Jul 20, 2017 - Posted by: Prickle

Records Broken at 50th Winternationsls

Well, it all started when a mate I’ve known for too many years to remember and who I run into again at a Laverda Concourses last year and a Ray Owens show this year as life had different plans for us both a while back. Life is like that though would.....

for us no matter how many years went under the bridge when catching up it's just like it was yesterday, with us, we are a bit older and a few more aches and pains to talk about.

I was just about to start writing another blog and sorting out photographs when I noticed my dog was wagging her tail and sniffing at the door, just then there was a definite knock on the door. Opened the door and to my surprise, it was a mate I wasn’t expecting to see, Tony a bloke I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Now let me tell you this fella can custom modify a bike like no one else I know. After the initial shock and greetings had been finished, he said, hey do you want to come out to the Winternationals at Willowbank Race compound with him and a few other mates I hadn’t seen in a while. Without hesitation, I said yes, that would be awesome to come out there for the day. Then the nostalgia started Tony asked well it’s been a while since you were last of there, I stood and thought for a moment just how many years it had been? My last memory of being at Willowbank was back when I helped out or if you could call it crewed for Tony. He had an FJ 1100 at the time which had been fitted with a bottle of nitrous it would be over 20 years ago. That was the time we seemed to have over powered the frame of the bike, and he was bucked off at the fast end of the track. This ended with me taking most of the bike home in bits and pieces that could fit into a few eskies believe it or not. While he had an Ambulance trip to Ipswich hospital to get, all the gravel scrubbed out of him and then slowly heal. When I brought back those memories for him, he smiled and said yeah suppose it has been a while hey.

The day started early at his place by 6.15am, the next bloke that I come to meet was Tony's brother Michael. I could see he was trying to work out who I was, then Tony ask him did he recognise who it was? Just then he said I’m trying to put a name to the face and finally when the penny dropped, geez it would be 20 something years, yep sure is I replied. Well, we packed the gear into the car, and we were off to pick up another mate of these blokes. While at this fellas shed we had to have a look at his streamliner that he is building with three bike engines in her, what a masterpiece of chrome molly and hand fabricated metals, one day I hope to do a write up on her.  Willowbank was waiting for us time waits for no man. Once at the drag strip our first stop was to a couple of blokes they are brothers actually, that I really hadn’t been able to catch up with in quite some time. It was fantastic to catch up with King and Barry, and the great thing I found was that Barrys son is racing these days in modified bikes and Michaels son is racing in Altered class, how the time goes, and the next generation takes over from the last.

Made our way through the pits they were jammed in like sardines in a can, Willowbank crew said there were over 500 competitors this year that itself is mind blowing.  One of the many things I noticed since my last outing here is how many of the class one crews have semi-trailer transporters all kitted out with everything that opens and shuts for comforts away from home and everything you need to race including complete spare engines just ready to kick into life.

As we made our way back to the pits the early morning flow of people was starting to build in numbers, and it’s not even 8.30am, there were heaps of merchandise stalls to grab peoples attention while out here for those that love a reminder of the day. Tony had organised our reserved grand stand seating in advance, so we knew our seats were there for when we wanted them. We kept looking through the pits all the while hearing more and more engines being started making tuning adjustments where needed. We began to listen to a couple of runs done the track, and before we knew the class, we didn’t want to miss which was modified bikes had started. So up the grandstand, we went and stood right at the top around about mid track. Once that was over we made our way to our reserved seating and got comfortable for the day. Since last here so many changes to many to list had been done. Let’s just say Willowbank is internationally recognised for its professionalism and the drag strip itself, well let me just say its world class. Today the track is so sticky, it was so sticky that one of the ladies that guide the drags cars back after the burnout, we witnessed her losing first her shoes then her socks which had stuck to the track, that’s how sticky the track was. But she didn’t miss a beat still guided her team's car back and then had to get those shoes back on quickly so she could finish her job.

The grassy hill that is on the opposite side to the grand stand was filling fast, and the corporate boxes were all set up, tables set, LCD tv scenes everywhere, so there is no way you could miss any of the action.  The big scenes were massive, one at the start, one at the finish. As the crowd grew to the maximum in the grand stand many times, I took advantage of the big scenes to watch the racing and replays of the day’s action. To witness some of the fastest side by side runs,  the calibre of the times these cars and bikes were doing three to four seconds quicker than what I used to watch 20 odd years ago.  We use to say back then surely they could not get any quicker, well they have all certainly found ways to hurtle themselves down the track faster and safer, and it makes for some entertaining, adrenaline filled hours. As the smaller class were gotten through we were at the pointy end so to speak of this qualifying day Pro Stock classes made the way up pit lane and started their runs then we come to Pro Slammer then onto Pro Alcohol, then the pinnacle of Top Bike and Top Fuel proceeded. At this end of racing, you just don’t hear and see them go down the track. Also, you physically feel them. A thunderous noise to some, but for me it’s a combining Symphony of an appropriate combination of the engine that guzzles copious amounts of alcohol fuel, to help it digest that, a super charger rams air down its throat. Then the magnetos that have that much power they could power a small town that then ignites the combination of fuel and air to get the biggest continuous timed explosions in the cylinders. Then all that power that had been made is delivered through the clutch system then out of the diff to those huge bags of rubber called slicks. They grab that track and propel these massive machines that are trying to destroy itself plus don’t forget one individual that in beats a heart of what can only be described as a courageous warrior, he or she then controls all of this wild machinery. All this is done in milliseconds, to hurtle down a quarter mile strip of the black sticky compound, to cut the beam of light that times you at, what you hope, is the lowest time you can do, that’s Drag Racing!!!!!!

The emotion that this spectacle creates in me and I’m sure it would be to you, no matter how many descriptive words I could string together, it can’t replace actually being in the presence of these machines.  At big events such as the Winternationsls these days you get to see so many in each class. For me to know what was turning up here 20 odd years ago and what I witnessed on this day, well back in my day even if you were eliminated they ask for the owners to come back out to give an another run for the crowd that support this sport.  To what it has become now there are just so many in each class that do battle just to make the final cut off point, it boggles this old blokes mind, that is for sure.

We witnessed a side by side pass of Top Fuel Wayne Newby ran a 4.48@322mph, and in the other lane, Peter Xiberras ran a 4.55@310mph. Well out of all those classes, one bloke by the name of Damien Muskat who rides a Top Fuel Bike, Harley Davidson took me and many others by surprise. This fella did two runs one with an Estimated Time 6.416 seconds with a speed of 249.35 mph now we all roared and applauded as that was a spectacular run. He then came out and backed it up with a 6.447 @ 253.33 mph which is 405kph on one wheel as he carried the front wheel over the finish line, that is unreal. I was off my seat, a speed that we were there to witness, I’ve heard all the expert techno explanations, it was that speed because he set the beam off with his back wheel.  It would have been a little slower if the front wheel set the laser off, well I say, I really don’t care about that, he did those times, and tremendous speed so get them into the record books, I say. We witnessed a bloke on two wheels travel at speeds we can only dream of, so good for you Damian Muskat well-done son... I have a video of this. I've never used my phones to video before as I’m just starting down that road of taking video, so here goes hope you enjoy it once I have edited it.

A little later,  the last two Top Fuels took to the start line, the finest of sprinkles of rain was starting to fall, and the signal to cut the engines was given. A few seconds later we got a heavy shower which put an end to the days racing, so I thanked the gods of racing for holding off till near the very last, and the final day I heard the racing was cancelled due to inclement weather. Well, folks what a huge day. I went away from this on such a natural high that would beat any drugs legal or illegal on the market. So if you can, get along or better still get involved, it’s a great sport to get the whole family into, yes you heard right, many of these teams run the entire family and mates volunteering time to do this sport. Mum & Dad and the kid's teams,  it makes you feel good seeing this in the pits. You get to meet some very humble people in this sport. I’ve witnessed serious competitors numerous times help each other out to get to the next round, most would give the shirt off their backs to race, and they are always ready for a chat, it’s a great atmosphere and healthy for all. You just need to remember you ear plugs as my ears are still ringing and don’t forget to smell that methanol and alcohol, it’s got to be good for you hey.

So until we meet again, may the road rise up to meet you, may the wind be always at your back, ride well and watch out for those damn cars.

Write-up & Photos & Video

By Steve Prickle

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