Classic English sports car marque Jaguar is renowned for curve-hugging Grand Tourers – not so much for quarter mile prowess. But we've got to say, the shape looks at home on a drag strip.
Western Australia's Norbert Claite is the proud owner of this big cat, a model that attracts more than its fair share of attention whenever it is at the track.
Claite has always been a fan of street machines with a passing interest in drag racing, but it was a chance encounter that made him consider getting more involved with the sport.
A car salesman, Claite managed to talk one Dale Gummow into buying a new ride. Gummow is a racer herself, as well as having spent time working at Perth Motorplex and Hidden Valley Drag Strip. As they were doing the deal, Gummow swung the negotiations into Claite attending a Westside Drag Racing Association meeting after seeing a picture of his Holden one tonner on his desk.
“Dale asked what I was doing with the car and I said I had built it from the ground up just to drive around,” Claite said. “She asked me if I had thought about racing it and said she was part of a drag racing club so maybe I should come to a meeting and learn more.
“I went to the next club meeting and joined up with Westside and the next thing you know I was racing the one tonner.”
Claite had attended many events at Ravenswood since the late eighties, but always as a spectator. Once he started racing at events in his one tonner the urge to get quicker naturally arrived and it became too radical for the street. Claite was ready to make the call on getting into a purpose built race car.
His first Super Sedan was a Chevy Luv owned by Anthony Begley, but Claite didn't end up making a lot of runs with the car as he found it too small for his larger-than-Begley-sized frame. Next off the ranks was a Ford Falcon ute bought out of Melbourne that he campaigned for two years, eventually moving on to a sweet Chev Camaro he imported from the USA.
Selling the car to make a move to something quicker again, Claite's racing had a brief hiccup when he crashed in the final of the 2013 Westernationals. Coolant got under the rear tyres and turned the car into the wall. The really bad news was Claite had already sold the car to Lance Larcombe in South Australia.
“The crash was a low point of my racing, that was pretty devastating,” Claite said. “After the crash it cost me $22,000 to fix the Camaro and get it to better than it was before, because I wasn't going to sell it to Lance unless I knew the repairs were done properly.”
The hits weren't done yet. While fixing the Camaro Claite was on the search in the USA for his new toy. He found an ex-Pro Stock Pontiac Firebird built by Jerry Bickel that looked perfect. He sent the money to the USA and organised an Australian company to look after freighting the car down under, only to be duded at the last minute.
“The people that were helping me bring the car back into the country did the dirty on me, they found out how much I paid for it and then they went to the seller and offered more. They later on-sold it to someone over east without my knowledge. The money was already in their account and I ended up short $5,000 due to the dollar exchange at the time which was a bit of a rough deal.”
Search continuing unabated, Claite's brother was looking on a Pro Mod website when he saw a very unique drag car for sale – a 2005 Jaguar XKR Coupe.
“I wasn't really taken by it at first but the more I kept looking at it I started to like it,” Claite said. “What attracted me to it was that there were only three of those ever built, this one was number three. Number one is in a museum in Ontario and number two went to England, raced and crashed.”
The car came with a supercharged combination but Claite initially went with an NA combo to run the car in Super Sedan for a time and get used to everything again.
“I knew what sort of horsepower it was putting out but it drove different to the Camaro, it was a lot nicer to drive,” Claite said. “We raced it for a couple of seasons then we made the decision to step up to Outlaws. In hindsight I probably should have stayed in Super Sedan because it was a hell of a lot cheaper, the first season of Outlaws was very expensive!”
A blown 509ci motor came with the car but despite claimed best performances of 7.2 and 190mph, Claite couldn't see how it would reach those targets with the gear it came with.
“The engine was certainly not what he had told me over the phone. When we got the car here it ran and everything, but the heads that were on there wouldn't have made the horsepower to run 7.2s.”
Regardless Claite pushed on and in his first event he reached the B Final of Supercharged Outlaws. Life was good until a rod let go, with a $9,000 repair bill to go with his first supercharged event.
“With more failures coming in the engine three or four meets after that it was clear there were a lot of unknowns with the engine, so I thought I would start fresh.”
Claite sourced a brand new block, rods, pistons, crank, cylinder heads, blower and ignition system, with much of the gear coming from the very quick 'Pigfish Racing' altered that was campaigned by Doug Bird in the west for several seasons in the 2000s.
“We haven't even touched it yet and my PB has already gone from a 7.65 to a 7.06, so it has a lot of potential. It is a very reliable combo and this season we have also changed to Fuchs drag racing oil which has made a huge difference.”
Subtlety is not the Jaguar's strong point. Claite has a regular line up of people to check out the car up close given its unique look, different from the fields of Holdens, Fords and American muscle that tend to occupy the sedan ranks of drag racing.
“The older generation in their mid 40s to early 50s who are passionate about the Jags love it, a lot of guys want to take pictures with the car and want to know more. The shape is a bit different. I like the old style cars, like steel bumper types, but this is different and it has grown on me - it is probably the best handling car I have ever had, it is almost like driving a limousine, especially considering it is a blown car.”
Claite believes he has found his niche in drag racing, though he anticipates son Sebastian getting into the hot seat once he is old enough. Sebastian is a current Junior Dragster competitor, while sister Claudia also campaigned for several years.
“Sebastian has been racing for six years and he loves it, Claudia did three years and while she enjoyed it she decided she didn't want to do it anymore so we sold the car to Kristie Hudson for her daughter.
“Sebastian has another two and a half years to go and the plane after that is to put him in the car and I will step back and help crew for him.”
The expected drive change all ties into Claite's love of involving the family in his racing. Wife Vanessa is always at the track, the kids are integral to the operation and Norbert's brother is on the crew.
“I wouldn't do it any other way. I am very lucky to have a supportive wife, it is not a cheap sport and she is 100% behind what I do and she enjoys it as much as I do.”
After the completion of another season at Perth Motorplex, Claite is now setting about cleaning up the Jag – you could call him fastidious.
“The plan is to send the car to the panel shop because there is a bit of body work that needs looking at, the front clip has a few cracks here and there,” he said.
The team will also be changing to an external starter, requiring some modifications to the bonnet. A flap will be added to provide access for the starter, before being dzus fastened for a run.
“Next season we are restripping the blower, with new teflon strips to make more boost, and the onboard starter probably won't cut the cheese.”
That might be just enough mumbo to put Claite into the six second zone. For his motivations that is just perfect.
“As far as classes, I have found my niche. Outlaws is as far as I want to go. I'm self funded, I don't have any sponsors or anything like that, everything comes out of my pocket and that is as much as I can afford to go racing. Outlaws is exactly where I want to be, it's a great bunch of people.”