Willowbank News and Media
DRAG RACING HISTORY ON SHOW AT THE CASTROL EDGE WINTERNATIONALS
Article Date: 23 May 2011
One of the key vehicles in the history of Australian drag racing will be on show at Willowbank Raceway's Castrol EDGE Winternationals (June 10-13).
The Australian Dragfest tour of six US drag racers some forty-five years ago is often credited with inspiring today’s Aussie drag racing scene, and after many years of effort one of those six dragsters – the front engined dragster of Bob Keith – has been recreated and will go on display for the first time at the largest drag racing event outside of the US.
The fully functioning drag racing vehicle boasts the original body as the centerpiece of the project, thanks to Keith removing the body from the chassis within months of returning to the US in 1966.
It remained in his possession until journalist and Willowbank board member Lex Swayn interviewed him in 2006 for the 40th anniversary of the Australian Dragfest tour, at which time Keith revealed he still had the original body, starting a discussion that would eventually lead to a plan to restore the dragster.
“I tried to locate the original chassis, made lots of phone calls to Texas and elsewhere, but I never found it, I guess it has ended up on a scrap heap somewhere,” said Keith.
“But with the body in exactly the same condition as when it was raced in Australia in 1966, it was a pretty good starting point to rebuild the car.’’
Originally, the plan was that the car would simply be a museum piece, with the chassis and engine constructed in Australia, and so the body was shipped to Australia in 2007 where it was put on display at Willowbank Raceway during that year’s Winternationals, while the hunt began for parts for the restoration project.
However, in 2008 Bob contacted the constructor of the original car - Kent Fuller – who offered to replicate the 1965 chassis and the opportunity to greatly enhance the car’s authenticity was too good to miss.
At that stage, the engine was still to be built in Australia, but in 2009 after Keith contacted Arnold Chaves – the builder of the car’s original big block Chv motor in1965 - the chance to have the final product even more authentic saw that part of the project also constructed in the US, with the decision soon made to make the engine fully operational, rather than a “dummied-up’’ powerplant with no internal parts.
While the chassis and engine were under construction, Keith painstakingly sourced parts - finding items that were commonly used on race cars in the mid 1960s was far from easy but thanks to e-Bay and access through the internet to a wide range of custom-made products, he was able to source all the bits, with some of his old contacts also coming to the party with parts.
“Without Bob doing the searching and finding of parts there is no way this vehicle would ever have been as truly authentic as it is,’’ said Swayn.
“His detective work was pretty impressive. I would never have been able to find the stuff he has located, and I would not have been as sure when I found something that it was the same as the original anyway.
"But once we decided to make the car as authentic as possible, then there was really no better person to locate all the bits than the man who originally owned the car.’’
After five years of hard work, the project was completed and all that remains is for the body to be fitted once the chassis arrives in Australia.
“It has been a lot of fun helping to put the Courtesy Chevrolet Special back together,’’ said Keith.
“It has fulfilled a dream and really means more to me than words can say. I want to thank Lex Swayn for making it happen.”
Swayn said he was looking forward to seeing the finished product after all of the years of hard work to bring the project together.
“It is like opening a time capsule and finding something just as it was 45 years ago, at least as far as the body goes,’’ said Swayn.
“And the chassis, motor and all other components have been faithfully re-created, at least as far as is possible nearly half a century after the vehicle raced in Australia.
“What I believe makes this truly authentic is the fact that the very same craftsmen who built the chassis and engine in 1965 have again put this car together, and that makes it about as genuine as you can get in the absence of the original.
“I want people to be able to see the car because drag racing in this country really began with this type of vehicle. The reason I won’t race it is because of its tremendous historical value to the sport. If that body was destroyed in an accident that would be the end of it, because while a replacement could be made, you wouldn’t be looking at the original body like you can now.
“It might be an American car, but Bob is happy for it to come to Australia because he understands its place in the history of the sport here. Within five years of Bob and his fellow Dragfest racers putting on their show at Surfers, Sydney and Melbourne, drag racing in Australia was unrecognisable, it had grown so much.
They were the spark that ignited the passion that was already there, but didn’t really have any direction, organisation or role models. All of those things fell into place once the Aussies saw six professionally built drag race vehicles put on a show of the like that had never before been seen in this country.’’
Young drag racers in 1966 who went on to become leaders in Australian drag racing are unanimous in their belief that the Dragfest tour had a huge influence on their attitude towards the sport.
Queensland drag racing legend Jim Reed (father of current day Top Alchol racer Steve Reed) said “Most cars were hand-built in people’s backyards in the mid 1960s, but when we saw those professionally built dragsters of Bob Keith and the other Americans, and witnessed how fast they were, we just had to be a part of that.’’
Multiple Australian champion Jim Read, of Sydney, said his initial impression of the American drivers was that they and their cars were crazy, but he was soon drawn into the sport and within a few years had his own dragster.
Drag racing historian Bob Honeybrook, who has collated a DVD from film of the 1966 Dragfest, says the tour by the six Americans is generally acknowledged as the single major event that boosted the sport in Australia.
Plans are for the car to be on display at the 2011 Castrol EDGE Winternationals, as well as being paraded to the public during the late-afternoon sun breaks in the program each day.
The Castrol EDGE Winternationals is an entertainment extravaganza held annually across the Queen’s Birthday weekend and is expected to provide an economic injection of millions of dollars into the South East Queensland region.
Children aged 13 and under are able to gain free admission to the Raceway during the Castrol EDGE Winternationals, and students with ID are able to gain discounted entry. One-day, two-day and full-event passes are all available – for more information, to purchase tickets and for schedules, please visit www.willowbankraceway.com.au
Willowbank Raceway is Queensland’s premier drag racing facility, hosting year-round racing including four ANDRA Pro Series rounds per year including the Castrol EDGE Winternationals. For more information, please visit www.willowbankraceway.com.au
EVENT INFORMATION: CASTROL EDGE WINTERNATIONALS
Feature racing: Top Fuel, Top Doorslammer, Top Alcohol, Pro Stock, Top Bike, Pro Stock Motorcycle
Also racing from: Lifestyle Floorcoverings Competition, Lifestyle Floorcoverings Super Stock, Super Compact, Competition Bike, Allstar Batteries Supercharged Outlaws, Knijff Earthmoving Modified, Powercruise Super Sedan, Speed Elec/Prime Signs Super Street, Modified Bike, Donnelly Blasting Services Junior Dragster and Neptunes Pool Care Super Gas.
(Approximate and subject to change – visit www.willowbankraceway.com.au
Friday June 10
On-track qualifying action from 9.00am – approximately 7.30pm
Pro Stock Qualifying at 5.00pm
Saturday June 11
On-track action from 8.00am – approximately 8.00pm
ANDRA Pro Series Qualifying from 12.00pm – approximately 5.30pm
Sunday June 12
On-track action from 8.30am – approximately 6.30pm
ANDRA Pro Series Qualifying from 12 noon – approximately 5.30pm
Monday June 13
On-track action from 8.30am – approximately 4.30pm
Opening Ceremonies – 10.30am
ANDRA Pro Series racing at 11.00am, 1.15pm and all finals from 2.45pm
Ticketing – tickets available for purchase from www.willowbankraceway.com.au
NB: General Admission = access to the spectator mound and paddock area
NB: Multi-day passes are available for pre-purchase through the Willowbank Raceway website only, no at-gate purchase of multi-day passes will be available
General Admission Tickets:
Friday June 10 – Adult General Admission- $20.00
Friday June 10 – Student/Concession General Admission (Must show ID) - $20.00
Saturday June 11 – Adult General Admission - $50.00
Saturday June 11 – Student/Concession General Admission (Must show ID) - $42.00
Sunday June 12 – Adult General Admission - $50.00
Sunday June 12 – Student/Concession General Admission (Must show ID) - $42.00
Monday June 12 – Adult General Admission - $50.00
Monday June 12 – Student/Concession General Admission (Must show ID) - $42.00
Two-day General admission pass (available in Saturday/Sunday or Sunday/Monday format):
Adult - $90.00
Student/Concession (must show ID) - $75.00
Three-day General admission pass, including complimentary Friday General Admission:
Adult - $140.00
Student/Concession (must show ID) - $110.00
Reserved seating (price DOES NOT include admission), available for Saturday, Sunday and Monday:
Startline Club - $16.00 per day
Grandstand - $12.00 per day
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