When Anthony Begley stood on the throttle pedal inside the Chemical Warfare Nitro Funny Car, he knew something was wrong almost immediately.
It was the first round of a best of three match race at Perth Motorplex, where Begley – driving for Queensland team owner Rod Bailey - was taking on the Northern Territory's Matt Abel.
Begley staged, waiting for the green and mashed the pedal. The 8000 horsepower nitro-fuelled beast hesitated and before Begley could even get his foot back out of the throttle the engine had backfired and the body was launched off the car. The car was surrounded by a fireball that looked like something out of a Hollywood movie. It's hard to even imagine a person in there.
“I was taking my own time with it being the first run of the night and I wasn't worried about my reaction time,” he said. “I was basically going through the motions to make sure the car was all good on the first pass.
“When I put my foot in it didn't seem to go. It didn't feel like it was stepping up at all, giving that instant acceleration. I couldn't get it off quick enough and there was a big bang. I remember a big flash of flame and then having no body on the car.
“I wasn't quick enough with my foot, but it was bad as as soon as I stepped on it, so no matter what I did I think I was in trouble.”
Begley said he felt the concussion of the explosion through his chest in what resulted in some of Australia's most spectacular Funny Car photos.
“I felt the heat and the force on me, and it was moreso afterwards when the adrenaline eased off that I started to feel where it hit me in the chest,” he explained.
“I looked at the protective cowling where the shrapnel hit and that made us realise how big and intense it was.”
After knowing Begley was unharmed, the thoughts of the team turned to the cause of the failure.
“We're still not 100% sure,” Begley said. “It was definitely something in the valve train, it has dropped a valve for some reason.
“Rod has been trying to improve the valve train constantly. It had all new valves, all new rocker gear, new lifters, everything was pretty much brand new in the car for this meeting. To not even last a launch, well, that's racing.”
Now the Chemical Warfare team is looking to regroup. The body of the car is beyond repair.
“The motor itself hasn't been pulled apart yet,” Begley said. “Rod wants to spend some time looking at things before he makes decisions.
“We have got other bodies, but they are older bodies. The plan would be to get something late model from the USA to put on it. If we decide to go back to the NHRA we will need that, but we have a lot of work to do before we can go back there.
“We have Adam (Murrihy) in the process of licensing in the spare car so with some luck we can do shows at a few tracks once we get sorted. We have some testing to do and some stuff to sort out.”
Begley has experienced his fair share of incidents in Funny Cars before, including one of the worst Funny Car fires seen in Australia when he lit up a car in the braking area of Sydney Dragway. The risk hasn't put him off driving one of drag racing's wildest beasts.
“This one in Perth wasn't as bad as the one in Sydney where we were on fire,” he said. “I've had a couple of blower bangs before – though this one was the biggest pop.
“Nothing scares the crap out of you like these things, it will always draw me back to it.”