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Thunder Down Under


Article & Pics by 'Slingshot' Steve Thomas


It was a sad day for Aussie drag racing when the fondly-remembered Castlereagh International Dragway closed its gates for the last time in April 1984, but the 25 Year Memorial Reunion was anything but a somber event. Organized by the NSW Hot Rod Association in honor of the old World War 2 airstrip which became a home away from home for so many, the reunion was held on April 25th at the Drag-ens Hot Rod Club clubhouse and had around 210 nostalgic souls in attendance.

Castlereagh's closure marked the end of a magnificent era in Australian drag racing, which saw constant record-setting runs by the best racers in the country, the emergence of racers who went on to become legends of the sport, helped forge many lasting friendships and played host to some of the toughest machinery in the hands of the biggest names from the home of drag racing, the USA.



The night was for reminiscing. Stories of both achievements and failures on the track, tales of the fun had when 'bending the rules ever so slightly' and the re-kindling of friendships with blokes you hadn't seen for maybe a couple of decades or more. Racers, crew members and track officials from the old track regaled one and all with tales of their exploits, although some of the recounting may not have been quite accurate, what with CRAFT setting in for most of us, but the stories evoked memories of a time when racing was simple, parts and cars were home-built, not bought off the shelf and a day at the drags with your mates was more fun than you could poke a stick at.

Lining the entry to the reunion was a row of hot rods, some of which, like Ronnie Williams' roadster pickup, have been around since before Castlereagh closed. At the end of the row of rods Aussie drag racing history was made that night. Nearing the end of the line-up you saw a pair of chrome spokes coming into view, followed by the unmistakable torsion bar suspension and chassis of a slingshot. Finally, a magnificent blown, Enderle-injected 392 Hemi, devoid of modern clutter, filled your vision and led you to the gleaming white and green paintwork, the 3-point cage and the polished Halibrands shod with big Goodyears. The stirrings of emotion that this sight provoked could only be truly felt by those who had witnessed this car, and others of its type, in action more that 30 years ago. Standing there, proud as punch and grinning like a Cheshire cat was the owner and restorer of this rolling showpiece, 70s and 80s racer, Ross Preen.

The digger on display is the car that was built and raced by Victorian, John Maher back in the late 60s. At the time, it was powered by an injected Hemi, then it was sold to Sydney racer Morrie Carlton, who raced it with a blown Hemi in the early to mid 70s and it was then sold to fellow Sydney racer Jim Kerr, who kept the blown Hemi configuration.

Some new body panels have been fabricated to clothe the original chassis and Ross has had it painted and lettered as it was during Morrie's ownership. Ross has rebuilt the car to cackle, not race and had invited Morrie along to the reunion to witness the fire-up of his old car on nitro and to say that Morrie was stunned by the rebuilt beauty would be an understatement. In Morrie's own words, "The car looks a lot better now than it ever did when I raced it!"

Eighty-five percent filled the original tank, Morrie was requested to don the aluminum face mask and take his place at the butterfly tiller, the injectors were primed, the starter was connected to the pulley and started to spin. A couple of pops and silence. Another injector prime, the spin of the starter, and history - Australia's first cackle car on Aussie soil roared into life. The sight and sound of that cackling 392 brought tears to the eyes of many a grown man crowded around and it wasn't just from the nitro. I don't think anyone knew how many minutes passed until the pop ran out and the big mill fell silent once again, we were all too busy basking in the thrill of the moment. The silence lasted not quite a full second before it was shattered with cheers, whistles, clapping and laughter. We had just witnessed history in the making and the two biggest smiles belonged to Ross and Morrie.

Once the big mill had cooled down sufficiently it was time for a second start-up, this time with legend and Top Fuel racer Bob 'Quarter Mile Smile' Shepherd at the helm. After a lifetime of larrikinism and smiling, Bob is the only bloke I know who could have out-smiled Ross and Morrie that night and he did just that as he squirmed his way into the tight but plush confines of the cockpit. On with the facemask, another 85% dose, prime the injectors, attach and turn over the starter motor, then the ghastly sound of broken metal as the starter's planetary gear shattered. Even the fact that the car hadn't been able to cackle into life couldn't take the smile off Bob's face.

The reunion itself was a resounding success. Joseph Rodriquez was in charge of keeping the vintage drag racing movies and photos on the overhead screen for the night, while ex- and current-racers, ex-Castlereagh officials and fans renewed friendships and acquaintances, swapping stories with each other. Australia's two most knowledgeable drag racing historians, Bob Honeybrook and Dave Cook were on hand and the list of attendees read like a who's who of our early and current history.

Everyone who attended the reunion is indebted to the efforts of Ian Seckold and the NSWHRA and to the Drag-ens for supplyi
ng their clubhouse as the venue. A more appropriate venue could not have been found. Thanks must also go out to everyone who attended because you are the ones who keep Castlereagh and our history alive.



The guys cleaning are Chris Preen (front axle) and Scotty Lane (with the hat). Scotty's the guy who made the new body panels.



Original driver Morrie Carlton, he was just over the moon to be there.



Ross Preen and Morrie


The Drag ens club rooms before everyone started to arrive.


Original Castlereagh scrutineer (sorry, tech inspector) Joe Taranto with Ross.


Ronnie Moore one of the most bad arse AA/D drivers from back in the day!


Morrie climbing aboard.


L to R Ross, Morrie (light jacket, back to camera), Chris Preen, Bruce Fairbairn,Wally Moore, Greg Seigl (big guy, dark Jacket, back to camera) Ronnie Moore and Dennis Ballard.


Bob "Quarter Mile Smile" Shepherd





Prior to the fire up Ross did a final adjustment on the barrell valve.


Prime her up.


We have flames! Morrie in the seat.









Our drag racing history is important to all of us. There are many old cars, or parts thereof, hidden away in sheds all over the country and now is the time to seriously consider reviving some of these old pieces of history. The longer these cars are left alone the more they will deteriorate and be lost forever.

If you are interested in restoring a car to its former glory but don't know where or how to start, then both Ross and 'Scorcher' George are more than happy to help in any way they can. As you know, chassis-builder George was very heavily involved in the rebuild of the original Ash Marshall 'Scorcher', which now resides and cackles in the USA and Ross has now rebuilt Morrie's car, so they both have the know-how to steer you in the right direction.

Ross can be reached on 0409 828 306 and George on 0402 476 902.
cacklecar@gmail.com Email Ross




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