Robin Judd is an accountant by profession, specialising in planning and budgeting. One of the 1stthings most accountants will tell you is ‘invest your hard earned in income producing assets’. In other words, don’t buy a drag car and go racing unless you can make it work financially.
After spending some time in the stands at Ravenswood Raceway in Perth, Robin decided to try his hand at operating a racing business so jumped head-first into the drag racing game back in 1998. It’s been an interesting, often exhilarating and sometimes frustrating journey for Robin and his team.
After 14 years of running in ANDRA Top Doorslammer, Robin decided to call it quits after the Winternationals in June 2012.
While there was no one particular reason for his decision and it certainly wasn’t made without careful thought, there was however a number of contributing factors that made the decision in the end the obvious and logical choice.
Let’s look back at the impressive drag racing career of Robin Judd and his thoughts on the future direction of Drag Racing in Australia.
Ravenswood Raceway on a warm summer’s evening
Do you remember sitting in the stands at your first drag race? It’s a warm summer’s evening and the smell of exotic fuels and tyre smoke fills the air. You’re watching wave after wave of cars and bikes roar down the strip with enough noise and force to make you twitch in your seat.
You think to yourself, "I’ve gotta do this – this is the sport for me!" We’ll that’s what happened to Robin Judd.
Back in the early 90s, Robin made his first trip out to Ravenswood Raceway which was about 70kms South of Perth. "I became more and more interested and excited about drag racing. I didn't decide to get into the sport at that point but I was pretty keen on it," said Robin.
"But then I hit the magic age of 40 (everything starts happening when you're 40), I had the business head, the resources, been through a period of establishing my career and having a family that I then decided; ‘Now it's time for me’. I’d been flat out doing everything for everyone else and I wanted to do something for myself."
Most aspiring drag racers would then look at maybe starting off in group 3 like Super Street, Modified Bike or Super Sedan. You know, take a few gradual steps, learn the ropes and get some experience.
But that’s not Robin’s Style - he went straight into a blown doorslammer from the get-go. "Originally, I considered buying Wayne Keys’ Super Gas Torana but I didn't think it was going to do it for me," said Robin. "Gary Miocevich talked me into going into a Group 1 blown category. I didn't take too much convincing I've got to say."
So in late 1997 Robin bought the Murray Anderson built Studebaker from Raff Pironti. Built in 1995 for George Glasby, this was the 1st Studebaker to roll out of Anderson’s workshop and only had about 20 runs on it at the time.
A steep learning curve...
One doesn’t simply learn how to setup a doorslammer and tune a blown hemi to run at the pointy end overnight, particularly if you’ve got exactly zero experience. So as you can imagine it took Robin and the team a while to get their collective heads around the technicalities.
"We had very little knowledge to start with. When I say ‘we’ I mean Eric Gaudieri, Lee Brailsford and myself," explained Robin.
"We spent some time with the Lush brothers. Ian Brown was driving the Boston Strangler Alcohol Funny Car for them at the time. I got to know Bob [Lush] through Gary Miocevich. Eric, Lee and I spent a lot of time hanging out in the pits down at Ravenswood before I even got the car. We learned the maintenance side and what was involved. It was another world for me and a very steep learning curve for me and my crew."
In early 1998 Robin attended the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School in the USA and returned home to start putting the car together. "I was introduced to Frank Manzo in the states by Brad Anderson and I also met Scotty Cannon through Victor Bray when he raced over here in Perth."
"I thought it was really important to get the right combination and basic tune-up. I got the fuel system and blower from Scotty Cannon. He also helped me with the tune up to start with. The engine configuration was Frank Manzo’s 511 combo that he ran in his funny car. In fact I never changed it until the middle of 2011 when we increased the cubes to 521. Until that time it was the same 511 combination all the way through," said Robin.
By May 1998, Robin and the team had the car ready to go. The very first meeting for the team was the last test and tune of the season at Ravenswood Raceway.
The early days
The 1st major meeting for Robin was the Goldenstates in late 1998. The first interstate trip was to the 1999 Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway. The team returned the following year to run a 6.17 world record on the 1st night of qualifying before the event was cancelled due to rain.
"We took the car home and brought it back in October for the re-run but must have changed something as we couldn’t get it to run properly. That was the 1st mistake we made. After narrowly missing the championship in 2000 from the next year we ran hot and cold and then we got lost for a while. We weren’t getting the performances we wanted. We were hurting motors and couldn’t get the fuel system right.," said Robin.
"We weren’t getting anywhere. It was like we were marching up and down on the spot. We’d put in a couple of good runs and then do something stupid and the car would breakdown and we’d have to park it. For the level of racing we were doing we didn’t really have a proper maintenance program together. I realised I didn’t have the right people in the team and it had to change if we were to succeed."
So after a few years of not performing to expectations, Robin employed Andrew Fowler in 2005 to look after the car on a fulltime basis.
Time for a coffee break
There was a ‘joke’ amongst the team that if Robin invited you to have a coffee you were for the chop. "It’s true," said Robin. "When I took someone for a coffee, it was basically letting them know that it’s not going any further. I had to get out of the sport or step it up, put more resources in and do it properly. After making that decision our fortunes began to improve."
The crew chief at the time was Lee Brailsford but as his work became more demanding he wasn’t able to put as much time into the tuning and thinking about the car. So Robin found himself putting more time into getting information out of the US, mainly from Les Davenport and John Scialpi, who were his main sources of information on what changes he should make to get the car to go faster.
The best the team could do at that time was 6.0’s.
"We were improving with Andrew being involved but it wasn’t until we got Stuart Rowland involved in 2007 that our performances really started to improve. Stuey came in as a kind of consultant to help us out a bit but it turned out there were too many crew chiefs. And one had to go. So Lee had the cup of coffee with me and the rest is history. We had a couple of other personnel changes to put together the team we finished with recently", explained Robin.
Success at last
By mid 2008, Robin and the team were able to push the Studebaker into the 5’s on a regular basis, setting the national record with a 5.90 at the Winternationals. And at the November Golden States in Perth, Robin set the record again with a 5.86.
"Our success was due to a lot of things. Getting a handle on the suspension, better tuning, better driving and better car preparation made a difference; basically doing all things a lot better. Andrew [Fowler] was a key part of this. He and Stuey worked really well together which helped. The way that car was presented in the last couple of years was just superb," said Robin.
It was at about this time that the team started to develop a tit for tat rivalry with John Zappia. Robin recalls, "It's like golf. You're trying to better your score all the time. It's the type of sport where you’re never satisfied, you want to go quicker and quicker and quicker. I think Zap and I drove each other to out-do the other."
"He'd set a new bench mark and then we gazump that and then he'd step up again. We believe the Studebaker has more left in it. Even though I’m retired someone else could get it to go faster than the 5.76 with the combination we've developed."
No conversation with Robin would be complete without discussing the fact that he was runner-up in the ANDRA Top Doorslammer Championship three times but was never able to win one. So I ask him if he was disappointed. "What do you reckon? So close but no cigar! We had a lot of success and if a championship’s the only thing we missed then so be it!" is the response. There’s a brief pause and we move on, enough said.
Losing the passion
Just prior to the 2012 Winternationals Robin Judd announced his retirement from the sport of drag racing.
"I'd been thinking about it for a while. I was testing to see if I was enjoying it enough. I basically made the decision early in 2012 that this season would be my last. In the end it wasn't a hard decision. I wasn't as passionate anymore because we had gone as far as we could performance wise and were not going much further without taking my commitment to a level I wasn’t prepared to go to. I started looking at the race team, program and budget more objectively and realised we weren’t getting enough out of it to continue," said Robin.
"Different frustrations came into it; some personnel aspects, dealing with some of the ANDRA people and the tracks. I wasn’t happy with the way the racers were being treated, not being respected and certainly not appreciated. Some appreciation was being demonstrated by lip-service wasn’t there in reality."
While Robin hasn’t ruled out returning to drag racing in the future, a number of things would have to change to warrant a comeback.
According to Robin:
- "I'd need to see a major corporate sponsor sign up for ANDRA"
- "I'd need to see ANDRA control the sport rather than the tracks"
- "I'd need to see a real business opportunity to run a race team profitably"
- "I'd need to see some direction for growth in the sport"
"And I'd need to get some passion back but I'm not sure that's possible at this stage. It takes a huge amount of effort to do it and I wouldn't want to come back and half do it. I wouldn't want to just run with the pack; I would want to be up there at the pointy end."
With 14 years at the top end of the sport, Robin has a few recommendations on ways he believes it could be improved for all involved; from the racers and the spectators, to the tracks and the sponsors.
- "Rationalise the race day program and have separate group 1 and sportsman events"
- "More corporate dollars are required. The group 1 guys have been carrying the sport to some extent and are expected to carry the race meetings"
- "To get bum's on seats you've got to offer the public something more than just some racing. They've become spoilt with so many forms of entertainment around"
- "Spectators will pay $50 to watch a rock band but won't pay $50 to see some cars go down the track. You've got to combine the 2 maybe and cross over. Maybe you put the rock band on when groups 3 and 4 are on for those people who aren't interested in that form of racing?"
- "The sport is very weather driven and you’ve got to program the events a lot better, which a lot of the other motor sports don't have to worry about"
Goodbye and farewell
With Robin now retired from drag racing he has a lot more time on his hands to do some of things he’s not been able to do previously, like go to the footy on a Saturday afternoon or play golf and take that overseas trip.
Robin acknowledges that it was his choice to go racing of course, but it’s nice to have a few options now on how to spend his time.
"I wish the sport all the best. It's going to get tougher before it gets better and I hope everyone works together to make it the great sport it should be."
"I think Mal Bulley is great choice as CEO, he's a strong guy, he's got good strong corporate governance, and he’ll stand up against any opponents of ANDRA. He's a smart guy, well connected and well networked and I'd be very surprised if he doesn't do a good job."
"I just hope some corporates out there see the opportunity. As soon as ANDRA shows that they're in control of the sport and there is clear direction they'll come on-board and they should get on-board because those corporates that are first in, will get the greatest benefits", said Robin.