We took the opportunity to head over to Masterton Motorplex for their test and tune on November 7, to get a first-hand look at what had been happening over the off season in the lower–North Island drag scene; from what we found, it looks like there’d been plenty going. 

Late October / early November is always a busy time for the drag racing fraternity in New Zealand. With the onset of the longer evenings that daylight saving brings, it gives the hard-working racers and dedicated crew more time in the shed after work to (hopefully) finish freshening their cars, or completing the minor/major changes before the first meeting of the season.

Here Dwayne Garrett gives the big thumbs up as they warm up the ex–Ben Bray Hemi that has been installed inches behind his head in the off season. With zero data to work from, the team’s only goal was to pick a tune, see what happened, and work from there.

Also testing out a whole new combo was Bryan ‘Stormin’ Norman all the way from Alexandra. Bryan had made the 1000km journey with his four-year-in-the-making FED. The 226-inch dragster is powered by the ex–John Neilan 470-cube MBR Hemi from the Digga Dragster. Rest assured, this will be one hell of a ride for Bryan once he gets it sorted.

It wasn’t just the racers who had been busy over the off season either. Venue Manager Bob Wilton, and his hard-working band of volunteers, had also been working tirelessly over the long break to help streamline things for the racers. The major changes were improved fencing and pit layout, along with huge changes at the top end, with more room for crews and tow cars to retrieve their quarter-mile missiles after a rapid pass.

At the obligatory drivers’ briefing, prior to the commencement of the day’s activities, the sheer number of drivers and crew that were gathered indicated how eager everyone was to make the most of things. Getting as much track time as possible was high on the agenda in order to see how the changes they had made over the off season would affect their cars in their quest for higher speeds and lower times!

New racers, and those who wanted a refresher course on drag racing dos and don’ts, were invited to return to the classroom for a morning lesson before the day’s racing started. Here, track stalwart Grant Benvenuti explains the science behind staging your car properly. It is so much more than just rocking up to the line and waiting for the lights to drop.

A thorough spray of VP ‘liquid chewing gum’ made for a sticky track and some rapid passes.

By far the best-represented class on the day was Super Sedan. This is proving to be a popular class — what’s not to love about big cars, big tyres, and big engines?

Here Dannevirke’s Mike Cload is backed up after doing his first burnout in his 632-cube Pat Musi–powered ’69 Camaro. Mike’s car has only been in the country a month — if you see it at the track make the effort to have a closer look as it is one beautiful piece of machinery.

The action on the track was almost as hot as the weather, the blazing sun in the cloudless sky sent the Mercury soaring making for a great day for all who ventured over the hill for a look.

Plenty of smoke behind, and also inside, the Pirtek Camaro for Jeff Dobson. ‘The old boy’ is back behind the wheel (not that he really needed much arm twisting, according to crew member Morice McMillin), subbing for usual wheelman Adam Prestney, who suffered a couple of fractured vertebrae recently while testing for the Red Bull Trolley Grand Prix.

It was all smiles for Gary Cawthra’s crew, finally after a couple of seasons of bad luck and head scratching, the big black Falcon laid down a decent number. Look out for a full feature on the car in the next issue of NZV8.

Here he cocks a wheel on his way to a 7.28-second run at a slowing 167mph. At three-quarter track the Procharged 528ci big block Ford shredded its supercharger belt. It looks like all the hard work is starting to pay off for the hard-working team from Lower Hutt — well done Gary!

Gary wasn’t the only one to go quicker than they had before; Josh Trybula in his silver Impala aircraft carrier traversed the quarter in under 8.5 seconds at 159mph, while Arran Brattle in the Panhead FED was on better than record pace, and carded a 7.88 at 159mph.

As was probably to be expected, there were a few breakages during the day. Ricky Eastham found some ‘silver stuff’ where there shouldn’t be silver stuff and decided to err on the side of caution and quit while he still had a complete engine block in his car. The elusive nine-second pass will have to wait for another day.

Ricky’s brother Shane buckled ‘man on the mic’ Gavin Doughty in for a blast down the strip. The plan was for Gav to talk all the way down the strip and give everyone a blow-by-blow commentary of the pass. Unfortunately after the big Vauxhall grabbed the track after the burnout, Gav dropped the mic and couldn’t pick it up off the floor, probably the only time he’s ever been quiet at a drag strip!

All in all it was a great day’s racing, and, from the looks of things, this season will be an exciting one, with plenty of new cars and combos to keep an eye on — bring it on!

Shane Wishnowsky

My first experience of the V8 engine was not a good one. Picture a white-haired young boy bawling his eyes out when an un-muffled sprintcar was fired up. My Dad, who had been car mad all his life, thought I was broken and he’d produced a dud! He persevered though and a few years later took me to Thunder Park; it was here that I fell in love with the V8 engine and I was hooked! Since then I have been a regular on both sides of the fence at drag strips in the North Island, both as a spectator and a crew member. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that 40 years down the track I would end up photographing and writing about them, not that I’m complaining!