Whanganui up in smoke

Posted in Cars, Motorsport
The Whanganui Street Drags turned 30 this year, and Wanganui Road Rodders (spelt that way since long before the ‘H’ was added) celebrated in style by creating as much smoke as possible!

Everybody enjoys a good celebration, especially if it’s an important one, and running an event for 30 years is nothing to be sneezed at. With a weekend filled with events, both social and vehicle-orientated, a fair bit of planning had to be done and tough decisions had to be made. One of which was to hold the annual street drags on the Saturday rather than the Sunday to accommodate a spirited gathering at the club rooms on the Saturday night, giving those who imbibed a bit some time to leisurely recover at the organized show and shine on the Sunday.

This decision had the potential to hurt the spectator numbers, with many locals having to fulfil work commitments and potentially miss out. But, judging by the numbers lining the fences, it appeared that there were many accommodating employers prepared to give them the day off so they could inhale the smoke and get showered in rubber from the full fields of tough street and competition cars.

The weather was looking like it was going to be a bit sketchy around lunchtime, so in order to beat the weather it was decided to run three rounds of qualifying as quickly as possible, seed the cars into their brackets, and then run straight into final eliminations to avoid having an incomplete meeting due to rain.

With the road surface barren of rubber, first up were the competition cars to make a bit of noise to attract some punters out of the shops, and help lay down some traction for the others to use on the virgin surface.

Craig Wilson got second use of lane two, but after a long smoky burnout the trans in the stupidly over-engined Holden cried enough and left a long trail of fluid on the road for the officials to clean up.

Thankfully the track crew ripped into the task and got things back on track quickly.

Club President Tristan Teki assisted in the only way he knew how — parking the right rear tyre of his Monaro directly on the ‘snail trail’, and gently removing it with his right foot in true Whanganui style!

I guess nobody told him that the oil was only in lane two as he decided lane one was in need of a clean-up too upon his return from the end of the track, not that anyone was complaining.

Euan Mark brought ‘Puff ‘n’ Stuff’ along for a play — the iconic car that he has owned since the early ’80s was originally built in Whanganui, so it was quite fitting that it once again made an appearance on the streets of its home town.

A Whanganui drag race event wouldn’t be complete without a Rivers family member or three. The local family have done so much to put their small town on the map in the horsepower stakes, and it was great to see them out again flying the flag. Grant, along with daughter Nicole and son Adrian, all took turns behind the wheel of various cars to create some smoke in one way or another, but it was Adrian who was the most vocal in the dragster, putting on quite a show. 

It was evident throughout qualifying that traction, or lack thereof, would ultimately have a huge bearing on ETs and elimination results, with the lower-horsepower cars having a distinct advantage over their more radical big brothers, who regularly hazed the tyres over the full length of the strip.

Over the course of the day, the action on track never stopped, and it was only when Gavin Dougherty announced over the caravan speakers that it was now time for grudge racing, as all the finals had been run, that you realized proceedings were drawing to an end. 

Usually this signals the racers to put their cars on the trailers and the spectators to file out the gates, but, remember, we were in Whanganui and they do things a little different there. The ‘River City’ is the home of the tough street car, and for an hour and a half they put on a show for everyone who had stayed, testing the limits of traction and seeing how much smoke it was humanly possible to extract from a tyre.

Burnouts were the name of the game, and don’t think for one moment that lack of forward vision stopped anyone!

We have no idea how many tyres everyone brought with them, but needless to say it was a lot!

The expected rain never eventuated and due to the club’s haste to keep the meeting moving at all costs, things wound up finishing an hour earlier than expected — finally they had run out of tyres! And it was only as the spectators trudged out the gate with huge smiles plastered on their rubber-coated faces that you could finally take a breather and reflect on what you had just experienced. Whanganui truly is the horsepower capital of the country, and we love it for that fact. 

Look out for more from the event in the next issue of NZV8.

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!