Simon Richards remembers his first experience of drag racing vividly. He was a 12-year-old boy who was into motocross and was competing at a junior state title round in Adelaide.
The dirt and jumps were the main focus of the day, but once racing was complete he and the family went to Adelaide International Raceway for a look. The Nitro Funny Cars were in town and Sydney invader Graeme Cowin was taking on the local hero Geoff Pratt.
Richards made it to the fence only in time to see the Funny Cars backing up from their burnouts, he’d just missed their burnouts, but now they were cackling away ready for their runs.
“We stood right at the start line as they staged,” Richards recalled. “At Adelaide International Raceway you are just three metres from the track and one metre above, looking right down on top of the cars.
“They both staged, then boom! They disappeared down the track and it sat me on my ass as I tried to run away. I will never forget that moment, I was hooked.”
Motocross remained Richards’ priority and he raced dirt bikes from age six to 25 with much success, earning a national title and four state titles. When he left school, Richards eventually crossed paths with more drag racers. He worked in a spare parts business and there he met Colin Will, one of the original members of the Wild Bunch – the precursor to Top Doorslammers. Will was an extremely popular racer in Adelaide and Richards revelled in the personal access.
“I delivered parts to Colin for his automotive repair business, and I always wanted to talk about racing and his cars, but I never had the funds to buy or build anything,” Richards said. “So I had to settle for a trip to Adelaide every month for a race meet.”
Life progressed and Richards began working at the family business, a heavy mechanical fleet repair workshop based out of Port Pirie, about two-and-a-half hours along the Spencer Gulf. He was able to move a step closer to his dreams of quarter mile glory with the purchase of a Holden HT Monaro.
“I always wanted a HT Monaro after their early Bathurst years, they’re just cool,” he said. “I acquired one and built a fairly stout 355 Chev and T350 transmission behind it and went racing.
“The first run was everywhere! I headed for the fence, missed gear changes, it was terrible. By the end of the day we had a 10.4/129mph under my belt, and at the end of my run I was punching the air and woo-hooing. Unfortunately, with no cage, that was also the last time we raced it, and it was time to go faster and be safer.”
With the street Monaro no longer an option, Richards began work on a full chassis version. He purchased one with a half cage and some good parts. In the meantime, some searching on the internet uncovered a Pro Mod Camaro for sale in Florida, and with the Australian dollar fighting fit, Richards made the decision to bring the car to Australia.
“Once the Camaro arrived we completely stripped it and checked it over. We looked at the welds and structure, the fittings and safety, and replaced all the hard wearing parts. We repaired a few battle scars, repainted it and put it back together.
“The owner in Florida was a tall guy, so I fit in perfectly. It was set up for a Hemi and Lencodrive, so we had to make some new engine plates and mid plates for our combo.”
That combo would be a 540ci Chev using a CN billet block, Brodix/Sonnys cylinder heads, a Hogan’s sheetmetal intake, Bryant billet Pro Mod crank, BME rods, JE blower pistons, T&D rockers, Victory 1 titanium valves, LSM blower cam and a 14/71 Littlefield high helix blower spun to 20% overdrive. There’s 11.5 to 1 compression, an MSD Pro Mag 20 lighting the whole deal and a Lencodrive three speed with Neal Chance all billet convertor.
Richards had been inspired by his heroes on the track but now it was time to emulate them by taking his Camaro for its first runs.
“This was the first blown car I have driven and it has taken some time to get my head around, and to be confident in the car,” he said. “I had no idea what it would do. Would it go straight, would I keep on it, what about pulling the chutes? I didn’t even know if it would turn off at the end.
“After a very short burnout I backed up, came into stage and hit the throttle. It immediately pulled my foot off the throttle, then I was back on, then off and back on again. By then I was in top gear at 2.5 seconds into the run, it must have looked ridiculous from a spectator’s point of view!
“Now with more runs I am confident in the car. I think back to my grass roots of motocross, to focus and get myself in a zone and go through everything in rhythm on the run. The car is easy to drive and goes straight, it doesn’t move around a lot and the hardest thing is seeing the shift light. It has taken some time to get used to the scream of the engine and the revs when changing gears. Most of the runs so far have been short shifted, but I will get that sorted.”
The maintenance demands of a seven second race car are predictably higher than a street-driven Monaro, but Richards said he and his team have come to grips well.
“Maintenance between rounds is quite easy. We have a very strong valve train, but we always check it between runs. Other than that it’s the usual stuff of topping up fuel, hooking up transmission coolers, checking all the nuts and bolts and packing the chutes.
“I have a very good crew, which I think is paramount. All of them have mechanical backgrounds and they are all on the same page when we get back to the pits.”
Richards has enjoyed the ride so far, though he is already getting keen to step up his performances.
“The current tune and timing is very soft, running only 21 degrees of timing and very fat,” he said. “We have some new parts including a 44 amp Pro Mag and new gearing to be fitted, then we will pull some fuel and give it some timing and see what it will do.
“If you see us breakout with a personal best at a meet, I guarantee you my guys will be partying on the start line and not be disappointed.”
Richards is proud of his Camaro and looking forward to what is to come. And believe it or not, it’s all about relaxation.
“At the end of the day’s work, I will always spend a little time in the race shed checking things, sitting in it, wiping dust off the roll cage, or just having a beer and looking at it. It’s a wind-down from my working day.
“My attitude is the same with life, business and motorsport. Nothing comes easy, dreams are possible, and never give up.”