Shake and bake
Drag racers like it hot and sticky but, as Pete McNae reports from Motueka, there are limits.
Sunbaked racers and spectators got their monthly allocation of Vitamin D in one day in Motueka on Saturday, the top of the south's legendary February weather proving almost too much at the Southern Nationals drag racing meeting.
Dragstrips, even a part-time facility like the Rock 94.4FM Dragway at the Motueka airport, thrive on heat. With a liberal coating of traction compound, they become sticky enough to handle 3000-plus horsepower cars like John Neilan's Digga Top Alcohol dragster.
But Saturday's sunshine proved there was still a point where the big yellow can be as much a hindrance as a help.
Like all the Group One cars in Motueka for the New Zealand Drag Racing Association's national points series meeting, Neilan ran his dragster over a shorter one-eighth mile track to guarantee a safe stopping distance. Already the track recordholder over the full quarter at 5.88sec, Neilan's second pass saw his MBR Hemi-powered car stop the clocks at 3.964sec. Confident in his combination, Neilan and crew pumped more power into the car for his final pass of the day, but only managed to shave off 0.004sec.
"We had that 3.9 and put more into the car for the last run and still got a 3.9," Neilan said. "That's all this track was going to handle."
Fellow John Neilan Racing Team member Morice McMillin, who pilots the Shapes Roadies 3200 horsepower 1956 Ford Customline sedan, agreed.
"There's a point where the surface actually goes past its best when the temperature keeps climbing, it gets slippery again as things melt."
The diminishing traction didn't stop McMillin running a 4.52sec best pass and taking Top Doorslammer series points over the 1955 Chev of Mike Reid.
"We wanted low fours but the points were what we came for, that and the Nelson club, who look after everyone," he said.
The meeting began with a hiccup as another North Island visitor, Brent Whittingham from Feilding, put his 9.0sec Camaro into the catchnet in qualifying after his braking parachute failed to open. A quick welding job on a broken post allowed racing to resume, although Nelson's Avon Compton and Phil Webber from Wellington each took unplanned excursions off the track as they pushed a little too hard, a little too soon.
The only other significant setback came when southern man Bruce Smith dumped a panload of fluids on the track from his supercharged dragster, forcing the club to go back to one lane for the high-horsepower cars.
Despite the setbacks, seven national record claims were lodged as most entrants ran near or below their personal bests.
While Neilan, McMillin and Reid provided the sound and fury with their supercharged cars, Barry Plumpton's 2005 Chevrolet Monte Carlo won fans, the best presented award and Super Stock bracket. The car burns out strong, leaves hard and runs straight to a best of 7.81sec at well over 170 mph [273kmh] to claim both the elapsed time and speed national records in his class.
Equally impressive was Rhys Humphries' 8sec Barracuda, the Grimmer brothers and Nelson's Compton, who finally got a clean pass from his turbocharged Nissan Silvia and is in line for a national record after running 9.15sec.
Junior dragster, for the next generation of racers, saw a first for Motueka and the Nelson Drag Racing Association, with Jacob Reece going all the way to a points score victory on his junior drag bike, his 9.40sec eighth-mile heading off Alana Bilby.
Neilan's dragster logged the fastest speed of the day, hitting 187.5mph [301kmh] despite running to just half-track, instead of the full quarter mile where it approaches 250mph [402kmh].
Other bracket winners were Marty Wilson and Troy Appleton in competition bike and modified bike respectively; John Gourdie, who threatened a seven-second run with a best of 8.02 on his way to a win in modified and the 10-sec Holden ute of Ross Wood, which took out Super Street.
Whittingham's unplanned exit earned him the hard luck award while the best burnout and best wheelstand honours could have been shared between the likes of Humphries, Wayne Grimmer, Steve Bennett and Adam Thompson.
The Nelson association will race once more this season with the Keith Whiting Memorial Trophy meeting scheduled for Easter Saturday.
Mahia's Reid, who is just embarking on a career in the costly Top Doorslammer class with a safe engine setup, spoke for the rest of Saturday's visitors.
"It's an expensive trip to get here, big dollars before we even get on the track, but we love it," he said. "I'm in this sport for the fun of it still and Nelson's where we come for a fun meeting.
"We can run hard, score some points, have a loud night with a great bunch of people, it is kind of what racing has lost sight of in the last couple of years.
"If we can possibly get back at Easter, you know we will."
Full results on the NDRA's Facebook page.