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Drag racing is a sport all about time, and the distance one person might travel given a few seconds of it. On the strip time passes intensely, away from the track it passes with subtlety – yet still no less rapid in our minds. And this is how we end up with people who were toddlers when Sydney Dragway opened, such as Britney Olive, now racing fully fledged drag machines.

This article was originally published in print in Drag News Magazine #42, written by Luke Nieuwhof with photos by John Bosher. Support Australian drag racing by subscribing to Drag News Magazine today.

Before Britney, there was her grandfather Phil and her father Shane, and neither were strangers to Sydney quarter miles. Phil began drag racing at 17 years old, driving an FJ Holden known as ‘The Red Devil’ and cutting 13 second times. He stepped up the classic Aussie sedan with a blown 392ci Hemi which put him into the nines and made him one of the quickest doorslammer drivers in the country in the 70s. In 1978, Phil claimed the title of having the world’s quickest FJ Holden with a pass of 9.35/148mph. Keen to improve his performances further, Phil purchased the ex-Bobby Dunn fuel altered for some mid-seven second runs.

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Shane followed many of his Dad’s footsteps, also beginning with a classic street car – the Holden Torana. And just like Phil, he decided to throw a blown engine under (and out of) the bonnet to make some nine second laps. The pair later decided to go Top Doorslammer racing, where they campaigned a beautiful Holden Monaro. Shane’s path later saw him begin working for Graeme and Wendy Cowin, where he was to oversee a stable of two Nitro Funny Cars. However they quickly multiplied and presently there are eight Funny Cars and four Nitro Hot Rods to look after. As part of his employment, Shane even gets to drive some of the beasts – his 57 Chev-bodied car is aptly named ‘The Red Devil’.

Britney Olive is 19 years old, so her earliest memories coincide with the opening years of Sydney Dragway. Joined by her family, a young Britney would set up camp on the terraces with picnic blankets and dinner ready to go, settling in for long days and nights of racing.

“My cousins and I would always sit there with our massive earmuffs on for the Group One pairings, and as they came back down the return road we ran down to the front fence to wave to them,” she said. “It was always the highlight of the night if a Top Fuel driver waved at you or signed something for you.”

She received tours around the pits courtesy of her father, watching teams rebuild their engines between rounds and talking excitedly about the runs they had just made.

“We’d wait around for their warmups before they went out to race again and being so close to the cars I could feel the rumble in my spine. Memories such as these made me want to be so involved within the sport and to strive to be a racer one day.”

As Britney got older, she realised that these cars weren’t driven by superhumans, just ordinary people – and she could be one of those people.

“I started to figure out how cars work and how drag racing works in general. I quite literally fell in love with the sport and the excitement that the powerful cars brought to the stands. I pretty much knew from then on that I wanted to race something. I never really knew which type I wanted to race, but I just wanted to get out there and be a part of all.”

Especially powerful to Britney were young racers such as Ben Bray or female racers like Amanda Shepherd. They proved that drag racing at a professional level was achievable without being a middle-aged man.

“Especially as a young girl I always used to look up to all the female racers that were going really fast and also had such beautiful looking cars. It is such a cliché, but in all honesty, women truly inspire younger girls to be brave and take on something different. Deep down I always knew that I wanted to be exactly like them. I admired them, for their love and passion to such a different sport.”

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Unlike quite a few other third-generation drivers, Britney’s first time on the drag strip did not involve a Junior Dragster, or even a street car. The Olive family instead decided on the very big block Modified altered you see – because there is nothing like diving at the deep end.

“I was pretty fortunate for this altered to be the first car I have ever taken down the drag strip. For me it was super nerve racking to do everything for the first time, such as staging or doing a burnout or even my very first launch, just because I knew how much power was there and how fast the car has gone before.”

The car was built in the 2000s in the USA before it made its way to Australia, where it was last owned by Roger Radford and raced by his daughter Jordan. There’s a 540ci BBC up front, fuelled by methanol and running your standard drag racing Powerglide transmission and nine inch diff combo. Britney has been as quick as 7.69 seconds at 171.40mph.

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“The first time I drove the altered I remember being so nervous because I had gone over the routine in my head so many times and I didn’t want anything to go wrong. But I was also extremely calm and clear headed at the time, mainly because I had Dad there right by my side the whole time up until I left the start line. Doing something new for the first time, especially in something so extremely powerful, is a nerve racking process. My main thoughts were to get the other end safely and mostly to make my family and myself proud. It had been something that I had dreamed of for so long that I honestly couldn’t have been any happier. I remember when Dad strapped me in for the first time in the staging lanes, that was the first time it really hit me that I was about to do something that not many people get to do let alone many my age.

“It all happened so fast. You would think that your body and mind would be prepared for the launch, but in reality, they are really not. It took a few race meetings to just get used to the force of leaving the start line. My first full pass during my licensing process was a 7.98 at 156.26mph. You could not wipe the smile from any of our faces after that pass. I’m beyond lucky to have an opportunity to drive such a beautiful car, let alone go do an ET such as that one. Both Dad and I knew that car had so much potential, so I really wanted to prove to him that I could take on the challenge.”

The Atura Blacktown NSW Championship Series has been the main focus for Britney, where she is hopeful of getting some results soon.

“Currently we are working on trying to keep the car as consistent as possible. Both Dad and I are still learning all about the car and its set up and getting used to the dial-in bracket style. It’s new to both of us but we are enjoying each lap as it comes and love matching up against all the different racers in the Modified bracket. We are hoping to enter in some big race meets, such as a 400 Thunder, to be able to gain experience in a bigger event and just to race against such great competition.”

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Personal success is Britney’s primary target for her endeavours with the altered, focused on leaving the track a better driver than she arrived.

“I’m always wanting to learn and develop my knowledge for the cars and how they function as such a big unit, or what makes the car not get the results we are after. In the future I would like to eventually move up in the higher and faster brackets and experience some of the different styles of cars, such as a bodied car or a dragster. My main goal is to push myself to be more confident in the car and develop who I am within the sport of drag racing. Enjoying the sport you love and being excited about racing makes you strive to be and do better for both yourself and others. The competition within drag racing can be extremely tough and disappointing sometimes, especially when you may not get the win light, but just having another opportunity to go and have another spin in the car makes you learn from mistakes and makes you eager to get back out there and improve.”

There’s an obvious question around Britney’s future in drag racing given her father’s link to the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars. She is now a regular crew member at events, her skills having matured from polishing to helping service the cars between rounds.

“After Dad got involved and started racing with the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars I was going to the workshop with him on a Saturday while he worked, and I would mostly watch him and learn that way. Slowly he started to give me small jobs to help him with the cars, from polishing the bodies to replacing windscreens if they were damaged after a race meeting. I have always loved learning the ins and outs of the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars, and it is something that I’m super proud of and excited to tell people about.

“As I got older I tried to spend any opportunity I had at the race track watching Dad and helping him on his Funny Car. Slowly I started to get bigger tasks thrown my way, such as helping service the cars after each run by changing spark plugs, fuel and oil, packing Dad’s chutes and backing him up after each of his burnouts. I would never have been so involved in the sport if Dad didn’t have such passion and drive for it. I’ve had so many different opportunities because of this awesome sport, like travelling with Dad and the Aeroflow series across the country to race at Perth Motorplex or Cairns.

“I have always looked up to both Graeme and Wendy Cowin for all of their work for the sport, and also to all of the drivers that are within the Aeroflow series. They always push themselves to be better and work harder with their cars to get down the track and get some awesome results. That style of drag racing has always appealed to me and I have always aspired to race alongside them and be a part of a spectacular show. I would especially like to live out my childhood dream of match racing against Dad.”

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Britney, who is currently studying at Macquarie University to be a speech pathologist, acknowledged she had to reach the next level of experience and commitment to the sport first before she could even think about getting her nitro licence.

“To be able to get to a level such as the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars would involve me getting more comfortable with the track by getting more laps under my belt and also being able to fully understand, hear and feel the workings of a race car while racing down the quarter mile. These powerful cars definitely demand a lot of respect, co-operation and time to be devoted
to them in order for everything to go smoothly while racing. Hopefully one day I may be able to fulfil my dream.

“As a kid I could never tell people what my favourite part about drag racing was or what my favourite car was because there was just too many to choose from. But ultimately, I believe that it is the excitement of going faster than most people are used to. Everyone is generally wanting you to do well and would go out of their way if you need a hand at the track. They help you grow and learn so much more about the sport and the cars we race. Taking on board the information and constantly asking questions build you to be a better racer, a smarter racer.”