Some car engines burn so hot, they use epoxy resin instead of water to dissipate heat. Some speed fanatics replace engine pistons after every single sprint down the racing track! Some automobiles go so fast, they deploy parachutes in addition to brakes. The most hardcore racers burn methanol – a fuel so hot you can’t see the flames when it burns.
My first ever drag races were… LOUD. And awesome! Thanks to Chris and Jenny’s son, Paul, I spent a glorious Sunday perched on a grass and stone amphitheater, beer in hand, and sun on my face. I giddily watched cars jumping off the line and rubbernecked the best collection of mullets I’ve ever seen.
While the crowd was an unexpectedly mixed demographic (what are the tall, graceful women in gorgeous print dresses doing here?), the fare being vended was par for the course. Hot dogs, nachos, and fries (“chips”, technically) in boxes labelled “Good Food!” Beer was of the watered-down variety only – both in terms of flavor and alcohol content. Ice cream came from a machine. I partook shamelessly!
These weren’t just your ordinary races – these were the “nostalgia drags,” featuring cars from as far back as the 30’s and on into the 70’s. I got to see “Jeremiah”, Chris’ Ford Thames, sprint several times down the track. Fun to watch, but really just makes me long to drive or at least ride! There were also actual drag racing cars – the sort of contraption used to set land-speed records not so long ago!
The smell of burnt rubber hung in the air from the outset. As I watched cars warm up their tires for the qualifying runs by doing “burnouts” (where you spin the rear tires so fast the rubber burns off the tire and sticks to the pavement), it dawned on me that one probably does not drag race a front-wheel drive car. Sometimes cars jump across the start line while getting the wheels nice and sticky, but unlike other sporting events I’ve seen, this does not disqualify them.
Then comes the fun part. Some cars launch off the line so fast and hard that they can actually lift of the ground or even flip over. These are equipped with “wheelie bars” – essentially two rods sticking off the back end with small wheels at the terminus – to catch the car before it raises up too far or flips over. I don’t know why it’s such a rush watching souped-up automobiles rev their engines and rip off the line, but I freaking LOVE it!
How does it all work? Take this info with a grain of salt. Or a few glasses of concession stand beer, actually. So – two lanes, two cars, one start line, a bunch of lights in the middle of said line, and a predicted run-time for each car. Apparently, since conditions change throughout the day, and hundredths of a second matter, drivers can nominate their run times even as they pull up to the line to race! Facing the drivers is a “christmas tree” – two columns of five or six lights, one for each driver. The top lights indicate when the car has made it to the line (“staged”), the three amber lights warn the drivers that it’s about time to go, the green light is the equivalent of the flag dropping, and the red light indicates someone has made an oopsie.
The lights have been programmed with a bit of unpredictability to keep the drivers on their toes, but are also set up to ensure a thrilling spectacle for the liquored-up observers in the stands. An attempt is made to keep cars with similar run times racing against one another, but ultimately the lights are programmed such that the cars should cross the finish line at the same time. If you’re predicted to run 12.0 and your competitor is supposed to run 13.9, their light will go green and they will take off before you. Then you chase them down. On other occasions the predicted times are so close, the cars race neck-in-neck down the track. Crossing first doesn’t necessarily mean you win. If you go faster than your predicted time and your competitor doesn’t, you lose. If both cars go slower than their times, the one closest to the predicted time wins. Repeat ad infinitum!
Between the qualifying runs and the races, this being the “nostalgia drags,” there was a bit of a classic car parade that looped several times around the track. Fun to watch! Between races, action coming and going included cars returning to the start bay or loading up after a loss and support cars to tow vehicles with uber-fancy, racing-only engines.
The rest of the time, the announcers provided a good deal of entertainment. They often referred to the far lane by sponsor – ‘In the Supercheap Auto lane we have a ’79 Camaro, left hand drive…”. I’m not sure if they failed to do the same for the near lane because the sponsor hadn’t ponied up the necessary dough or because the sponsor was “Fuchs.” The dudes behind the microphone did say “asshole” at some point, so perhaps the former is more likely.
Now, what I haven’t mentioned is that the races were near Perth, which means not near the farm where I’ve been hanging out for the past month. So how did I end up there? Housesitting! When I stayed with Glenys and Jim, she turned me on to the idea and a website she knew about. I signed up and spent a week near Perth taking care of three lovely pooches and three sweet cats while their owners were in Bali. I crammed the week full of productivity, walks on the beach with the dogs, sunsets, and petting the puffiest, most affectionate kitty I’ve ever met. (I doled out plenty of love to his two cohorts, as well.)
I also happened to be there on ANZAC day (their equivalent of Veteran’s Day – acronym stands for “Australia New Zealand Army Corps”). I couldn’t let a national holiday pass me by, so I got out nice and early for the nearest parade and service. I only caught the end of the parade, but was impressed by how many groups of young (under 18) uniformed groups of people were participating.
The service began with four armed women in naval uniform matching onto the platform and standing at attention for the duration (occasionally moving their guns in rehearsed ways to various positions as the proceedings called for it). The “parade commander’s” voice was so burly I nearly giggle at the caricature. He shouted commands, his charges neatly reacted, and then he brusquely yelled “Your PARADE, emCEE!” The emcee wasn’t the most eloquent speaker I’ve every heard, but he beat the accent-less reverend in the interest department. Since the year is 2013, he focused on recalling what the ANZAC had been up to in other years ending in three – of course covering WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia peacekeeping, and the invasion of Iraq. I found it odd that water was served to the crowd during the speeches.
Between speeches and during the very long and rather boring laying of wreaths (done one at a time after the wreath donor is announced and called forward), a fantastic choir of older women sang just the kind of songs you would expect in just the kind of voices that one thinks of when picturing short, grey-haired, choral stars. I loved it!
My favorite speech was from a high school (termed “college” here) student entitled, “What ANZAC means to me.” He enlightened me to the fact that a common, every-day cookie (“biscuit,” they say) that I’ve nibbled on in New Zealand and here, was invented as a result of food rationing. He didn’t give details, but wikipedia sort of backs him up by mentioning these particular cookies/biscuits had to be made without eggs (in short supply at the time). Now I finally understand why so many bakeries sell cookies called “ANZAC biscuits!”
At the end of the service, we sang the national anthem. The words were printed on the back of the program, and yet no one seemed to know the song or feel patriotic enough to sing. Only one in five mouths were even moving, and perhaps one in seven were actually putting air through their vocal chords. Even among the supposedly more patriotic demographic – police officers, other folks in uniform, etc. Weird!
I swung by the “refreshments” at the local RSA (Returned Serviceman’s Association – essentially a VFW) afterward just to check out the scene. “Refreshments” really meant RSA fundraiser, so I had a few cups of tea while scoping the other attendees. Shocker of the day: lots of folks plunking their picnic baskets down on the tables under the haze of smoke from the money-making BBQ. Supposedly, this is normal?!
The housesitting wrapped up smoothly, and I headed back to the farm to relish the good life and wait for news on the half-dozen jobs I’d applied for. ♣
Meet the puppies I took care of, find out how many hours a CFL can run on one recycled bottle, and see more classic souped-up cars in this Facebook album.