The desire to go nitro racing is one many drag racers have, but there is more to nitro than ANDRA Pro Series Top Fuel.
Steve Turner has chosen the nostalgia front engine Top Fuel dragster route. Extremely popular in the USA, this breed of dragster is now beginning to develop in Australia and is gathering a loyal following of fans.
Turner, like many other veterans of drag racing in Sydney, got his start at the Castlereagh strip. He has worked and raced with a variety of different vehicles from Super Stockers to rail cars.
Fast forward to the mid nineties and Turner became involve in the burgeoning Nostalgia movement along with Norm Longfield, Dennis Young and Graeme Millet, forming Australian Nostalgia Racers.
It was at this time that Turner decided to get back into owning a dragster and the LA Raider was born.
“We sourced the car in San Francisco as a bare roller, brought it back here and put it together,” he said,
“Maurice Fabietti was doing nothing and said he would have a steer if possible and so began three odd years of the Fabietti and Turner LA Raider.”
Real life again took hold with Turner purchasing a franchise so he sold the car. But as most drag racers known, the addiction is hard to shake. Turner deciding to step into a nitro outfit.
“Wendy and I decided that you are a long time laying on your back, so if we’re going racing again, let’s try nitro and see if that returns a buzz,” he said.
“We had a new roller built by Mark Shearer, and Tony Thomas and I spent the next two years fitting the car out.
“We had been several times to some of the nostalgia races in California and every trip made us modify the car a bit more too where we were finished and ready to go in 2006.”
Turner had his friend Wayne Topp build the engine and do the tuning, while experienced Top Fuel driver Steve Read came along to do the steering.
However it was not an auspicious debut.
“At the second outing for the car, we blew the lot; nobody said this nitro was going to be easy,” he said.
“We sat back and completely analysed what we had, where we wanted to go and what we had to do to get there.
“We had become pretty good friends with Jim Murphy of the WWII fame in the states and bought his current car at the time for Norm Longfield back here. It was on one of those conversations that Jim offered us his current car at the time, which was a Sterling built car, and just beautiful. Apart from beautiful it has run quick and was a very safe car.”
Another chance meeting resulted in Mario Mariani, who assists son Mark while he drives for Santo Rapisarda’s ANDRA Pro Series Top Fuel team, offering his assistance as well, developing the brains trust within the team. That knowledge is invaluable for a nitro dragster.
“Being with Mario and seeing how he tackles the system and the technical data that is inside his noggin, makes Wendy and I marvel at the thoughts that he is bringing back from when he raced,” Turner said.
“I suppose that if nitro was easy, everybody would be doing it. I think the main difference to here and the States is that every photo you see of a car on the start line there has a lot of ‘older’ type people around.
“Just about every top running car must have 150 plus years of experience minimum to draw upon just hanging with that car.
“Here there are only a handful of guys who can associate with a single pump, single mag and single plug deal. I suppose the two main stand outs here are Mario and Richard Botica. These two guys just about live and breathe this stuff.”
The current dragster Murphy owns has run as quick as 5.7 in the USA at over 250mph.
Some may note that Turner has not taken the driving duties in any of his recent dragsters. He says it is about doing what you know best.
“My ego doesn’t need me to jump behind the wheel. From Fab (Maurice Fabietti), to Pom (Steve Read) and young Mark Mariani who filled in for us a little while ago, I have always tried to have the best people that I can muster for the job at hand,” he said.
“Surround yourself with good people and your chances of making anything successful will be enhanced. I don’t have any plans what so ever to pedal the car, my buzz is standing on the line watching the car disappear down track.”
That said, Turner wouldn’t mine seeing a couple more cars disappear down the track alongside his.
“A while ago, Longy (Norm Longfield) and I spoke about how to enlarge the Nostalgia Fuel bracket over here and one of the thoughts we had was to bring some cars over and have them available for people, right away, no waiting,” he said.
“So thinking that, I suppose that this car would fall into that category, although we would like to have some fun first, but I know where there are several cars over there just waiting for new homes, and there is no reason why they shouldn’t be over here. Besides, Jim (Murphy) is holding his current car for us.”
Nostalgia racing as a whole is on a growth path in Australia, albeit at a slow rate, with the USA’s fields of race cars leaping ahead. Turner and his fellow nostalgia nuts have taken this as an opportunity to create rules that will suit the Australian landscape.
“Last August, a dozen or so of us got together to form the Australian Nostalgia Fuel Association and these dozen were actual car owners or drivers, or people associated with fuel, albeit single pump deals,” he said.
“A set of rules were formulated that firstly were to deal with safety, that was paramount, but the next lot was to keep the racing, in our category only as that is what we should be concerned about, affordable over here.
“We pay too much for parts that have to be imported here anyway, so we had no intention of having rules progress to the stage they are now in the USA where it is virtually a wallet race.
“We deliberately kept billet items out, kept the blower sizes and overdrives down, limited the magnetos to points style only and basically adopted the VRA rules.
“By having a set of basic rules, it will then make the tuner and driver the winner, not the fattest wallet.”
Indeed nostalgia drag racing is a passion for many, but people will look for where they can have maximum fun for their buck.
“If a guy was looking at starting in this class beforehand and you threw up US$5000 blowers, US$2000 fuel pumps each with a spare, US$3000 ignition systems, he would rightly turn around and say that he might as well run Top Alcohol or Supercharged Outlaws, or even run a late model Funny Car, as the rules would have been too open and again the bigger wallets would have won out,” he said.
“A lot of Americans have remarked to Richard (Botica) and I that they wished they had the chance to start again with their regs, just like we have done. Basic, simple and affordable.”
Turner hopes to see more dates for nostalgia events with a push for some consistency and regularity in events.
“A real serious program needs to be put in place around the country, with set dates, set rules and set rewards as a constant program year to year, but I also see that there is always going to be resistance for an outside promoter trying to run his events at some of the tracks,” he said.
“It’s a shame, but until that gets sorted and a strong push with a set calendar happens, it will trundle along with a slow growth rate.
“Unfortunately, there are not a lot of guys building cars just for Nostalgia. If you look at our group, the ANFA, one of our decisions made early was to take some of our nitro cars to the regional tracks, as an affordable nitro show. It would be a win-win situation for all concerned, an affordable program that the track could sell locally, a place for the nitro single pump guys to strut there stuff, and the crowd gets to see, hear and smell the good stuff.”