As 2012 winds down and the holiday season kicks into gear, Team Bray Racing is busy preparing for an action-packed 2013 following an intense year spent at race tracks around the country.
While it may seem just like yesterday, almost 12 months ago the year that was kicked off with Victor and Ben Bray taking up their usual place at the 25th annual Summernats festival in Canberra, along with their Sidchrome burnout cars and the historic ’57 Chev ‘Black Bess’.
While the Summernats were enjoying their ‘chrome’ anniversary, Team Bray Racing sponsor Sidchrome was seeing the start of their 70th year as a tool supplier to both professionals and car enthusiasts, and celebrated by bringing The Sidchrome Spannerman to life at this famous motoring mecca.
From the Summernats to the race track, the dynamic father and son duo were soon heating up the drag strip for the 41st Westernationals at the Perth Motorplex (3-4 March 2012), part of the ANDRA 2011/2012 Top Doorslammer championship chase.
With both Brays making it into the typically tight eliminations field, things were looking good for race day. Ben faced off against eventual event winner John Zappia in round one, however tyre-shake saw the youngster forced to watch dad Victor from the sidelines as he made it through to a finals appearance against the local hero.
"We did have to really hop it up to take on Zap but we were a little too aggressive for what we thought the track would handle and it just shook the tyres early in the pass,” said Ben Bray.
“The upside of the weekend was we didn't hurt my championship position. The bad thing was Dad moved up a few spots from 10th to 6th so that put him one spot ahead of me and that affected my workshop bragging rights!”
Just three weeks later the Brays were back on-track in Sydney for what would become a record-breaking Top Doorslammer outing across 24-25 March 2012, with the event hosting the first ever ANDRA ‘all five second’ Top Doorslammer eliminations field.
While Victor found himself just outside of the cut-off, Ben was able to qualify and make his way to a finals appearance against event winner Zappia, with a better reaction time by the Queenslander not quite enough against the West Australian champ.
"I was so happy to see how strong the Top Doorslammer bracket was becoming and to able to get one of our two cars into the first ever all five-second field was great,” said Victor Bray.
“Up until that weekend you could run a ‘five’ in qualifying and be assured of a spot on race day! How amazing is it that this is no longer the case!”
Six weeks later the team would return to Sydney Dragway, but not before they were rocked by the passing of former crew member and long-time friend Mick Atholwood in April.
“I considered Mick a mate; he was my crew chief for many years,” said Victor Bray.
“Among the many great memories of Mick is one I will never forget. I was competing at the 1992 Nationals at Calder Park Raceway in Melbourne and had made the final against heavy hitter Donna Sizmur. Mick told me before the final that we had to take some chances to try to outrun Donna as she was well under the index at the time.
“His instructions were that he had given the car some more power and a little more travel in the front end, so if the front end came up higher than normal not to worry, and if I lost sight of the horizon I was to simply shift into second gear and the front would come down smoothly and sail on down the track.
“I did what I was instructed but it didn't quite go to plan - when I left the start line, the front did actually come up and I did lose sight of the horizon but when I shifted into second the front continued to rise until the car was vertical on the race track and the rear bumper was scraping the ground!
“Mick said later he knew something was wrong when he saw the whole injector hat from the start line. Australian drag racing will never be the same now, he may be gone but he will never be forgotten.”
Across 4-7 May 2012 it was time for the penultimate round of the 2011/2012 championship race, with the Team Bray Racing outfit descending on Sydney Dragway for the Nitro Champs.
The Sidchrome-supported team would experience both the highs and lows of this challenging sport over that weekend, with Ben taking victory in the Factory Extreme bracket while both father and son struggled in the Top Doorslammer category. With the weekend not going how they wanted, the team scheduled a raft of test days ahead of the season-ending Winternationals, set to hit Willowbank Raceway in just over four weeks time.
While the team’s preparations could have been said to be relentless in the lead up to Australia’s largest drag racing event, the event itself was equally persistent – with wet weather seeing it extended to a record five days.
While Ben was originally unable to qualify for the Doorslammer field, when race day was postponed to Tuesday and two competitors ahead of him were unable to make it, he was able to join his father in the eliminations field.
Retiring category stalwart Robin Judd took a first round win over Victor, while Ben made it to the semi-finals against Andrew Sutton after disposing of the champion and national record holder Zappia in the first round with a holeshot.
"While it was too early yet for us to break the back of the ‘five second’ hoodoo, I came close during qualifying with a 6.007s result and I was able to accomplish another goal for the weekend – to have one last race with Robin Judd before he retired after 14 years in the sport, so all in all I was happy with our weekend out,” said Victor Bray.
“We had a problematic start to the event so to come out and run three x 6.0s, a 5.80s and put the current National record holder on the trailer was a very positive sign for the new combination on only six full passes of data,” said Ben Bray.
With the 2011/2012 ANDRA championship chase drawn to a close, it was time for Team Bray Racing to head to Townsville as part of the on-track entertainment for V8 Supercars’ Sucrogen Townsville 400 (6-9 July 2012).
It was the first time the father and son duo took part in this V8 Supercars event, having in the past created smoke storms at the Bathurst, Gold Coast, Darwin, Willowbank, Melbourne (Formula 1) and Adelaide events.
Later that month the pair would return to North Queensland for the Trevor Mobb Memorial Eighth Mile Slamfest event, the penultimate event for Townsville Dragway which would be soon lost to developers.
In front of a near-capacity crowd, Ben Bray was the fastest in qualifying while his father secured fourth spot.
Successful races for both - including a new eighth mile speed and elapsed time record for Victor - saw an all-Bray finale set up to the delight of spectators and racers alike, with Ben taking the win.
"That was a great weekend of racing in Townsville. When you have a good weekend at the track with great performances, final round appearances and a weekend of fun with your family and race team, it is not only worth all the hard work but it gives you a real sense of satisfaction,” said Victor Bray.
In August the Slamfest series continued at Gladstone’s Benaraby Raceway where Victor became only the second driver in Australia to record a ‘three second’ eighth mile pass, re-writing Zappia’s existing record on his way to taking the event win over Peter Kapiris.
From there it was back to their home track of Willowbank Raceway, where just weeks later (22-23 September) the Brays were on-track for the popular Brisbane Jamboree with Ben and his Nissan Altima claiming an upset win on debut.
“We had a pretty nightmarish preparation period leading up to this event, so if you had told me earlier in the week when we were at the shop on midnight trying to get the car finished for testing the next day that I would come out and win this event on debut, I would have told you that you were dreaming!” said Ben Bray.
Following a trip to the hallowed ground of the Bathurst 1000 as part of the official on-track entertainment for the 50th anniversary of the Great Race, it was off to Sydney Dragway for the Australian Nationals - the opening round of the 2012/2013 ANDRA Top Doorslammer championship chase.
The rain-affected event provided a 'mixed bag' for the team with Ben Bray making it to the semi-finals while his father Victor suffered a close encounter when he and long-time friend Peter Kapiris collided during the second round of qualifying when Kapiris experienced a major clutch failure and on-board fire at the half track distance.
"Peter and I have been friends for 30 years, but I can tell you I did not ever intend to get that close to him!” laughed Victor Bray.
“Thankfully both Peter and I were totally okay but unfortunately a fair bit of work to the car was required and despite our promising first round we were not able to make it into the eliminations field that weekend.”
Just two weeks later (16-17 November), father and son were again headed West for the Perth Motorplex’s Goldenstates event.
This event would be a break-through for six-time national champion Victor Bray, who not only took victory against local hero and reigning champion Zappia – who with five championships to his name had earlier in the year proclaimed Victor’s record six-titles as his next goal - but also threw down two ‘five-second’ elapsed time performances on his way to the winners circle.
"What an event, it doesn't get much better than this!" said Victor Bray after the event.
"Those five second passes have been a while coming - we have been so close but so far on so many occasions so I am just elated to have finally shook that monkey off my back. To top that off with a win against Zappia was just the icing on the cake, it really does feel terrific and I am so happy for the team after all of their hard work and dedication.
“In addition to my team, I am dedicating this win to the late Mick Atholwood, my former crew chief and a real legend in this great sport of ours who passed away earlier this year. He was such a big part of our team for so long, so this one is for him."
Bray Snr wasn't the only one happy with the results, with his and his team's facebook pages lighting up with comments and wall posts of congratulations both during and after the event.
While the next ANDRA championship round for Top Doorslammer would not be scheduled until February 2013, this did not mean rest for the popular Kallangur-based team. Instead, they headed over to Adelaide International Raceway the very next weekend for the facility’s anniversary invitational event.
There, Victor proved the previous weekend’s results were no fluke by making it two wins from two weekends with victory in yet another Bray versus Bray finale, with a special guest along for the ride in his Sidchrome Team Bray Racing 1957 Chevy.
"When we were in Adelaide earlier that month I met a couple of local guys who asked me to sign a picture of a mate of theirs who had recently passed away,” said Victor Bray.
“It was clear their mate Tristan had been a real rev head and was sorely missed by all that knew him. After some consideration of how we could pay tribute to the loyalty of Tristan I asked the family if they would consider letting me take Tristan's ashes down the drag strip.
“I was honoured when they agreed to do so and we arranged to have them secured inside my car for the weekend's event.
“With all Tristan's friends and family at the track it was clear Tristan's passing had left them with a very large hole in their lives and the stories of his life and his cars and bikes reflected the type of guy he was, so I was glad to be able to help out in some small way. Tristan's spirit rode along with me all day and the results speak for themselves.”
Those results came courtesy of an intense father versus son showdown which saw Victor cross the line at 5.172 seconds and 186.95 miles per hour, just ahead of three-time champion Ben who punched out a 5.316s, 180.83mph result.
The Adelaide result made four event wins from five Top Doorslammer events since the Winternationals for Team Bray Racing, with two of those wins coming from ‘all Bray’ finals.
"An all-Bray, father versus son finale at Adelaide Dragway, how good is that! Best of all, by taking the win I have workshop bragging rights for both Christmas and the New Year, it doesn't get much better than that!" laughed Victor.
After celebrating Christmas the team will be right back to work for the annual Street Machine Summernats event across 3-6 January 2013, before launching into what is already shaping up to be a busy season.
From everyone at Team Bray Racing – we hope you have a safe and happy holiday season, and thank you to you all for your support during 2012! We look forward to seeing you on-track in the New Year!
Upcoming scheduled events:
• Slamfest – Heathcote – 19 January 2013
• Slamfest – Portland – 16 February 2013
• ANDRA Drag Racing Series – Westernationals – 2/3 March 2013
• ANDRA Drag Racing Series – Nitro Champs – 4/5 May 2013
• ANDRA Drag Racing Series – Winternationals – 7/8/9/10 June 2013
• Slamfest – Benaraby – 29 June 2013
• Slamfest – Mackay – 13 July 2013
• ANDRA Drag Racing Series – Adelaide Raceway – 21/22 September 2013
• ANDRA Drag Racing Series (Final Round) – Sydney Dragway – 1/2/3 November 2013