Warning: subjective statement ahead. As far as drag racing in New Zealand is concerned, there are few events that can hold a candle to the annual Nostalgia Drags hosted by Bay Rodders Inc. at Meremere Dragway. For 2018, the event was sponsored by World’s End Bar & Restaurant, and with the assistance of the Bay Rodders club and Meremere Dragway crew, ran like clockwork.
In the buildup to the event, considerably hype had been generated with the announcement that we’d be getting some very special Aussie visitors. Last year’s Aeroflow Nitro Hot Rods were just plain awesome, and this year, we were treated to a contingent of rough and raw gassers that race in the popular Vintage Gas (V/Gas) class.
These cars included the popular ‘Funderbolt’ Ford Fairlane raced by Damien Kemp, Peter Raines’ ‘Bad Ass To’ ’57 Chev, the ‘Loose Cannon’ ’56 Chev campaigned by Stephen Biggs, and Ash Hayley’s ‘Haywire’ ’55 Chev, all built in true gasser style and packing real-deal old-school power.
This Trans-Tasman Gasser Challenge saw them square off against New Zealand’s finest, including ‘The Mexican’ run by Dave Middlemiss, Skinny Gearachawski’s radical Pontiac Catalina, and Dave Best’s Hemi-powered and stick-shifted Model A coupe.
The main drawcard was certainly one of the best we’ve had, but was by no means the be-all and end-all of this nostalgia spectacular. Competition included a range of nostalgia classes, with the Bethlehem Coach Lines Pre-’49 Hot Rods, Bay Trimmers Shelter Specialist Pre-’72 American, Pioneer Concrete Pumps Flathead Challenge, Gate Pa Auto Electrical Gasser Challenge, and Driveshaft Specialist Four-Banger Challenge.
Thanks to the packed field of old-school competitors, the on-track action alternated between blisteringly quick and remarkably slow, but were all united by an underlying cool factor. None of that mattered when the Aussie gassers came out, though, because it is an unarguable fact that they put on the coolest display of the day. Think half-track burnouts and huge revs, followed by genuinely quick passes, with wheelstanding hard-launches. By the end of the day, it was the Aussies who walked away with top honours in the Trans-Tasman Gasser Challenge, although the victory was by no means handed to them on a silver platter.
Straight-axle gassers are certainly not the be all and end all of nostalgia drag action, and the FED Challenge saw a whole lot of it. John Shepherd strapped his blown 392ci Hemi into the ‘Backdraft’ FED, making it through to the finals against Grant Briffault, and taking the win.
Special mention must also be made of Kendal Smith, who wasn’t shy of abusing the loud pedal in the ‘Green Go’ Topolino-bodied FED, giving the crowd some of the most impressive burnouts of the day.
For pure fire and brimstone, though, you can’t do better than nitro, an we were once again treated to New Zealand’s top nitro-fuelled showmen — Karl Boniface in the ‘Nitro Flashback’ funny car, and Dave Gauld in his wild Altered.
Karl enjoyed surprisingly smooth and straight passes, while things weren’t all plain sailing for Dave. His ‘Nitemare’ Altered has a reputation for being a bit of a loose unit, and it lived up to that with a crazy launch that chucked him toward the wall, although he seemed to avoid major damage in the incident.
Grant Stables was another who didn’t get away without drama, either. Pushing the reborn ‘Hombre’ Altered to the top end, he suddenly lost a all forward propulsion, coasting through the traps in 9.65s at a leisurely 105.1mph. The reason turned out to be a severely ventilated blower casing, for which a fuel lean-out is the suspected culprit. Fingers crossed it isn’t terminal!
So, with all of that going on during the day, you can call the annual Nostalgia Drags a lot of things, but boring isn’t one! Stay tuned for a full event wrap-up in a future issue of NZV8, and make sure you check out the gallery below for more.