Drag racing and hot rods a life-long love for Preston

Preston Brunell is a perfectionist who likes his drag racing cars to look good too.

Preston Brunell is a perfectionist who likes his drag racing cars to look good too.

For aesthetics, adrenaline or just an appreciative nod, Preston Brunell has got plenty of mileage from his lifelong love of custom cars.

For years he has toggled between hot rods and drag racing, depending on how much time he has to work on his beloved vehicles.

Drag racing gets most of his attention at the moment. However, he says the lure of the hot rod will never go away – whether it's behind the wheel or simply enjoying the feedback from fellow enthusiasts.

Preston Brunell has a life-long love of hot rods.

Preston Brunell has a life-long love of hot rods.

"I like when people come up and comment on the finish – (it's not the same) if people are just looking and then walking away," Preston says.

"Just because it looks pretty, doesn't mean it can't go fast, and it's the opposite with (dragsters), just because they go fast, it doesn't mean they can't look pretty."

Preston has no idea how many hours he has spent working on various vehicles, but says it is just as much fun building them as it is putting them on the track.

Preston Brunell likes his cars to look good as well as perform well.

Preston Brunell likes his cars to look good as well as perform well.

"For better or worse, I'm a bit of a perfectionist so I go overboard a bit.  Some people just get it ready to go out on the strip, I kind of want it looking like a hot rod when I take it out there."

Preston and wife Tania bought their first car while living in Dunedin – a 1948 Chevrolet hot rod.

The couple have since bought and sold a sizeable collection of cars, moving into drag racing over the last a couple of seasons.

Currently, Tania's own 1967 Camaro racer is in the garage at home, while Preston's Model A racer is tucked away at his mechanical workshop that he runs in Stoke.

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A 27 T Roadster is in the early stages of development and he has two 1949 Ford single spinners also in the works for custom overhauls.

There was a blue hot rod as well until a road accident in 2016 seriously damaged the vehicle, not to mention Preston's pelvis.

While both Preston and the hot rod required some metal rods as part of their respective repairs, the incident certainly hasn't put the brakes on his desire to race.

"That doesn't seem to affect me that much.  With all the safety aspects you're pretty snug in there," he says.

His latest project sits at the back of his workshop - a rear engine dragster with a small block Chevrolet engine, bought as a going concern from the United States of America.

Preston has stripped it back to its bare bones and aims to have it ready for a December 31 meet at Taupo, where, in the modified class he hopes to run 8.9 seconds over the quarter mile, reaching speeds of 150mph (241.4kmh).

His current best is 9.3 seconds at 139mph (223.7kmh), which he achieved last year.

Drag racing started in the United States with the American Drag Racing Association as a way for hot rodders to race their vehicles away from unwanted scrutiny.

A member of the Nelson Drag Racing Association (NDRA) and the New Zealand Drag Racing Association , Preston gets his speed fix at events in Taupo, Masterton and local meets at the Motueka Aerodrome.

Occasionally, he will travel to International Hot Rod Association tracks at Christchurch and Auckland.

"I never thought I'd say it but the faster you go, the faster you want to go.  It gets slow real quick, you'll take it down twice and you'll want to go faster."

His rookie 2016/2017 season was a success, being named rookie of the year as well as a 2NZ placing for the modified class.

"I say we fluked it, but we managed to turn up at the right meetings and win and get the points."

Locally, Preston also won the competition class for the NDRA and - more importantly for him - best presented.

"We had a fantastic season - it's going to be hard to back it up."

His family shares his passion for wheels, with Tania crew chief for their 818 Racing team alongside daughter Shiree, her husband Glenn and two-year-old grandson Austin who also help out at meetings.

"The crew have to know what they're doing.  The start line is where it all happens."

Away from the heat of competition, Preston says he thrives on the camaraderie of his fellow racers.

"It's like a big family.  There is a friendly rivalry - at the same time you don't give away too much, but if someone asks you a question it's no problem."

 - Stuff


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