Drag racing weekend

Drag racing weekend


While 2020 has wiped out plenty of sporting events, nothing could keep the hardcore Street Machine Drag Challenge fans down, with 129 entrants turning up to try their hand at Drag Challenge Weekend 2020 in Queensland. Despite border restriction shenanigans preventing Victorians from making the trip north, there were still plenty of stout cars at Willowbank Raceway on Friday 27 November for Day One of Australia’s greatest street-car competition.

The day started off cool and overcast, but the sun soon appeared, and by the time racing started shortly after 1pm, the Willowbank tar was cooking. The bakinghot weather played havoc with some of the quicker forced-induction cars, as they struggled to put the power down, but others seemed to revel in the heat.

Topping the day’s sheets both Overall and in Haltech Radial Blown, Ben Vlekken’s VH Commodore wagon was the only car to run in the sevens, with a 7.80@172mph on his second pass. “It was very tame,” said Ben afterwards. “It’s a new engine – a 400ci Dart SHP Pro LS built by Jase Cowie from CPE. It uses a GTX55 turbo, and we only had 26psi in it then, so there is a lot more in it.”

Paul Merry in the PSIPREM HG Premier had sat at the bottom of the Overall Top 10 until late in the day, when he threw down an 8.27@162mph and an 8.12@174mph to jump into second in Haltech Radial Blown and second Overall. However, the day didn’t end well for Paul, with the twin-turbo 377ci LSX sedan pulling up short on its last pass having killed a turbo.

The 2018 DCW Champion and 2019 runner-up, Mark Van Der Togt, pedalled his twin-turbo XW Futura to a blistering 8.16@169mph, finishing the day third in Haltech Radial Blown and Overall. Having run as quick as 7.80, the 393ci SBF-powered sedan was looking to be one to watch.

Benny Neal had knocked out an 8.53@165mph in his two-time Hot Rod Drag Weekfinishing, Barra-powered ’85 Toyota Cresta to lead the Speed Pro Six-Cylinder class and sit fourth Overall. He’d driven the 275-shod sedan 1000km up the coast from the Southern Highlands, fighting overheating issues due to crud in the radiator, which he cleaned out with Drano on Thursday night.

Juan Kudnig’s triple-charged HT Kingswood busted out a pair of mid-eight-second passes, with the Vortech-blown, turbocharged and nitrous-huffing four-door running an 8.73@160mph and then an 8.63@159mph to sit in first place in Tuff Mounts 235 Blown and fifth Overall.

In Haltech Radial Blown, Trent Brimble’s turbo-LS VL sedan lapped all day with mixed success, but ran a couple of mid-eights, with a Day One PB of 8.63@161mph to sit in fifth Overall and fourth in class.

Benny Paganoni overcame some teething issues with his Fox-body Mustang to run an 8.91@158mph, which put him second in Speed Pro Six-Cylinder and 10th Overall. The Barra-powered Mustang was brought back to Australia having been built in the USA by Benny Neal, along with Alan ‘Turbo Yoda’ Butler and Ben ‘Woody’ Wood for their YouTube channel The Skid Factory.

While the blown cars get much of the glory at Drag Challenge, there were also some seriously tough aspirated cars making this trip. Brodie Olsen had his aspo LX Torana hatch firing like a bullet on Day One, going 9.75@141mph to lead the Tuff Mounts 235 Aspirated list.

Jai Schluter in his Mustang hauled the mail with a 9.34@141mph to leave the track in first place in Turbosmart Outlaw Aspirated and in 13th Overall. But the silver coupe was later seen coming back into Willowbank on a tow truck, having thrown a rod out.

The big gun among the aspo classes was Alon Vella, who laid down a mega 8.90@152mph to sit ninth Overall and on top of the Pacemaker Radial Aspirated list. The seven-time class-winner stomped his authority all over the aspo engines after initially struggling to get the power to the ground.

Rob Huston’s 1975 Dodge D5N had one of the day’s big blow-ups as it ejected the trans in the braking area at 110mph. The injected, turbocharged 355 Holdenpowered pick-up gave Rob an adventure trying to stay off the walls, and it was obvious he was out of DCW.

The misadventures didn’t stop on the track, as Rahim Tarr had the bonnet of his 434ci XD ute fly up while leaving Willowbank, smashing the windscreen. When we left the track for the night, Rahim was awaiting delivery of a new ’screen.

Andrew Natoli in his killer plastic-powered VK was also out of competition after Day One, along with Stephen Hyslop in his UC Torana hatch. However, most of the field made it to Warwick for Day Two, via the scenic Maroon Dam.


It was hotter than Satan’s jocks at Warwick Dragway on Saturday, and it wreaked havoc on the cars and crews who made it there to run on the eighth-mile track.

Ben Vlekken stayed out in front of both the Haltech Radial Blown class and Overall, with a 5.18@141mph on the tricky surface. The Spot On Performance-supported VH Commodore wagon was able to get its huge turbo LS power to the blacktop better than any other car on the day.

In Pacemaker Radial Aspirated, Alon Vella tightened his grip on the class with a 5.70@122mph, heading Jesse Davidson’s HG (6.81@100mph) and Tom Hastings’s big Customline (7.49@76mph). The mid-five-second run kept Alon in the Top 10 Overall, between Ben Taylor and Rob Armstrong’s Camaro and Juan Kudnig’s HT.

Trent Brimble’s VILLIN Commodore was one of the day’s big movers, with the factory turbo VL jumping into third Overall and third in Haltech Radial Blown with a 5.56@130mph. Trent admitted he was still feeling his way with the fresh build, which runs a 403ci LQ9, Plazmaman intake, GTX55 turbo and Holley Dominator.

After clocking a 5.83@127mph at Warwick, Ben Paganoni sat ninth Overall and second in the Speed Pro Six-Cylinder class, but the Barra in his Fox-body Mustang wasn’t happy. The man leading the class, Benny Neal in the Barra Cresta, sat in fourth Overall, running 5.75@129mph after doing another round of Drano engineering on the Cresta’s blocked radiator.

Jamie Swift’s NOGILT VH Commodore was in good form at DCW thanks to a new forged bottom end in his L98 6.0-litre, plus Higgins CNC heads, a GTX50 turbo and a Haltech PS2000 ECU. Having only got it running in the days prior to the event, his crew initially struggled to get it to build boost on the converter. “We didn’t get time to hook up CO2 control, so it has had super-lazy 60-foot times, but it did pick up 9mph in the top end,” Jamie said. A 5.89@117mph put him into the Overall Top 10 and in sixth place in Haltech Radial Blown.

Rahim Tarr surprised everyone when he turned up at Warwick with a new windscreen in his XD ute, following his bonnet mishap on Friday. He finished Day Two 15th Overall and in the lead of Turbosmart Outlaw Aspirated following a 6.37@108mph on the eighth-mile.

Fellow Outlaw Aspirated big hitter Steve Micallef struggled through Day One due to tuning woes with a new combo in his HQ. Now running Holley EFI, a new cam, twin throttlebodies and a huge 14.5:1 compression in the 632ci big-block Chev, the set-up made 855hp at the hubs with 17 per cent converter slip before DCW. With the converter fixed, Steve was searching for the tuning sweet spot that would work in the atmosphere and elevation of Warwick. He eventually ran 6.86@104mph.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t all beer and skittles on Day Two. Pat O’Shea’s immaculate XR Fairmont left on a tilt-tray after burning a piston ring, one of a few cars to pack it in. Duncan McKenna’s 500ci big-block ’67 Dodge Charger blew its 727 auto, while Harun Gencerler’s C63 also hit trans troubles. Joel Ricketts’s big-block VF Valiant hardtop survived a fire on the road leg to Warwick only to go out with throttle issues.

Mitch Pullen’s wild drift HiLux had to go back on his transporter after running quicker than his tech certification allowed at Willowbank on Day One, and although Paul Merry was able to source a new turbo for PSIPREM after he lost one on the HG’s last run on Day One, he didn’t make the drive to Warwick, as he wasn’t sure what shrapnel had gone through the motor.

All in all, the attrition rate hit hard as the survivors made their way back to Willowbank in preparation for the final day – which was also set to be the hottest of the event.


More than 600km of challenging road legs during brutally hot Queensland weather made this year’s Drag Challenge Weekend one of the toughest, and that is before we get to the competition between 129 stout street cars.

Day Three was held back at Willowbank, where the scorching weather threatened to prevent quick times, but the racers dug deep to pull a bunch of swift passes out of their bag of tricks.

Everyone was chasing Ben Vlekken’s VH Commodore wagon, with his first pass of the day an arrow-straight 7.90@180mph to lock him in as the king of the 275 pressure-fed crew in Haltech Radial Blown, as well as securing the Overall win for Drag Challenge Weekend 2020. It was the second seven by the turbo LS-powered VH for the weekend, having pumped out a 7.80 on Day One.

Alon Vella lifted his eighth Pacemaker Radial Aspirated class win trophy thanks to a one-and-done 8.85@150mph early on Sunday. The 450ci Ford Capri led home Jesse Davidson’s HG Holden and Tom Hastings’ Cusso.

First down the Willowbank quarter was Ben Paganoni, who rocked his Barra Mustang to an 8.92@158mph despite issues with glitter in his engine oil, backing that up later with 8.79@163mph, 8.73@163mph and 8.68@162mph, which was enough to seal second place in the Speed Pro Six-Cylinder class.

Benny Neal had the Cresta set to kill from the start of the day. Launching in second gear, he ran 8.40@163mph to win Speed Pro Six-Cylinder, as he chased down a podium finish in the Overall stakes. Benny had fixed his overheating issues by running on the taller drag radials on the road loop.

Mark Van Der Togt’s big twin-turbo XW blew the tyres off on the hit several times in a row on Day Three. Eventually though, he managed to take enough out of the tune to click an 8.80@169mph and then 8.51@170mph, which left him second in both Haltech Radial Blown and Overall.

Trent Brimble’s first run in his turbo LS VL, VILLIN, netted him an 8.46@165mph, which he backed up with an 8.41@159mph to lock in third Overall and in Haltech Radial Blown. Other quick runners in the class included Jamie Swift, whose NOGILT VH Commodore knocked out an 8.72@164mph, while Rob Armstrong ran 8.69@163mph in his Camaro and Shane Baker’s turbo plastic-powered VH Commodore posted 8.95@160mph.

After his smashed windscreen on Friday, Rahim Tarr rallied strongly to take out Turbosmart Outlaw Aspirated thanks to a 9.74@136mph. Steve Micallef’s Tonner was the only other finisher in the class, wrapping up with a 9.88@141mph.

One of the wildest cars in the whole field, Reion Sammons’s blown 598ci fat-block HQ put on a huge show, and his 9.05@159mph left him way out in front of Turbosmart Outlaw Blown. The Townsville local did it the hard way, swapping the blower and injection hat off the Quey for each road leg.

Tuff Mounts 235 Aspirated was taken out by Brodie Olsen’s awesome plastic-powered LX Torana hatchback, one of the neatest, most wellpresented cars at the event. While he’d run 9.75@141mph on Friday, Day Three’s heat saw him with a best of 10.21@139mph, though it was enough to finish ahead of Kevin Brown’s Commodore.

Tuff Mounts 235 Blown was a battle between Juan Kundig in the triplecharged HT Holden sedan and Jason Ross’s turbo LS UC Torana. Juan had run an 8.63@159mph on Day One, but he struggled on Day Three to finish with a 9.36@137mph. Jason had the last pass of the day, running a 9.22@154mph to take the win in the little-tyre forced-induction class.

In Carnage Dial Your Own, the action was tighter than a supermodel’s undies, with Mitchell Jannusch in the XD panel van coming home 0.004sec off his dial-in time, leading home Simon Stockton’s fifth-generation Toyota Supra and Wade Moran’s Mustang.

As the sun set and the trophies were handed out to the winners, many said this was the toughest Drag Challenge event they’d done – and that they’d be back for whatever Street Machine, Mother Nature and the racing gods could throw at them next year! 

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