant that most of the headline acts came from the NT, South Australia and Queensland, though a couple of intrepid Tasmanians moved heaven and earth to add some glamour to the burnout comp.
Mates Scott Sevil and Codie Free initially planned on taking their blown Commodores to Burnout Masters in Sydney in mid-July. When that event got rescheduled, they pivoted to a more ambitious plan – one that required a big logistics job.
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“We needed six permits, four flights and two trucks to get here,” said Scott, who is the owner of Swansea Paint & Panel on Tasmania’s east coast. “Then we’ll have to do the same on the way home and then quarantine for two weeks. But it is totally worth it to be here.
“I’m really pumped and a bit nervous. This is more attention than we are used to, but it is great for our business and our little family deal we have going. We’re going to send it!”
Their dedication paid off, with Scott winning the Burnout Competition in his WIZARD ute, while Codie won Best V8 Skid in FROTHIN.
Despite the absence of any Victorian contenders, the Burnout Masters qualifying and finals were killer spectacles, performed to packed houses. Queenslander Wal Gersekowski and his 1TUFHG won the Masters for the second year running, followed by Jono Kelly’s 3FIVE5 VK and Jay Chun Tie’s TINYTOWING. Special mention should also go to Nathan Sutherland’s KILLASET, who absolutely nailed it in his new-look VK.
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The Grand Champion gong also went to a Queenslander, with Graham Miller’s EH taking out the coveted show-and-go prize. While EHMAD didn’t make the Top 10 in the elite judging, Graham performed strongly in all three driving events – drags, motorkhana and grass driving – to jag the win.
Adelaidean Chris Haddon’s tough LJ Torana improved his results from 2019 to be runner-up in the Grand Champion chase. Fellow crow-eater Sean Johnson came in third spot in his tough big-block XB coupe.
“Graham and Sean really came out of nowhere,” said judge Owen Webb. “They both only entered the Grand Champion chase at the last minute. I think Sean spent all day at the drags on Saturday, then someone talked him into going for it the next morning.”
Both cars are F-A-S-T streeters, with the EH running 10-flat times with ease and the XB running a 10.48.
“Ross Mayes did really well in the blown ’32 tudor,” said Owen. “But he took a wrong turn in the grass driving and that put him back to fourth spot. Radek Saitz also impressed me in his 1JZ-powered XM Falcon ute.
“Next year will be interesting. Troy David – the 2018 Grand Champion – is giving his FJ ute a complete rebuild, including a new engine and carbonfibre front. He’s serious!”
Not all of the Grand Champion contenders were big horsepower jobs, according to Owen.
“Christine Jackson’s Triumph Spitfire is a really nice restored car. It placed in the Top 10 and won Best Convertible. She decided to have a go at Grand Champion just for fun and she had a ball! She went up against the EH at the drags – he ran a 10 and Christine ran a 22-second pass.”
The centrepiece of Red CentreNATS is the Street Parade. For Street Machine’s Ashleigh Wilson – a first-timer at RCN – it was the absolute highlight. “For some reason, it is even better than the Summernats City Cruise,” said Ash. “It’s bigger and I think you get wilder cars in the Alice cruise, so you see full-on drag cars, blown burnout cars and elite show cars mixed in with regular steeters. The crowds are huge and so into it. The pub was pumping and in the last 10 minutes people just went crazy.”
Entries are already open for next year’s event, and we’re already thinking about what car the Street Machine crew will drive up. Our 1JZ-powered Volvo? Broads’s Torana? Or maybe the Safari wagon that Scotty’s been working on during lockdown? Whichever way we go, the cruise out there and the event itself will be just what we need after the travails of 2020.
RED CENTRE NATS 2020 HIGHLIGHTS:
Dave Cufone and NOVAKILL put on a great show in the Burnout Masters Qualifying and Finals. Dave also gave the beast a run down the quarter-mile, and the 358ci NASCAR donk sang a sweet tune on its way to an 11.2@131mph. With more suitable gearing, Dave could see himself into the low 10s.
The champ! Graham Miller stormed the driving events to take out the Grand Champion gong in EHMAD.
Mark Olsson’s XY GT looks like a cool Drag Challenge car in the making. It runs an owner-built 351 backed by a Top Loader four-speed and 9in, with Gazzard Bros goodies out back. “We drove up from Adelaide with 3.0:1 gears in it and a trailer behind it,” said Mark. “When we got to Alice, we put 4.8:1 gears in it, fitted slicks and dropped the exhaust.” Mark was stoked to run a best of 12.5sec over the weekend.
When Jay Chun Tie wasn’t doing laps of Alice, he was out on the pad, nabbing third place in the Burnout Masters and another golden ticket to Summernats.
Sean Basford usually fronts at Red CentreNATS in a V8-powered RA28 Toyota Celica for a weekend of cruising and burnouts, but this time he brought his RA40 street and show car. The beast has a stack of awards to its name and added a Top 10 spot to the list. It runs a highly detailed 18RGEU engine, spiced up by a baby blower.
Kevin Jones has driven from WA for Red CentreNATS most years, and he did it again this year in his HZ van. He won Top Van and had a big swing at the Grand Champion award, nailing the quickest time in the motorkhana.
King of the Heavy Hitters drags was Craig Davis’s Mustang, which is powered by a monster 706ci big-block Ford with no less than four nitrous kits! Craig turned it up for the final and had big flames out the pipes for the length of the track to win the 7sec class.
Phil Anderson’s bare-metal ’37 Chev ute is a very rare car indeed. “It is a 1937 Chevrolet half-door coupe, body by Holden,” explained Phil. “I’m led to believe there were around 51 of these made and 260 full-doors.” The ute sits on an HQ chassis and is powered by a tunnel-rammed small-block Chev. “The guy who had it built was a publican, so of course the fuel tank had to be a beer keg. It looks great, but it limits the range somewhat!”
Local bloke Craig Hodge put on a great show in his ’70 Nova, thanks to 540ci rat power. He took out the 9sec bracket in the Heavy Hitters.
Graeme Horner from Horner Performance came up from Adelaide with his stunning six-cylinder Datsun 1200 ute. “It runs a 1000hp RB26 with a C4 and 9in,” he said. “It’s running nitrous, a big turbo and on pump E85.” The drags didn’t go exactly to plan, with the gearbox detonating on the startline, but Graeme is hoping to see consistent 7sec passes once the transmission is sorted.
Luke Mitchell’s LJ Torana was happily on the cover of the September 2020 issue of Street Machine when it appeared in Alice. Luke won the coveted People’s Choice award, as well as Top Engine Bay, Top Coupe and a spot in the Top 10.
Darren Mallison’s Mk1 Ford Cortina is powered by a Horner Performance 565ci big-block Chev. “The car runs consistent 8.50s,” said Graeme Horner, “but we dialled it back to run 9.0s for that bracket.” The Cortina has a long heritage as a drag car, campaigned by Kym Petterwood and Bruce Agate in the 1970s and 80s.
Anna Povey’s Patrol doesn’t look fast, but watch out! Thanks to a 6.6L Duramax conversion that pumps out 1432Nm, the big bush-basher scampers down the track to the tune of 13.3sec. Her hubby’s LS1-powered wagon is quicker, with a best of 12.1sec down the quarter.
Wal Gersekowski took out the Burnout Masters title for the second year running in 1TUFHG.
Jono Kelly is an RCN regular and was rewarded for a standout skid with runner-up in the Burnout Masters, which also scored him a golden ticket to Summernats 34.
Codie Free has done RCN before in his FROTHIN VY ClubSport, but this year he was packing extra hardware in the form of an 8/71-blown LS, built by Damian at BG Engines in Sydney.
2018 Grand Champion Troy David left his twin-turbo FJ ute at home this year and cruised down in this stunning HG Monaro, which belongs to his daughter Alicia. “We got it 11 years ago and it looked fairly similar to how it does now,” Troy said. “The paint is 20 years old.” The driveline has changed, though. “It is a 410-cube small-block that we used to have in the FJ. It makes around 660hp normally aspirated.”
Sean Johnson’s XB GT is an impressive car, powered by a 572ci big-block. The coupe has an impressive 10.47sec PB to its name and came within a hundredth of a second of that time in Alice. “The only thing I do to the car is bolt on 255 radials to the rear, and away we go,” said Sean. He’s owned the beast for 30 years!
Radek Saitz also did well in the Grand Champion chase in his 1JZ-powered XM Falcon ute – and took out Top Retrotech in the elite judging.