This article was first published in Wheels magazine, December 1979
Street dragging is a part of Australian modern living -the racers know it, the cops know and now you know it. The country's most famous illegal dragstrip is Brickies in Sydney's western suburbs. Why should we never mention its name?
It’s 8.30 and the night's still a pup but already there are a hundred spectator cars containing 300 super-keen street racing freaks lined up on the verges of Bennelong Street, Homebush, in Sydney. There's an S&G soft drink truck a couple of hundred metres from the corner of Bennelong and Burroway and a perspiring fat man on the tray going great guns flogging gumrot to the troops.
Not far away is a Mr Whippy van which for the first time tonight is doing good business without the help of Greensleeves. On the other side of the street is a Radio 2UE night patrol Torana with the police roundsman and his mate helpfully monitoring police radio to get a fix on the local fuzz. It's going to be a big night and the team's all here.
The main knot of spectators is right down near the end of Bennelong where two grumbling cars – a "shaker" Falcon GT and an ordinary Torana XU-1 which just happens to run a 350 cube V8 sit side-by-side, bodies rocking with torque whenever the hyped drivers hit the throttles, which is frequently.
Running back behind the two lead cars are two lines of the same sort of cars. They stretch back to the corner and around into Burroway until they disappear from view behind the factory on the corner. Everyone's brute is getting a blow tonight.
The lighting conditions would do credit to one of the used car stickup joints on nearby Parramatta Road even though clouds are obliterating what moonlight there is and headlights are doing the whole job, reflected in a hundred doorhandles, hubcaps, shiny side-panels and bouncing off the light-coloured concrete of the Bennelong 1320.
Dude in the Benz reckons traction was his problem so the lads help him out with a fire burnout. Unfortunately, fuzz arrived rather soon after this because they thought someone's car was getting burnt.
Apprehension clutches everyone as a Big Man steps out of the crowd and goes to stand between the cars facing back at the drivers so they can see him. He's the official starter and moves with a kind of massive ease to show that he's been there a thousand times before.
He can see from the whites of the drivers' eyes that they're ready for anything so he lifts his hands out in front of his body (the same pose as a sleepwalker, only wide-awake), which everyone knows means "ONE!". Then the· arms go up over his head for "TWO!". The balls of two right feet quiver on two throttle pedals and there's nothing else in the world for 300 people than a few square metres of concrete containing two straining, pulsating cars.
Down whip the Big Man's hands like lightning but he says nothing because a "GO!" would be hopelessly puny competing with the mechanical clatter, exhaust blast and shredding rubber surround-sound as Henry meets the General wheel-to-wheel on a backstreet concrete launch pad. Like projectiles, the cars are gone.
This, friends, is Brickies – a 15-year-old street racer's institution where the big noise, big balls, brute power freaks hang loose, where blacktop-chewing, axle twisting supertorque is the only rule in the game. It's the only place in town where a 5.7-litre (350 cubic inch) V8 engine is called "small block" or "mouse motor" and the guys who aren't kidding run "rats" – 396s, 427s and 454s.
Yes, Brickies is an institution – and it's also illegal – but if you think we're going to blow the whole thing off the planet with this story we should state here that the cops have been well aware of its existence since it began. But because Bennelong is a private road their style has been seriously cramped in stamping it out. Besides, though you could never get them to admit it, the fuzz would undoubtedly rather see street racing happening on a deserted Home bush backstreet than on open-all-night-for-exhaust-fumes Parramatta Road with its patchwork of parked cars, "Roadworks in Progress" and semi-trailers belching at midnight.
Ready... Blast off! Two Fords lay rubber on the Bennelong 1320 as the Big Man flags them off. Dude on extreme right seems a shade worried about our camera.
It started 'way back in about '60, no doubt because two groovers, one probably in a brand new 144 cube Ford Falcon and the other in an "old guard" Cusso, wanted to find out whose brute was Boss. Next day it was four cars, a week later it was nine and so on until a whole generation of the power-hungry were making it to Brickies on a regular basis.
Home for today's street racers – and a whole heap of "hanger-on-type poser bastards" (as one hard-core runner put it) – is a Parramatta Road shake and burger joint called the Big Chief, which seems to rely on the street racers to keep it out of the red. When you drive past the·place in daylight it seems so forlornly empty that you feel you should slope for a Blue Heaven milkshake out of pity, but when you see it on a Sunday night with guys and chicks standing by the hundred in the car park and spilling out onto the footpath through lack of room you start to wonder if the proprietor has a daughter...
As even the most cretinous daily newspaper man knows, the racers of the Brickyard aren't exactly dying to climb into print with an attack on the Minister for Transport or to immortalise themselves among the Mums of Mosman on the Channel Two News. That kind of exposure is a thing they reckon they can soldier on without.
But we were surprised how guys would make with the words as soon as they discovered we weren't Mike Willesee in disguise. We teamed up with a big but unlovely guy (whose mates would call him Jughead if they were big enough) and he talked for a long time about how Brickies was and is – who was who and what was what.
This is the leaflet rumored to have been distributed by the guys running the legal drags claiming the Brickies has been shut down (wrong!) but mainly showing what serious opposition the Brickies has been.
Don't get the idea that Brickyard meets are regular in the way that church is every Sunday, or regular like All-Bran is supposed to make you. They just happen, baby, when there are enough hotshoes around to make them and when the idea is popular enough. What you need is a night – say at the end of a long weekend – when the heavies haven't got much to do. They can't go and see Aloha Bobby & Rose again because they've seen it twice already but they're not looking forward to work tomorrow – so they go for a cruise in the trickmobile.
Next you need a bit of the Parramatta road-style aggro that occurs at a hundred traffic lights a night. You need some guy in a seedy-looking (but wild underneath) Holden sedan to blow the doors off a few later model 308s on the way to the Big Chief. Then you need a 308 man to put it on Mr Beatup Wheels for some action and suddenly, before you can say "verbal diarrhoea" it's on and the word has spread like magic. The prospect of a good race can empty the Big Chief in five minutes, leaving the white-uniformed mums that take your money staring moodily at all the Parramatta Road traffic that passes but doesn't stop.
Brickies has seen some historic sights. Like the time two guys – one of them now a top Australian pro-stock driver at the proper drags (Castlereagh, further out of town) raced for $300. It came about because one of the guys in the Monaro talked too big and too loud about what a dunce the guy with a rat in his Holden Statesman was. In a historic race, the Monaro was shut down for three-spot.
Then there was the time, a year or so ago, when an interstate truckie turned up one Sunday night in a Mercedes-Benz prime mover, on his way home for a sleep after ditching its loaded trailer at the depot.
Obviously he wasn’t going to do a lot of good running against cars whose engines had as much power or more than his diesel so the boys persuaded him to do a fire burnout, which is a technique (used in the best drag racing circles) of lighting up the rear skins with some inflammable fluid and spinning them for a few seconds to heat the rubber and get real, life TRACTION.
It's not all guts and thunder, folks. Here Morris 1100 takes on Fiat 500 for the "Mr Weak-Knees" title. History doesn't record which powerhouse won. Note Fiat's roof-mounted aerodynamic aid.
"Soon as the crowd found out he was gonna do it," says Jughead, "we were inundated with petrol to light the fire. I finished up with about 60 gallons of fuel in my lap. I poured the petrol on·the road, some other guy threw the match and the bloke in the Benz revved it to hell and dumped the clutch. Looked bloody lovely, though for a while we thought the rear tyres might catch fire. Still, what the hell, it wasn't his truck." Obviously.
Unfortunately the cops, who had been sitting concealed at the other end of the Bennelong 1320, arrived early that night because they saw the flames and thought the guys had decided to burn somebody’s car.
A lot of people complain about the noise when Brickies is running full chat because the noise of shredding Parnelli Jones 12-inch rubber and screaming Cleveland 351 V8s echoes clear across Homebush Bay to the·densely-housed· suburb of Strathfield, but just the same, says Jughead, everyone isn't the street racers' enemy,
"There used to be this little bloke who was caretaker of one of the factories fair in the middle of the 1320 and he had a ball when we raced own there – he liked the company.
“We'd buy: him a burger now and then and when the cops raided the place we’d get enough warning for him to open up the gates to the factory and let us drive all the trick machines – the ones running slicks and straight-through pipes – into the big shed. We'd shut the doors, get out the cards and suck on a tube till the fuzz went away.
"There used to be a crazy guy down there with a Norton motorbike who'd take on anyone and we never really knew who he was except he was a mad bastard. Judging by the way he used to ride he just might be dead by now.
"Anyway, one time he's running this Mustang which was having some strife with clutch slip. They came off the line together and were still side-by-side at the one-two change when suddenly the 'stang's clutch let go like shrapnel and peppered the mad bastard on the Norton. He was lucky not to get his leg cut off…”
When you talk about the accidents everyone, but everyone, clams up. Over the years at least half-a-dozen people have been killed down there but the general impression the boys give you is that the whole scene is super-safe if you stick to straight drags and shut off at the green telephone junction box like you're supposed to.
This Brickies competitor has made it to the big time in legal drags.
There's a fair amount of resentment among the Brickies heavies against the people who have actually had the temerity to get themselves killed down there because they have brought the place the worst possible notoriety. The feeling is that the guys who bought it – to a man – were all racing 'way past the end of the 1320 and were doing things like clocking a ton around the wrong side of a bend – or trying to fit two cars across a one-lane bridge flat knackered. No-one has actually come seriously unstuck on the dragstrip proper though there have been some anxious moments when cars have turned hard left in the wet, still under full power.
Like every other form of car competition, Brickies has got more and more sophisticated. In recent years there has been a home-made "Christmas Tree" starting light system there and worked by a human whom several Brickies say is "a tall Pommy guy”. There are four lights – three amber and one green at the bottom. The system works so that the lights flash "One, two, three, go" a simplified version of the system at "official" drags.
In the past few years there have been guys turning up at the strip occasionally with their cars on trailers or A-barred behind tow cars that are at least close to bog-standard. It's not all that regular because if it were the cops would be onto the practice like a ton of bricks.
But there have been guys there with their cars wearing proper drag slicks, and equipped with spray cans of Trac-bite which they put on their rubber to make it sticky. Trac-bite is the stuff they buy by the 55-gailon drumful in the US and spray on entire dragstrips.
"Evolution is what it's all about here," says Jughead. "A bloke has a race one week, gets done for $20 so he goes away and tricks his car up with all kinds of bolt-on good gear to make it go like a cut cat. Some of these guys change cams like they change their underwear. They're the ones who keep Edelbrock and Offenhauser's export markets healthy, that's for bloody sure."
The machinery is super-trick these days. Bins are in – and most of the ones that operate are 308s or transplanted 350s – but you're still king of the hill with some Yank big-iron, provided it's made by the General. The boys like big Fords too, but it's the Chevs and Pontiacs they really get off on.
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"If I had the bread I'd have a 455 Pontiac TransAm with roller rockers and a cam, big carbs, a set of pipes, a set of the good bags and maybe some slicks for Sunday nights." Jug is wanking again.
"They'd reckon a bloke was God," or at least they'd make him Prime Minister on the spot...
Plenty of the Brickies regulars reckon the fuzz really doesn't mind about backstreet racing – they'd rather it was there than in a more public place. But just the same, the Brickyard gets its share of aggro from the blue-boys. Their favourite little trick is to wait ‘till there's a healthy gathering of guys down the bottom of Bennelong, then block it off at a narrow bridge back up towards Parramatta Road and check all the cars for roadworthiness as they come out.
Because Bennelong is a private road the cops can't book guys for shattering the speed limit (which must be a cause of considerable frustration) but they can still do fairly good business at the bridge because a percentage of the cars are running illegal rubber or no mufflers.
Typical dialogue for a pulled-over spectator goes like this:
COP: Is this your first time here?
BRICKIES REGULAR: Yes.
COP: Make it your bloody last.
There is a story about a bloke in an XU-1 who actually answered "No" to the question, got himself booked for something or other because the cops more or less felt they had to do it, whereupon he burst into tears in front of 300 people. They don't see him down Bennelong any more…
"Things are a bit slack at the moment because the cops are pretty hot and will be for a few months," The Jug's right foot is twitching. "But wait ‘till winter comes and it gets so cold you think your balls are gonna drop off out there. The fuzz will decide they'd rather be tucked up in a nice warm police station.”
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The Brickyard – Bennelong Road, that is – has changed very little since street racing began there a dozen or so years ago. There was talk of a boom gate on it to stop the boys getting in there but that died because the road is in use 24 hours a day and it wouldn't be too practical. All that has really changed is that there is now a median strip on the first left hander after the end of the 1320 to get the mad bastards who keep on racing at the end of the strip back on the right side of the road.
"It was a shade hectic before they put that there," says Jughead, raking blackened fingernails through his wig. "You'd have to drive in dead slow, hugging the left-hand kerb to keep away from the cars that kept whistling past at the ton, lights on high beam, four feet from your elbow."
Right now, with the Brickies under pressure, the street racers have shifted locations and two main ones stand out. There is Carter Street, near the Homebush abattoirs, running parallel to Parramatta Road and Devon Street – much closer to Parramatta proper. The beat – the rumble of eights – goes on.
But aggro or not, pressure or not, the Brickies is headquarters for the street racers of Sydney and will probably remain that way, because even the most shellbacked cop or local councillor realises that if Brickies is made unrunnable,, the action will surely happen somewhere else, perhaps closer to civilisation. The Bennelong 1320 has made Sydney street racing a fixture. Maybe Australia's "brickyard" doesn't have the kind of tradition of the one in the US – the Indianapolis Motor Speedway – but right now, as you read this, there are a few hundred potential Australian history-makers working on it.