The year that was for Team Bray Racing was nothing short of mammoth, with a roller coaster of emotions keeping the team on their toes throughout 2017.
The year started on the highest of highs off the back of the news that the largest Australian-owned manufacturer of lubricants in Australia, Gulf Western Oil, was signing on as a full naming rights partner of a five-car campaign for the next three years.
Just weeks into the year, striking new liveries were unveiled amidst match racing at TBR’s home track of Willowbank Raceway before the crew headed to Sydney for a very successful outing, with Ben Bray taking victory over his father Victor Bray in an all-Bray finale.
“It was just great being able to beat Dad in an All Bray final – Gulf Western Oil just makes us go faster!” said Ben Bray at the time.
“Since making our comeback in Gulf Western Oil colours just one event ago, we have been itching to take a win and to see not just one but both of our Slammers in the final in just our second competitive event of the season was just fantastic.”
Next on the docket was a trip to Calder Park in February. While the semi-finals were as far as the team would proceed, a huge crowd saw smiles on the faces of the entire TBR crew all-weekend-long. The smiles were mutual too – with the Brays sure to punch out their famous half-track burnouts in all their appearances to the delight of their fans.
“It was absolutely great to be back at Calder – the fans were amazing and there were a lot of fans that have followed us from way-back-when that made sure to stop by our pits and say hello which was really cool,” Victor said.
Calder Park had been the fourth event in as many weeks for TBR, with the team taking advantage of a couple weeks’ break to undertake servicing work before travelling to Perth for the Westernationals, falling on Ben’s birthday.
Unfortunately, this outing would be more challenging than anticipated. For Victor especially, it was difficult from the get-go with a new converter adding an unknown element to the team’s set-up even before a dropped valve in the second qualifier necessitated an engine rebuild. It was an all-in effort to get the car ready for the final qualifier on Saturday evening, which would then frustratingly be postponed to the next day due to the venue’s curfew just as team towed the car to the staging lanes.
The final qualifier would instead be run the next day in immensely hot conditions and smoked tyres saw Victor miss eliminations by one spot. While Ben made it into the field, he would face off against Paul Cannuli who would take a holeshot victory in round one.
Despite the challenges in Perth, the team was as always quick to look at the positives and start on using the lessons learned to inform their next moves which would come at Adelaide’s ANDRA Grand Final event in April. Those lessons sure did the trick too, with Adelaide seeing TBR play one-half of a gargantuan Top Doorslammer finale with Victor taking on John Zappia.
The pair have been arguably the biggest names and rivals in Top Doorslammer for the last three decades and have raced each other more than any of their doorslammer compatriots, with their match-up in Adelaide a very popular one. Victor took the early lead, but it would be Zappia who took the win after a side-by-side battle over the 1000 foot distance which saw Victor record his best ET for the event.
“We are always blown away by the support of the fans and the Grand Final weekend was no different, Adelaide really turned it on for us,” Victor Bray said.
“The Team Bray Racing pits were busy all weekend and especially before and after the finale. Even though I couldn’t take out the final round we felt like we had with all the support we received. We truly are lucky to have such great fans behind us.”
While Victor had gone all the way to the final, Ben had a harder night in the Doorslammer ranks with an electrical issue causing drama in qualifying and a technical glitch in round one seeing Rob Taylor take the win.
From Adelaide it was onto Sydney for the Nitro Thunder event and this time it was Ben who would face off against Zappia. A record-breaking performance would ensue, with the pair punching out the fastest side-by-side pass in Australian doorslammer racing history. Meanwhile, Victor would take his Gulf Western Oil Slammer to the final for a runner-up result.
It got better for TBR too, with Ben winning the race against Zappia on the holeshot to stop the West Aussie from overtaking his winning streak record of 24 rounds in a row; and both Victor and Ben setting PBs earlier in the day.
“The Nitro Thunder event was a great weekend out for everyone at Team Bray Racing – any time you can log a few Personal Bests, a record pass and a shot at the finals, it is a good day,” Victor said.
“We were particularly happy to have these results with the new converter configuration we have been working on. The combination had had only four passes in total before Saturday night’s racing, so to come away with a semi-final win and a final appearance is a real positive sign for us.”
The conclusion of the Nitro Thunder event saw the countdown to the infamous Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway begin, and it was here that bad news would strike for TBR with Victor needing to undergo surgery unexpectedly. While he recovered, the drag racing legend would be forced to sit out not only what is the largest championship drag racing event held outside of the US, but also the rest of 2017 racing calendar.
With Victor forced to watch from the sidelines, it was up to Ben to step up and fill his shoes, with ‘the Kid’ and all of the crew putting in a fantastic effort. While the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals were cut short by rain on finals day, it was not before Ben set the second-best Pro Slammer qualifying time and took out second in the 400 Thunder National Pro Slammer Championship.
“Not having dad with us on-track affected all of us, especially given the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals is a very important event to TBR,” Ben explained.
“All of us – dad included – would have given anything to have him at the Winters, but his health is the most important thing and that, of course, had to come first. Even so, the morale of the team was a little down but thankfully we had the support of our amazing sponsors and fans to help us rally.
“Without dad there, it did take me a little longer than normal to get my head around the tune-up, but he was only a phone call away and we got it together in time to make sure we were in the field for race day. At the same time, I was sure to pass on all the well wishes which flooded in across the weekend – we were all blown away by everyone’s support.”
With Victor on the sidelines for the rest of the year and less than ideal outings at Nitro Up North and the Jamboree, the next couple of months were character building for the team, however, an upswing was not far away.
“Nitro Up North sure was ‘character building’ with a pervasive electrical issue seeing us gutted to not make the eliminations field – we were sure to keep working until the issue was solved so we could put on a grudge match with Grant O’Rourke for the packed house though!” Ben explained.
“From there it was on to the Jamboree for the debut of our new Sport Compact Toyota Solara and the challenges continued. That did not stop the fans lining up to see us in the pits however or standing on their feet when we bought the car to the startline, which really helps make it all worth it even when things don’t go our way.
“The preparation in the lead-up to the Jamboree had been intense with many all-nighters called for to get us there in the first place, and once we were on track ECU issues and then a converter problem saw us unable to roll out on Saturday. Event organiser Collin Willshire came to our rescue with a loaned converter and we worked all night to come out on Sunday for some burnouts for the crowd.
“There really aren’t any better fans than ours I don’t think – I am constantly humbled by their continuous support and enthusiasm for what we do, even when things don’t pan out the way they probably would like!”
A much-needed positive end to the year was just around the corner for TBR, with US drag racing star Frankie Taylor flying out to drive the team’s brand-new Corvette for the final round of the year.
Not only did the Texan - formerly the world’s quickest and fastest blown Doorslammer driver over the quarter mile – pilot the brand-new machine, he took it all the way to the final and the event win to the delight to the team and their fans.
“I came here to do a good job for Team Bray Racing and Gulf Western Oil, and for the big man Victor Bray himself. I am very pleased that I have been able to break-through for a win for the team in my first event racing for them here in Australia. It’s been a great weekend!” Taylor said.
While for Ben it wasn’t such a great weekend at Sydney Dragway with a broken blower belt just after he accepted the green light in round two seeing him out of the running, he was still celebrating following the team’s result.
“While things didn’t go the way we wanted for my Gulf Western Oil Pro Slammer at our final event of 2017, it was still a great weekend for TBR with Frankie Taylor bringing home the event win!” Ben said.
“What a year it has been – we can’t thank our fans and our brilliant sponsors including Gulf Western Oil enough for all of their support over the past 12 months.
“Now, we look ahead to 2018! Although we can’t give a definite time of return to the track just yet for dad, he is getting better every day now and you can expect to see him back behind the wheel of his legendary ’57 in 2018. Things are looking pretty exciting!”
Team Bray Racing will be releasing their 2018 calendar soon, so keep an eye on this at http://teambrayracing.com/calendar.html