Saturday 2nd March saw us carrying out the final checks before heading off. This year the 429 Big Block powered 34 Ford Roadster Big Knob Race team was Norm Hardinge (myself), Wayne Belot (aka Oggi), Greg Williams and Neil Davies with crew Michael Discoli, Graham Detteler and Mark Ewart. My trusted ’76 F250 was again the tow vehicle.
The last few months of brainstorming and late nights was hopefully going to put us in the 200 mph club.
Only one hour out of Melbourne, climbing up the Pentland Hills, the transmission on the overloaded F Truck was overheating. While we were on the side of the road giving it a chance to cool, Carol Hadfield rang to tell me that Rod had just arrived at the lake and that it was covered in water! We decided to retire to the nearest pub to have a counter lunch.
We went back home. “Don’t unload the 34” we screamed in a hope that it wasn’t all over for 2006. Oggi and I spent the next day fixing the F Truck and redistributing the load amongst the other vehicles. Good news from Carol Hadfield and Larry O’Toole, the lake was drying up and a south wind was pushing the water away from our racetrack! We had to go. I rang the rest of the crew. We planned to leave Monday. I figured the worst thing that could happen is we get a holiday in the outback.
At 6am we left Melbourne on a 17 hour trip to the Salt. After only 1 km, the F Truck stopped dead. The gas converter had frozen. Now I know why I call it the F Truck. Luckily that was the last problem the F Truck had on the long haul.
Our small convoy cruised to Port Brougham Caravan Park (near Port Augusta) for our first night. The Caravan Park is owned by fellow speedfreaks, Jason and Jody, and is very welcoming to any Salt Lake Racers. Jason had already left for the lake. After a good night sleep, we followed. We stopped at Port Augusta for last supplies.
Oggi, Greg and myself had done the trip several times. Michael, Neil, Graham, and Mark were virgins. I made a point to tell them to take enough water and food in case they were to breakdown. The environment is harsh between Iron Knob and Lake Gairdner.
After changing a rim on Neil’s falcon and swapping a tyre on the race trailer, we left Port Augusta and civilisation and headed on to the Nullabor to Iron Knob.
At Iron Knob we turned right and stopped before hitting the dirt road. We used race tape to seal any gaps in the trailer. The road to the lake is red dust, bull dust, small rocks, cattle grids and is 131 kms long. Our three vehicles were all fitted with UHF Radio and Oggi, as usual, was stirring the crap between the three vehicles. Red dirt, saltbush, emus, roos, long legged sheep and wild goats were all we could see. Finally in the distance we got our first view of the lake and we were all excited. We only had another 10 km to go.
Every time I see the salt flats I’m amazed. Where we race is only small inlet in the lake. When you look on the maps its tiny, but when you see it its massive. Contrasted by the Gawler Ranges the lake is brilliant white, flat, and goes for miles. The inlet is about 6 miles wide, our course is 9 miles long but we have about 80 miles of run off. The lake is so massive you can see the curvature of the Earth. I love the place.
After blowing the red dust off the vehicles we could head onto the salt. There was no water on the salt but it looked a bit damp. We learned that the track was about to be opened but only with a short run up. It was hoped that if the wind kept blowing from the south, the rest of the track would be opened the following day. “Great!”
After some discussion, we picked a spot to set up our pit and flew the Big Knob Racing banner. Oggi and I took the 34 to scrutineering while Greg, Neil, Graham and Mark continued to set up. We were all soaking up the atmosphere. Michael Discoli was filming for a special episode of Rodders Life. He had so much to film he didn’t know where to start!. We tried to help him out by taking him to Club Animal, the unofficial race headquarters of Speedweek. He asked Animal (Steve Charlton) for an interview. Animal agreed but said “I don’t do any interviews with my pants on!”. Michael said it was a family show but proceeded with the interview on Animal’s terms.
The 34 passed scrutineering with a short list of “To Do’s” for next year, so we prepped the race car for the following days racing.
We set up camp with Dennis and the crew from Grey Power Racing. These guys and girls are good fun. They actually brought extra supplies of bourbon for Oggi (based on previous experience). Where we were camped was a short walk to the canteen.
Each year, the owners of Mt. Ive Station, Len and Joy, provide home cooked meals to all racers, support crew and spectators. The meals make your mouth water. I strongly recommend the Sticky Date Pudding. The view from the canteen across the lake at sunset is fantastic.
Wednesday and we were racing. The course only had a 1 1/2 mile run up before the timing. Oggi and I discussed tactics and put the 34 on the test track. The cam was coming in at about 5000 revs. We calculated we needed 6800 revs for 200 mph.
Oggi took the 34 on the first run through the timers but with a short run up could only achieve 189 mph. We prepped the 34 for the next run. Because racing had been delayed for 2 days, no one had blown up yet - which meant that the record entrants (119 in total) were all trying to run on Wednesday. At the start line, it was a matter of “Hurry Up and Wait”.
It wasn’t until Thursday I got a run. As it turned out it was for the better, as I was one of the first. The weather was cool (sort of) and I had a 2 mile run up. I had been told that the track was slippery at the 5th mile but I was rapt, the 34 roadster drove like it was on rails. I achieved 195.5 mph - not 200 but it’s the fastest it has ever run.
The Moe Boy’s Falcon ran. I wanted them to run 200 mph almost as much as I wanted it for Big Knob Racing. Greg White ran 199.225 mph - a new record but not quite 200 mph. Roy Brand and Garry Brown, with a 10 weeks build time produced a record breaking blown XF falcon, while Bob Ellis in his 200+ capable XP Falcon coupe ran 181.983 mph.
Rod Hadfield checked out the improved conditions and decided to unpack his Commodore. Lionel West took it on a shakedown pass of 224.536 mph. It still had plenty up its sleeve. John Lynch and his crew were having problems with the oil scavenger pump in their dry sump system. Nashty (Ian Willis from WA) gave them a hand to sort it out and the belly tank ran 253.86 mph. A long way off last years amazing 301 mph. Bob Bowman, at something like 160 mph, had his annual spin in his roadster – round and round and round. Bob’s best run is a straight line was 165.8 mph. Ray Charlton’s 32 roadster did a respectable 175.618 mph with Ray at the wheel. His son, Steve Charlton clocked 170.67 mph. Dad wins!
Vic Oneil cruised into the pits and unloaded a Y Block powered 32 Coupe with a 3” windscreen. Spider built the car but couldn’t make it to the event. Vic and his son had a ball sorting out this car and came home with 2 new records B/FCC 120.292 mph and BGCG 125.918 mph.
Stephen Stamp took out his A Model roadster. The big horse powered small block chev managed a very respectable 181.910 mph with Stephen at the wheel. But, his joint driver, Aulis Soderblom took a new record at 185.013 mph. Well Done!
If DLRA had a trophy for the best presented car, it would have gone to Alan Fountain’s lakester. Alan’s lakester debuted this year and did a licensing pass of 168.452 mph. Next year, he will be one to watch.
Cled Davies (Chief starter) and Peter Noy (timer) kept the track open for as long as they could to give people as many runs as possible. Wednesday night, Len and Joy provided another great meal. After tea, Michael and I headed to the race camp to take part in the annual auction. Animal is the official DLRA auctioneer. He always conducts the event in his jocks and raises a lot of money for the event in a very entertaining way. The auction is one of the highlights of Speedweek. Michael got some good footage for Rodders Life.
Thursday morning, we were prepping the 34 for racing. We had to fix an oil leak, reset the tappet clearances, check the fuel and tape up all body gaps. The track was open. I heard the sweet sound of Rod’s 540 ci Donovan at full noise. I looked up from the 34 to the track as the bronze commodore flashed past. Race Radio UHF 8 said the run was 240 mph. Race Radio then called out that Rods car had fire underneath. I felt sick. Graham and I grabbed our big foam extinguisher, jumped in the F Truck, and prepared the extinguisher for use while we drove across the lake.
We could see a cloud of smoke appearing behind the island, so I floored the F Truck and hoped he was out of the car. Rod Hadfield’s NOS injected Commodore exploded as we pulled up. The fire crew pulled Rod from the car and put out a call for more extinguishers. Rod was slowly coming to. He was alive, nothing broken and no burns. Amazing. He was put in a stretcher and kept cool. Rod was worried about holding up the meeting!
The Commodore was destroyed from the firewall forward. We suspect that an oil leak had started to burn, the methanol fuel tank had ruptured, and one of the nitros bottles had exploded. The rescue crew did a great job to get Rod out of the car without injury. Thanks guys. I stayed with Rod while his crew salvaged what was left of the Commodore. The track was out of action for some time.
Thursday evening consisted of our usual home cooked meal and bullshit session. I was concerned that Michael had been missing for a while. The Salt Lake is in the middle of nowhere – it is quite easy to get lost if you stray too far. But we found Michael, Animal was taking good care of him. After an in-depth interview, Animal had him sample various cocktails. I think Michael slept really well that night.
Friday was an early start with bacon and eggs at the canteen and a view of the last fast place on Earth. Oggi managed an early run of 195.3 mph, great but still not 200. To his disgust, he couldn’t beat my 195.5.
Neil Davies, an auto electrician, has helped with the race car since day one and deserved a run. We suited him up and he completed a licensing pass of 125 mph. After the run, Neil had that look on his face – He’s Hooked!. Rod, back to his normal self after his accident, told me that I had destroyed yet another rodder’s life.
I had hoped to give Greg Williams and Michael Dascoli a drive too, but a short Speedweek had put an end to that.
It was time to say goodbye, we packed up and headed out.
On the way in, the race tape did a good job at keeping the red dust out of the trailer. We couldn’t find the race tape before we left (probably packed inside the trailer). We said “It’ll be right” and left for Ian Knob. Boy, were we sorry when we got home and everything inside the trailer, including the 34 was absolutely covered in red dust.
A kangaroo bounced into Neil and Greg’s trailer on the way out, but after that we cruised nicely down the dirt road to Iron Knob, and then onto tar to Port Augusta.
The last night away from home was spent at Port Augusta. A Motel, comfy bed, real shower, delivered pizza, and bottleshop were much appreciated. We watched TV and talked crap most of the night. Saturday we cruised home and talked about how we are going to do 200 mph at Speedweek 2007 for sure! We talked about how we have 12 months to prepare. We will organise everything early, have the car stripped down by June, built again by September, and have it loaded in the trailer, ready to go, by Christmas. We all know that in reality, we will start in late December, be stressed by January, have no sleep in February, and have a grouse time in March.
Speedweek is only possible through the efforts of many volunteers in the club. Special thanks goes to Andy Jenkins, Peter Noy, Cled Davies, Lennie Souter, Animal (Steve Charlton), Bob Ellis, Kevin Seville, Mark Hadfield, Mathew Saunders, Geoffrey Marden, Chris Hanlon, Eric Smith and Greg Wapling.
Thanks to all the office holders, including Rob Carroll, Rod Hadfield, and Brian Nicholson. Thanks also to the not so official office holder, Carol “I’m not even a member!” Hadfield.
Last, but not least, thanks to the Big Knob Race Team and supporters, including Elvis at Rod Bods, John Peterson, Bob Kelly, Darren Milburn, Mat Lagoon, Tom Peach, Nicki Signs for the great flame job, MacDonald Bros Racing and Jet Hot Coating.
The special Salt Lake episode of Rodders Life will go to air sometime in May.
Information on Speedweek can be found at http://www.dlra.org.au
Written by Norm Hardinge.