Calder Park's long and tumultuous history had another chapter written last week with the 400 Thunder Series making the decision to remove the pro categories from the Australian Nationals.
The on again, off again nature of drag racing in the capitals of the southern states has made it difficult for the scenes to fully return to the successful days of the nineties.
Adelaide appears to have a solution on the horizon with Tailem Bend's new venue set to open next year, providing a second venue within decent range of the city, but Calder Park still has all the question marks.
What to do with Calder Park is one of the most difficult questions in Australian drag racing. Close it and who knows when another track would replace it in Melbourne. Or does keeping it running stop a better venue being built? For the sake of this editorial I will assume Calder Park is here to stay, it has survived a pretty heavy barrage of forces over the years after all.
We have a lot of criticism. We focus a lot on what Calder Park isn't. So maybe we should think about what Calder Park can be (ironically to do that I'll have to explain what it isn't but stick with me here).
What does Calder have going for it? It has a strong street car scene, which is great for keeping the 'bread and butter' street events alive and providing an entry point to the sport. The surface is fine for most of these entries and there is more than enough space.
The location is great. For Melbourne drag racers it is hard to resist a track so close to home, even if it does mean putting up with old infrastructure. So Calder can also be a base for bracket racing too.
Melbourne is Australia's second biggest city and they have a reputation for supporting events. That means Calder Park can also draw good crowds again despite the infrastructure.
We need to find a way to make Calder Park consistent and sustainable. There is no point in running pro categories only drawing three or four entries to run at what is supposed to be the premier event in Australian drag racing, The Nationals. That's not going to draw existing fans and it's not going to impress new fans.
For Calder Park's inclusion in 400 Thunder, my thoughts are to go right back to basics and believe it or not, that means Top Fuel.
They're not sensitive to the bumps of the track in a way that Pro Stock cars are, thanks to their massive downforce (indeed we have seen two very similar top end accidents now at Calder in Pro Stock, as above). The nitro cars will pull the spectators in and keep the people happy.
Run a single day event in the style of Fuchs Nitro Thunder from 2013, the event that marked the return of championship drag racing to Calder. Put as many people as you can into the venue for a single day, keeping the costs down for the teams and the promoter. I'm a fan of the theory that for most casual spectators, they will choose a day to go to the track rather than attending a whole weekend. So if it's a single day, you just push everyone on to that one day. Surround it with a Summit Sportsman Series round, maybe a couple of jet cars and leave it at that. This hypothetical event would be the only time 400 Thunder competes in Melbourne but it would at least be a touch point for the series to help with pursuing a national sponsor.
To get around the issues between the lanes and ensure fairness in Top Fuel, I would run a format where the first round, including lane choice is drawn randomly. The second round would see everybody switch lanes and opponents (again randomly drawn if need be). One point for a win, no points for a loss. Seed the final round based on points first, then by ET if you have a tie. Final round decides results for the day. Legit championship racing, not an exhibition.
Put lipstick on the pig and make Calder look as good as you could for the day with temporary signage to block some of the eyesores.
If I was king of Calder for the day, I would probably look to maintain the Rowe Memorial as a separate event and bring in an Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Car round at another event too. Run a sprinkling of 'track championship' style bracket rounds, maybe four or five more for the season, that run alongside street meets, which would continue to be held regularly. Then leave it at that. Victorian racers have a bunch of great regional venues they can also use, indeed if you have a bracket car right now there is Heathcote, Portland, Swan Hill, Mildura, Adelaide and the coming Tailem Bend all within a day's drive, offering dozens of events.
We are kidding ourselves that Calder can host the track sensitive categories of the pros right now. Calder is what it is. We don't need to try and pretend it is something different. The venue doesn't seem to be going anywhere for now, so let's use it in the most efficient and practical way possible that best produces results for drag racing as a whole for Victoria and the country.
- Luke Nieuwhof