The road to nitro

This article brought to you by:

Becoming Australia’s first licensed female Nitro Funny Car driver in the modern era is no small feat and it is one that has taken some three years of hard work from Christine Steffens.

It’s a long way from a conversation in the kitchen with Rod Bailey to flying through the traps at 256mph at Willowbank Raceway.

“A guy called Rodney Bailey was in our kitchen and asked me would I like to have a drive in his Nitro Funny Car,” Steffens said.  “I wasn’t sure I heard him and asked him was he serious.  When he said yes I said it would be awesome, the only problem was I had only just recently stepped away from a huge top end crash at Willowbank Raceway in the Modified dragster which I had only been racing for five months  and although the crash wasn’t my fault and Ricky was crewing on the Funny Car at the time he wasn’t so keen to see me stepping into this detonator on wheels.”

That was until Ricky himself got to have a go.

“Rodney needed a driver so while out one night I suggest Ricky might like to drive,” Steffens explained. “Rodney wasn’t sure about my suggestion as we all knew I would have loved a shot but with the devious mind of a female I figured if he’s had a go then he can’t say no again.

“As history shows Ricky drove Rodney’s car and as seems the norm with him he won his first meeting which was held in Perth in December 2008. We came home from that meeting on a high and with me wanting more than ever to get into one of these machines.”


Ricky Steffens aboard the Nitrofreak Funnycar

It wasn’t long before the opportunity came up to purchase a fuel coupe, the ex-Craig Christensen, Ex-Garry McGrath “croc” car.

“While we were on our annual holiday at the Gold Coast I got a phone call from a friend who knew about a Nitro Funny Car set up for sale,” Steffens said. “Oblivious to all of this Ricky was fast asleep on the couch in the unit while I was having some major telephone discussions. Needless to say we were on a plane a week later and on my birthday in January 2009 we picked up our new race vehicle. What an awesome birthday present, well for me anyway, for Ricky it meant the start of lots and lots of nights in the shed. We were to discover that work was only just beginning.”

The car was stripped back to a bare chassis and then had the chassis updated and painted. The only thing left from the original is the block, diff and body.

Steffens kept her driving skills increasing by winning back to back Supercharged Outlaws championships. After that high, 2011 turned out to be a challenging year for the family.

Christine took her dragster to two National Supercharged Outlaws championships

“We live in the Lockyer Valley only 20 minutes from Grantham and while we were luckier than some we had to deal with water through both our sheds in the January floods,” she said. “(This was followed by) the death of my father in February.”

The emotional toll was put aside for a day when the Funny Car was finally ready to test in September 2011.

“Ricky had the first trip down the track in it at a test day at Willowbank Raceway. The car behaved exactly how it was supposed to, so as soon as I saw the numbers come up on Willowbank Raceways scoreboards I knew it was going to be my turn.”

Ricky Steffens steering the Croc Funny Car on it maiden run at Willowbank

Steffens made sure she had her technique down pat.

“I had been sitting in the car in the shed practising what I needed to do just to get to the startline and while the burnout in the Funny Car is easier than the Outlaw dragster thanks to the throttle stop there are so many things to remember that I had done what any good accountant does and drawn up a dot point list of the process to memorise,” she said. “The clutch was a new experience for me as the dragster has a Powerglide and my greatest fear was to not be able to hold it in and run over the crew guy who holds the body. 

“The car behaved beautifully on this first day and did everything that was required of it (as did the driver so I am told) although it felt so good on the half track pass I really didn’t want to lift the go fast pedal. The car was straight and I could feel it starting to pull but I know the rules and although disappointed I did what was right and got off it.”

After the elation of racing the car for the first time, 2011 had more emotional pain to bring. 

“Two days after our first test session my baby sister’s husband died and then two days after that my grandfather decided it was his turn to leave us so along with trying to organise eight people to be able to take the same day off work, all of life’s little dramas almost made it harder to get us to the track than getting the car down the track,” she said. “But we finally found a day and three more passes were undertaken with all going to plan.

A wait until 21 January was needed, with Christine allowed to do some passes at the Rocket Allstars Racing Series event.

“This date is almost three years to the day that we drove to Dubbo and collected the Nitro Funny Car from Craig Christensen and lots of blood, sweat, tears and money have gone into making this day a reality,” Steffens said.

The seating position in the car took some work to get right.

“I had been driving the car with the seat full of padding including towels and foam and thought I would upgrade it to an ISP pour in seat,” Steffens said. “The seat felt amazing as we poured it in, it was so comfortable I thought I was in a lounge chair and I was sitting up high enough to actually see over the blower.

“We checked the helmet space and adjusted the seat belts and all was good to go. What we hadn’t counted on was me being pushed back in the seat and the vibrations on the helmet taking away my vision. I couldn’t believe it, the last pass in the Funny Car with the old padding the vision had been as clear as a bell and this one I knew where I was on the track, the car was as straight as an arrow, and awesome to drive, I just didn’t have clear enough vision to see how far down the track I was. 

“I saw the white paint on the side wall and as I know there is a red and white stripe on the finish line I figured that was it. Wrong, it was the 1000ft mark. The guys in the braking area know how disappointed I was and the look on the crew’s faces said it all. I had let them down and believe me I was disappointed too, because I know I can do better and being a bit of a perfectionist it didn’t sit well as everything else had gone so much to plan.

“Time for the second pass and while the vision was a little better and the count longer I just didn’t make it to the finish line so the crew now had to turn around for a third pass and the pressure was really on. 

“By this time we knew the seat was an issue so in order to sit me lower in it and make more room, I took off my cool suit. Lucky it wasn’t 32 deg with 57% humidity anymore and while it was still hot and muggy I was determined to make this happen. Somebody gave me the standard advice – cup of cement and harden up – advice I took on the third pass.

“It was a terrible light but somewhat better vision and pure determination saw me manhandle that last pass down the race track. Jason Bean made the comment that the car was starting to go toward the centreline and I gently brought it back. Like I told him, there is nothing gentle about the way you drive these cars. If I did to the dragster what I did to the Funny Car to keep it on the straight and narrow the dragster would mount the wall.  I figure the dragster is the classy lady who needs to be caressed to get to the end of the track to the best of her ability and the Nitro Funny Car is the testosterone fuelled teenage son I never had that pays no attention unless you manhandle it (or women handle in my case).

“The awesome fire guys were there to meet me as they had been on every other pass and I gave them the thumbs up and the braking area crew were there to take the helmet and gloves and to let me know I had hit 256 mph. There were a couple of high fives and I think I had a little party all on my own with my head poking out the top of the car. It was so awesome I still am not sure it is real but the cheer of my brother on the video tape when I watch the replay says it all.

“At this point of the meeting I am still hopeful of getting another pass but back at the pits I get the bad news that I have smashed a windscreen and the spare is at home, so sadly for me that is it for the night. But now that I have my licence in my hand there is always next time.

One ecstatic first female Nitro Funny Car pilot

“Ricky and I have just become the first husband and wife Australian Nitro Funny Car licence holders. Now we just need a car for him to drive to have husband and wife Nitro Funny Car grudge matches!”

© Drag News Australia

Aeroflow Performance Parts Catalogue

Drag News Magazine