If it wasn’t for bad surf, Matthew Grubisa might have never gone drag racing.
When he was 17 years old, the New South Wales Central Coast-based dent repairer got up early in the morning to hit the waves, but Mother Nature wasn’t playing the game.
“The surf was rubbish and my Dad said, ‘Come to the drags.’ Ever since I went for the first time I was hooked,” Grubisa said. “I loved the noise and I’ve always loved going fast.”
Grubisa first took to the track in a 14 second 1967 Ford Falcon, and things just got more serious from there. Next came a 12 second 1967 Ford Mustang, then a Ford XY ute capable of 11s. The pace stepped up with a Mark II Cortina which went 9.2s at 145mph, before Grubisa built a really serious 57 Chev, clocking in at 7.50 and 185mph in Top Sportsman. Having had his fill of sportsman racing, the next target was heads up and along came an Outlaw 10.5 Camaro which went as quick as 6.60 at 222mph and was Grubisa’s first experience with turbocharging.
Grubisa had an attraction to heads up, limited tyre racing. He liked the first-to-the-stripe mentality, but the need to keep the tyre stuck meant it wasn’t always about who had the most horsepower.
“I like the heads up stuff and the fastest car doesn’t always win. I did do the sportsman racing, but that wasn’t my cup of tea.”
With the popularity of Outlaw 10.5 on the wane, Grubisa attended one of the Duck X Productions radial races in the USA. He decided he needed a car and spoke with fellow Australian Frank Marchese at the event.
“Frank talked with Eric Dillard from Proline about what cars were around, then Eric gave Chris Daniels a call and asked if he would sell the car. He was open to the idea and so we went to Chris’ place in Atlanta, Georgia to have a look at the vehicle. He gave me a price, I gave him another price, and at first we couldn’t agree, but after I flew home we spoke again and we met in the middle.”
The Pontiac Firebird is actually not an outlaw car. It has a three quarter chassis and fits into the Limited Drag Radial class (the only change Grubisa would need to make currently is to put the steel doors back on), but is still a three second beast.
“The car has been 3.81/211mph in the USA.”
Up front is a Proline 481x Stage 3 with twin 102mm Precision turbochargers. A Rossler two-speed Turbo 400 transmission takes care of the power delivery. The car was built by RK Racecraft.
“It is not a light weight, it’s 3050 pounds with me and a bit of ballast in it. But it works, the car doesn’t lift a wheel as it goes down the track. It is actually a really great car to drive, the radial tyres make for a smooth drive over the 10.5 racing. On 10.5s you would be all over the place, but once the radial tyres are stuck you are on. The car does try and spin the tyres up the top, but that’s on Australian tracks trying to push the limits. If the car was back in the States, it would definitely be a 3.70 car.”
Grubisa enjoys the driving aspect of the car, but is happy to leave the tuning to the pros.
“I use Kon Michaloudakis from Wollongong Automotive Services, and Geoff Campbell Brown, those two guys are on the tune of the car. To be quite honest, I am not computer savvy, so I help with maintenance but as for tuning they do it all. They have done a great job so far, it is one of the most consistent cars in Australia. We are doing it in baby steps; we don’t want to hurt the engine.”
Despite the caution, Grubisa endured a tough week at the 2019 Kenda Radial Riot, dealing with mechanical problems of all sizes as he searched for his first three second pass.
“We probably would have cracked the three second zone but we had real bad luck. It was a kick in the teeth to tell you the truth because we were pumped for that race. On the Friday night we had broken oil lines, then in the first round of the $5k shootout it broke the input shaft in the trans. I had to go and buy another transmission from another race team which didn’t impress my wife too much.”
Given how rare it is to get a quality radial track surface in Australia, it made the dramas all the more frustrating. But with the preparation making strides just like the racers, Grubisa remains hopeful he will see that three second time card before long.
“Each time we take the car to the track we move the car forward half a tenth. I dare say next year we should have the car running consistent 3.9s at over 200mph, and if it is a killer track hopefully a 3.8.”
Grubisa only just missed becoming the first racer in Australia to exceed 200mph on radials, a feat he had the ignominy of watching happen alongside him as Ben Bray took the mark.
“I pedalled the car twice on the run as it was knocking the tyre off and we still went 4.05/198, and he had to go 200 next to us! It was a great race though, a lot of people enjoyed it.
“The Outlaw Radial scene is growing more and more with extra cars coming over. I think next year you could have a top 16 of high three and low four second cars. There is really good sportsmanship right now, everyone gets along, you can go racing through the day and have a beer at the end. I can’t say a bad word about anyone.”
There’s certainly an arms race in progress right now with some of the world’s quickest radial cars ending up down under, but rather than seeking any more power (he has plenty on tap), Grubisa has invested in more spares to ensure his team has the depth to chase championships. That is his ultimate goal.
“We now have a spare trans, spare convertor, a spare diff centre, spare engine parts, and we are hoping next year we can get through all the races. Even if we break we want to be able to fix it at the track. We were only a few points behind Dale Heiler coming into Radial Riot but I just had a shitty weekend, it did not work out at all how we wanted so next year we are going for it.”