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Whipped Up — Thunder in the Park

15 December 2014

I would be lying to say that I’m a muscle car man through and through. I’m not. I’ve had my moments of craze, and points where all I’d want is a classic Camaro, yet sadly I’m more involved in the modern classics that Japan popped out in the last 30 years.

I was always told that the old muscle car race series are filled with cars that don’t stop well but sound pretty damn good on the straight. I think my age group for a large part needs to take a step back and actually understand what they’re looking at. It’s really not as it seems. It appears to be just that — a rock with a V8, yet underneath it all, the craftsmanship and work ethic that goes into creating these cars is nearly equal to that of a V8 Supercar.

Sure you could compare them to the original shell and debate the stopping power, but modern technology has been introduced into these cars bringing forth a new life of classic car racing. This won’t be a focus piece on the overall depth of the series, nor will the entire post be based around Central Muscle Cars alone, however the post will be a ‘youngster’s look’ at a ‘foreign’ series.

I guess the thing that slightly astounds me is that, coming from a very modern-car-based background, I always think of muscle cars going in straight lines, not around a circuit.

I look at something like this Thunderbird and go, “How the shit is that supposed to make a corner at 100kph?”. Yet the thing I was blown away by was that these cars were taking corners like champions and showing Hondas how fast they can pull. Who wouldn’t want to see a Thunderbird going full bore around a circuit?

It’s not just in the cars that race though, it’s in the trailers and those that pull them. This Dodge truck could put up a decent fight of its own around Pukekohe, given the opportunity.

I started realising though that much like all motorsport, this form has family in common. It’s a family-based sport where dad races and the kids help out.

When I look to the import scene and the drift scene, it’s definitely the opposite way around. Dad’s helping the son out with his project car. Often influenced by dad’s own racing antics from years gone by. 

Something like Thunder in the Park offers a nice amount of variety from your usual track day. As a total outsider it somewhat reminded me of the classic days I used to go to as a young kid, back before Pukekohe was renovated and turned into the big park it is today. I guess looking back to that kid in me, I had some misconceptions I needed to clear up.

One of those misconceptions was that every Holden and Ford racing was V8-powered. It turns out that there’s a huge amount of racers focused on racing in a controlled series with only six-cylinder-powered cars. Brent here races in his V6-powered Commodore and couldn’t contain how much fun racing in the series is. 

But where there are cheaper cars, there are also much more expensive race cars available. Think custom three-piece Arrow wheels, worked Nascar engines, and a full set of suspension modifications that would make even a Japanese purist swoon.

What I didn’t expect is how clean the engine bays are on these cars. They’re fully maintained and ensured to be working well and truly before going out on track. Compared to drifting, the engine bays are years ahead, whilst years behind. 

Walking through the pits after seeing countless muscle cars, it was an odd-yet-refreshing feeling to see this Crawford DP Porsche sitting in the pits. At first I thought I was seeing some form of Le Mans car. An amazing bit of technology has been used in this car and it’s awesome to hear a Kiwi had a part in the build. 

Looking like something straight out of Le Mans, the interior of this car is quite timeless really. Very much dressed up like a cockpit, the interior is not in short supply of switches and buttons.

Designed by Max Crawford, the DP Crawford is made to compete in the Grand American Road Racing Association’s Rolex Sports Car Series as their top-in-series car. 

The chassis is said to have the potential to be quicker than a V8 Supercar, and with one of the cars running a twin-turbo Porsche 996 3.6-litre flat-six, the car is happily pushing a sweet 850hp to the ground.

In fact Glenn Smith’s one in particular has the lap record (as of March 2014) at Manfeild with a time of one minute 03.6 seconds. Comparing that to the rough one minute 5 seconds of a V8 Supertourer, the package is crazy quick.

Sadly my research hasn’t found too much information on this specific Ford Mustang. The car looked impressive in its race attire with the huge intakes coming through the front grille. 

Having been finished just the night before, Mark’s Camaro was looking pretty and just about too clean to race. With Mark having never started the engine prior to the race, it was quite a moment to watch as the team came together for the first time. It was also a spectacular paint job.

Something I did not expect to see down south was Drift King Daigo Saito. He was with his team checking out the cars, which were no doubt quite foreign to them, along with all of the V8 power under the hood.

I may have started a dumb rumour on NZ Performance Car‘s Facebook page about the Japanese driver coming to New Zealand to compete in a Commodore, but how awesome would that have been! You’d just know the car would be immaculate. 

A slight worry came about when the team looked at this SS2000 Datsun 1200. I wasn’t sure if they liked the car or not, however I was assured that the team loved the car and were really quite taken aback by it.

The weekend is over for another year but for now, I’ll leave you with this shot of a classic from the front straight.