Craig Hewitt has become one of many drag racers making the switch to radial tyre competition in Australia, taking his beautiful Pro Street Monaro from slicks to stiff sidewalls.
Hewitt raced the car on slicks at first and was particularly fond of the Australian Pro Street Association's events, where he competed in the Pro Street Blown class. When the APSA was wound up, Hewitt looked to the growing world of radial tyre drag racing.
“When the APSA stopped I still wanted to race heads up and other than Group 1, Pro Radial was the only class,” he said. “My car fit right in with all the rules, and the challenge of getting power down through that small tyre was very inviting.”
This article originally appeared in Drag News Magazine Issue 42. Subscribe with our 2020 special and save $20.20 - subscription begins with Jarrod Wood Corvette issue!
Hewitt was first captured by drag racing when he attended the opening event at Sydney Dragway, the 2004 Summer Nationals. There the atmosphere of the crowd and the unpredictable racing he witnessed on track spawned a new drag racing tragic.
“I thought, 'Wow, look at the people here'. I'd never been to the drags before and I wanted to be a part of this,” he said. “I said to myself I was going to race at the next event.”
While that goal may have been somewhat optimistic, Hewitt went away and searched for a solid foundation for his speed dreams. A $250 VL Walinshaw-lookalike wreck was ideal and with some assistance from Sydney chassis builder Craig Burns, Hewitt began to build. As a metal fabricator by trade he had many of the skills to build a race car, but this was his first time constructing anything like a drag car.
The 'Walky' proved a popular car thanks to its show-car looks and a 632 cubic inch Chev equipped with two nitrous kits, running a best of 7.44/183mph despite weighing in at a hefty 3350 pounds. The ride served Hewitt well for the better part of a decade.
The pursuit of quicker times eventually meant Hewitt needed a new car, lighter and designed around a blown powerplant.
“I bought the Monaro from Melbourne, from a guy who bought it from Holden direct,” he said. “It had never been registered and was basically just a body with swinging panels.”
This time Hewitt had Pro-Fab look after the chassis work and turn the Monaro into a rolling chassis suitable for the quarter mile, before he took care of the finishing touches.
“I tried to make the car light but that didn't quite work, it's a full three quarter chassis with standard front chassis rails and suspension points.”
Hewitt's preoccupation with going quicker and quicker did not disappear when he converted to radials, and he recently took the Monaro back into the shop to give it a renovation.
“We stripped the car and started from fresh. We threw a lot of carbon fibre parts at it and had a rethink about where the weight was. We did things like taking out the batteries for self starting and we ended up getting 200 pounds out of it.”
The change of rubber a couple of years ago made the driving experience totally different from Hewitt's perspective.
“I feel safer in the driver's seat,” he said. “I am not squirming all over the track, on the radials it is a lot like a railway track. If the car is good it makes a straight line run. You're not fighting the car, the stiff sidewall takes some more of the power band and you're not trying to recover the tyre, so it's just about keeping it planted.”
With less weight to get moving thanks to the rebuild, Hewitt's times have continued to fall. There's a 14-71 Kobelco Mike Janis roots-style supercharger sitting atop a BAE billet block, Noonan cylinder heads to help get things pumping even more, and Pro Slammer-spec internals helping create somewhere in the region of 2500-3000 horsepower.
“We now have a very solid engine combo thanks to Westend Performance and a great transmission thanks to Al’s Race Glides so we are now concentrating on our team and suspension set up.
“We're just tweaking the suspension with small adjustments. I've learned we need to look at the suspension points more and make fine adjustments for a radial, where before we would go out there with what they had. We have Menscer four way adjustables on the back. Con and Simon Kryger have been helping us. I get comments now that the car lifts (in the rear end) when I launch and raises up from the ground, that is the suspension working. It's knowledge and getting to know the car; every car is different.
“I'm thinking 4.0s are definitely possible, as for threes, you never know and if the moons align and we get the tune right and the track is excellent, maybe. I would be over the moon with 4.0s though.”
Hewitt will be competing at this weekend's Kenda Radial Riot at Sydney Dragway.