AFTER spending a day driving 300km, the last thing any daytripping motorist would want to do is drive their car to a dragstrip and try to clock the fastest time possible.
It sounds like a plot to a road action move like Cannonball Run or The Fast and the Furious but it is a real event and a group of Echuca motoring enthusiasts went along for the ride.
Having spent months preparing their cars (and some last minute fine tuning in the weeks and days prior), Clive Polidano and Matt Robinson entered the Street Machine Drag Challenge held across 1700km in South Australia and Victoria.
The drag challenge started in Adelaide before moving on to Mildura, Swan Hill, Portland and then back to Adelaide.
Entrants were required to drive into town and make a run down a drag strip until they record a time they’re happy with and then move on to the next track some 300km or more away.
While neither Clive nor Matt finished anywhere near the eventual overall winners, both were ecstatic about their achievements.
‘‘It was fantastic. We had a dream run,’’ Matt said.
‘‘It was the best thing I’ve ever done,’’ Clive said. ‘‘I love Summernats but this was better.’’
A total of 150 vehicles entered but only 115 actually made the starting line and five days later 90 cars finished.
Clive competed in his 1977 HZ Holden Kingswood with teammates Chris Oliver, Hayden Wills and Glenn Southern.
Matt took his 1970 HT Holden Premier with Peter Heritage as his ‘‘king navigator’’.
Entrants were given the route they had to take each day and needed photographic evidence of themselves at checkpoints to prove they had taken the right route.
They also needed to complete their run on each town’s dragstrip by 4pm each day in the same car they were travelling in.
‘‘If you broke down on the side of the road you had to fix the car where you were,’’ Clive said.
‘‘You couldn’t go to a workshop so it was tough.’’
Each car towed a trailer and was packed with all the tools and spare parts needed for the trip, including an esky.
The first leg of the trip from Adelaide to Mildura featured some of the hottest weather with the mercury reaching an estimated 38 degrees.
‘‘The cars were sensitive to the heat,’’ Matt said.
‘‘You’d be driving along and you can see the temperature gauge rise in the car.
‘‘All along you’d see cars on the side of the road with their bonnets up.’’
Both men said the trip was not about egos with everyone sharing each other’s passion for modified cars and sharing drinks and dinner at each town they stopped at overnight.
‘‘The camaraderie was great,’’ Clive said. ‘‘If you drove past someone who had broken down, they would either give you the thumbs up which meant they were okay or the thumbs down and you’d pull over and help.
‘‘You wouldn’t leave anyone stranded.
‘‘It was very tough on the cars,’’ Matt said. ‘‘Four to six hours continuous driving on modified engines with high compression that generates heat and then having to do up to four runs on the dragstrip in the same car until you get a time you’re happy with.’’
They said there was a lot of strategy involved in the challenge which added to the adventure.
Both Clive and Matt were amazed at some of the modified vehicles taking part.
‘‘There were all sorts of cars — some were showy and others were crusty looking,’’ Clive said.
‘‘And 70 to 80 per cent of them were turbos,’’ Matt said.
‘‘I was old school with my GM Blower and everyone looked at me like I had three heads,’’ Clive said.
‘‘They said you’re 15 years behind the times.’’
Even Matt copped a few comments about his old style water bag hanging off the bonnet of his car.
‘‘We got a lot of looks along the way, all these hotted up cars driving through small towns,’’ Clive said.
The police were also aware of the modified vehicles on the roads but were mostly tolerant — mostly.
One car was put off the road coming into the Adelaide Hills.
‘‘The cops issued a defect notice and it said ‘race car must conform with ADRs (Australian Design Rules)’,’’ Matt said, much to he and Clive’s amusement.
Clive and Matt said the event was extremely well run. Rules were quite strict. No support vehicles were allowed and one car which was found to have had a Winnebago following it in support was disqualified from the event.
‘‘The organisers had people watching to make sure you took the correct route and you wouldn’t know who they were,’’ Matt said.
Vehicles came from all over Australia to take part in the drag challenge.
‘‘There were guys who drove their cars from Perth and Queensland there, then did the week’s racing in the same car and drove them back home,’’ Clive said.
‘‘And there were all ages — from 20 year-olds right up to 60 and 70 year-olds.’’
Clive and Matt took their cars over on trailers on the Saturday before the event which should have kept the cars in tip-top condition for the week’s racing, but not so.
‘‘Clive drove his car off the trailer in the caravan park in Adelaide and it was out of fuel before the event had even started,’’ a story which Matt took delight in retelling.
Entrants gathered at the dragstrip in Adelaide on the Sunday for scrutineering before racing began on the Monday.
‘‘Swan Hill track was a beautiful track,’’ Matt said.
‘‘They spent millions of dollars on it and then after its first event the track moved so they had to shut it down.
‘‘This was the first event they had on it since they repaired it and it was a real credit to the drag club and the council up there to get it repaired because it was like glass — smooth as.’’
Having started the week in extreme heat, the entrants encountered driving rain coming off the ocean at Portland which forced the cancellation of the run on the port city’s dragstrip.
‘‘That was disappointing but the rain was coming in horizontal,’’ Clive said.
The drivers then made the trek back to Adelaide in torrential rain which was nerve wracking and stressful considering the investment and weight in their cars and trailers.
They drove in to Adelaide to find the dragstrip there underwater.
‘‘They did a great job to turn it around and allow us to get some runs in on it,’’ Clive said.
Clive’s car clocked a personal best time of 11.5 seconds on the Adelaide strip while Matt’s best time was 12.1 on street tyres.
Clive finished 19th overall and Matt was ‘‘off the page, probably 10th last’’ but it didn’t matter.
‘‘If you finished, you won,’’ Matt said.
‘‘It wasn’t about placings, it was about making the distance.’’
‘‘I like cars and racing but this was the ultimate,’’ Clive said.
‘‘I can’t wait for the next one,’’ Matt said.