They say one of the secrets to a successful relationship is to have shared interests – and what better interest could you have than drag racing?
The formula appears to be working for Western Australian drivers Matt and Steph Gullotto who turn race days into a family gathering as much as a chance to test their high horsepower skills.
“We might have 20 to 30 people coming to each event, from both sides of the family,” Steph laughed. “We have our regulars who come to support us, our regular crew members on both cars, cousins, uncles, aunties – they all love it. Even Matt's nephews will be out there with us, reminding me not to red light.”
Matt was the first one at the track, with a long family history on the sport. Father Charlie and uncle Moreno have driven a number of quick vehicles across the years, culminating in their twin turbo Toyota Soarer.
Matt patiently waited for his own chance to hit the track and got together with his cousin Sam Gullotto to build a Super Sedan once he was old enough to have a licence.
“I wanted a Junior Dragster and so did Sam but that didn't happen so it was straight into Super Sedan for us when we built up a Holden Commodore,” Matt said. “Sam drove it for the first season and I drove it after that.”
When Steph arrived on the scene about six years ago, she was naturally treated to a romantic evening at the drags.
“Matt brought me to the track and said I could hold the video camera,” she said.
It was early on in their relationship that Matt had a braking area crash in the Commodore, perhaps making drag racing seem a little more dangerous than it was.
“I was worried he hadn't texted me for a few hours and his text back to me was that he was in an ambulance after a crash! I thought oh my gosh, what is this guy doing?
“I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be behind the wheel, I was quite happy crewing until Matt decided to put me behind the wheel.”
Steph had a somewhat unusual dream car – a gunmetal grey VN SS Commodore.
“Matt said he was going to build me a VN, I didn't believe him and then he rolled up in the driveway with it.”
Into the VN went an LS1 V8 and a two speed Powerglide transmission – a reliable and bulletproof combo for Super Street racing. Pumping out a touch over 500 horsepower at the wheels the Commodore has since run a best of 10.08 with a full interior. The car is still street registered and occasionally taken out for cruises or events outside the track.
“For someone who had never done a burnout before she did well, we threw her in at the deep end,” Matt said.
When the couple first took the car down to a Wednesday night street meet, Steph assumed Matt would be alongside her for the first drive.
“I had in my head somehow that Matt would be right there and showing me what to do,” she said. “We were in the staging lanes and I couldn't see his helmet or anything. I asked him where it was and he told me I was on my own! My heart just sank. He said, 'just remember what I told you.'
“You learn pretty quickly when you are thrown right in there to work it out, and I think it made a better driver of my in the grand scheme of things.”
Steph was convinced on the merits of driving, but there was still another man in her life she had to convince – her father.
“Once I got my head around the fact Matt was building a race car, my next concern was breaking the news to my Dad,” she said. “He understood the drags after watching Matt but I still wasn't sure how he would react to his daughter driving.
“When Matt told him, his response was, 'No, it is not happening.' But then from day one he has not missed a race.”
Such is her father's enthusiasm, he might get to take the wheel on an occasion next season. “I took Dad for a ride in the car at a street meet so he could feel the adrenaline and the excitement when you leave the start line. Now he wants to drive the car so we have had a complete 180 turn.
“He understands now that it is a competitive sport, we aren't just a bunch of hoons and daredevils.”
Less worried about supporting Steph's revhead ambitions were her students. She is a primary school teacher by trade, hence the number plate [TEACHSPET].
“Some of my students have seen me race and that instantly gets me brownie points at school,” she said.
“They find it interesting and they are curious. When you say drag racing to an 11 year old sometimes they are a bit confused about what it is, but most of them ask for a picture of the car or to see a video of a race. They loved it when I was in the newspaper. They think it is pretty cool and so do the parents actually.”
Steph explained how the racing provided an unusual connection to open up the lines of communication with parents.
“Some kids have Dads who are into cars and all of a sudden they have something to talk about and you can establish a relationship with those parents. They follow my racing and comment when they see me, they know when I go rounds or have had a good weekend. You don't come across a lot of school teachers who go drag racing.”
The message of safe driving is another benefit Steph uses to her students' gain.
“I work in a kindergarten to year 12 school so I do have access to 16 year olds who are getting ready to hit the streets. When they find out you are a racer, you have a connection with them. “One of the kids I spoke to about safe racing was at the Motorvation car show two years later with his car on P-plates and he wanted to show me his car. It went from talking to him in class to him being out and enjoying his car the responsible way.”
While her racing is a novelty to some, Steph is anything but a novelty among her fellow racers. This season she won the Westernationals to collect her first ANDRA gold Christmas tree, as well as claiming victory at the local Nitro Slam event. She finished second in the Perth Motorplex Super Street Track Championship.
Matt is looking to do some catching up soon. He returned to the track last season with a new VL Commodore for Super Sedan duties.
Like Steph's car, Matt's has a full interior and street chassis, but it is not street registered. Up front is a 370ci Holden V8 that produced 804 horsepower on the engine dyno, enough to get the positive attention of the 'anti-LS' brigade online. So far the car has clocked a best of 9.03 at 149mph, with Matt admitting the suspension set up needs some attention to make the car hook.
“We're changing the shocks all round. The rear shocks are some Pro Stock ones we picked out of Dad's Toyota Soarer so they aren't suited to the heavier weight of the Commodore. The front struts were the ones that came out of Steph's car when we built it – she got all the good stuff from my last car!
“The engine is at a safe spot so when we can get the car to launch we will tickle it and make a bit more power.”
Matt has a good family brains trust to draw on, with father Charlie, uncle Moreno and Super Stock racer Sandro Principe starting SCM Race Engines in 2005. The workshop has since pumped out plenty of motors for the WA drag racing scene.
“They are where all the horsepower comes from, it definitely helps to have them involved,” Matt said.
“When we are at the track all the engines Sandro builds are all in one group. My Dad overlooks us all and makes sure we are doing the right thing. We have Michael Crossing and Leigh Fallon there to help us out with suspension and whatever mods we have to do to the cars. So we have some great people around us.”
You get the sense that it's all about the people for the Gullotto family, in every aspect of their racing.
“The first time I loaded up two cars so we could go racing as a couple was pretty cool,” Matt said.
“We spend a lot of time together at the drags and it is a bonding thing. Both of our families enjoy it. We have a hobby that doesn't pull us away from family time because we are all there together.”
The team has created a professional and fun environment for the community around them, pilfering the semi trailer that used to bring the Toyota Soarer to the track.
“Not many Super Streeters get to pull up to a semi trailer with a couple of dozen people cheering and clapping after winning a round,” Steph said. “We race for the enjoyment and it is a really fun environment. It all adds to the experience and it wouldn't be the drags if we didn't have the social side of it as well.
“The only hard part is balancing time between the two classes, particularly if you are both going rounds. I've had to get used to the idea that I can't always have Matt watching me and I can't always be there to see his racing. I don't like missing him race or watching someone else do my job on his car, but we love it.”
For now both Matt and Steph are happy with their lots in drag racing. The couple have recently announced they are expecting their first child and while their appearances at the track may be more sporadic, they still see drag racing as an essential part of their lives.
“I want to keep racing once we have the baby,” Steph said. “I think our only long term plans would be to find some sponsorship and to do some travel. For us to race together interstate would be a dream.”
This article originally appeared in issue 32 of Drag News Magazine. Support us telling the stories of Australian drag racing by purchasing a subscription.