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Seasoned drag racer Phil Gardiner had plenty to smile about at Red CentreNATS last week, taking out the Heavy Hitters 8.0 class after a hard-fought day of racing at Alice Springs Inland Dragway.

Gardiner and his regularly street-driven VS Commodore Ute had to win three races in a row against the three other quickest entries to take out the victory, dispatching Brian Smith and Connor Begley before defeating Alan Morrison and his Iron Metal Falcon Coupe in the final.

Gardiner travelled all the way from W.A to take part in the event, with his VS hitching a ride in the new tricked out transporter of Anthony and Connor Begley, and Gardiner himself sharing the drive with Nigel Warr of Shield’s Garage, who would go on to take out the RCN Grand Champion award in his immaculate low-nine-second HQ Ute.

“Upon arriving at RCN, it was apparent we weren’t in for an easy run as we had to win three races in a row against the three other quickest Heavy Hitters there, so it was game on!” Gardiner explains.

“In the first round I was up against the supercharged Ford Escort of Brian Smith which was a real weapon of a car, set up to do low-eight second passes but more than capable of going deep into the sevens. I was astonished and a little relieved when the Escort kept on driving to the finish line after the burnout with shifter problems, especially as after leaving hard I got loose and had to pedal before eventually lifting to avoid crossing the centre line to steal the win light!

“In the second pass the pressure was really on as I was up against Connor Begley’s new twin turbo LS one tonner. Both our cars are on radials and tuned by Jeff Johnston from Performance Management Systems who of course wanted to extract the best out of both cars and get them down the track safe and fast. My crew chief Dave Sullivan was in my ear reminding me that I had to win this race to get to the final, so I had to go hard.

“As half expected, Connor got out ahead of me off the tree, but I soon caught up and by half-track, we were neck and neck but both turning the tyres. We both had to lift slightly, and I took out the win by about a car length and a half – what a nail biter and what a way to set up an epic final round against Alan Morrison.”

Expectations from the crowd were high, and the final round delivered in spades when it came to edge of your seat action.

“Alan’s supercharged XP Falcon Coupe is an absolute beast, so Jeff tweaked my tune-up to give the Ute exactly what the track would take. We were the last pairing of the night, and the temperatures were way down, so there was a real feeling that anything could happen,” Gardiner said.

“I welded him to the tree, which is surprising for me because I normally have the reaction times of a corpse!

“The coupe then accelerated quicker to half-track and pulled in front, but the Jeff Johnston Twin Turbo Holley EFI power soon took over and I was able to drive around him with a little squiggle and a minuscule lift before three-quarter track, taking the win with a 8.35 second pass to the Coupe’s 8.38 second effort.

“What a final it was, and what a day overall – the Ute was faultless in all three rounds, with my main engine man Craig Glassby never even having to take the rocker covers off, which is amazing considering the Ute was driven around 20 kilometres to the track from the Alice Springs town centre for the racing!” Gardiner concluded, while thanking CMP, Jeff Johnston at Performance Management Systems, Geoff Black at Black Magic Race Cars, Craig Glassby of Automasters Maddington and David Sullivan of DRS for all of their help and support.

Gardiner’s Commodore VS Ute was originally built in the 90s by Michael Crossing of Race On Custom. Since then, thanks to additional power adders taking the car from about 1000HP to 1800HP, the whole rear end has been beefed up at Black Magic Race Cars to see the ute now go straight as a die with a best ET of 7.74 seconds 190mph.

The regularly street-driven car boasts a Twin Turbo SBC controlled with a Holley Dominator EFI making 1530 RWHP on E85. It runs a Turbo 400 transmission and a Chrome moly fabricated four link rear end from Black Magic Race Cars.

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