It’s arguable to say that the Perth Motorplex has been the most successful drag racing facility in Australia over the past decade. While other major tracks have had a tough time of it over the last few years, the Perth Motorplex has managed to carve out its niche and provide a venue that attracts both the paying public and an ever growing number of racers.
But before all of you proud West Aussies (and rightly so) start beating your chests and demanding to secede from the rest of Australia, let’s look at some interesting facts about WA and how they affect drag racing.
Did you know...?
- Perth has the most sunny days of all the capital cities in Australia
- WA has a population of just over 2 million and 1.7 million of those people live in greater Perth (85%)
- The population of Perth is growing faster than any other capital city in Australia
- Western Australia leads the way on economic growth, construction work, low unemployment, retail trade and equipment investment, which can be attributed in no small part to the current resources boom
So Perth has lots of sunny weather, a concentrated population and the best economy in the land, all factors that make for a great drag racing environment. This is evident by the sheer number of competitors from WA, particularly in the group 1 categories where cash is king.
For all its natural resources, eager racers and agreeable climate there is one element however that brings them all together. And that’s good management. Some people may differ in opinion on this point but as a smart person once said, “you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
One of the people who have been instrumental in the continued success of the Perth Motorplex is General Manager Kevin Prendergast. Before the beginning of the new season, Kevin and I chatted about what contributed to the success of the Perth Motorplex and the strategic vision for the future.
Consistency is key
According to Kevin, “I think one of the key things in Western Australia has always been consistency, and that’s consistency of scheduling, consistency of product and consistency of making sure that we promote and advertise those products appropriately. “
“So we ‘re never about radical change, we’ve got a format that works extremely well in Perth, we personally believe that it would work reasonably well at the other tracks, specifically in drag racing, but consistency of delivery has been extremely important to us.”
With 120 to 130 events each year it’s extremely important that the Perth Motorplex provides a consistently high quality experience.
Drag Racing is the number one product which is divided into national events and takes up about 14 to 15 days each season. Then there are the sportsman level events which include Fast Fridays and niche meetings like the Holden V Ford and Nostalgia events.
For legal off street drag racers there are the popular Whoop Ass Wednesdays. These events are for muffled and genuine street cars and bikes only. As Kevin puts it, “Whoop Ass Wednesday is drag racing’s community product, it allows us to put our hand on our heart to police departments and everyone else and say ‘Well, kids want to go fast and this is the place to do it’. We make it inexpensive so they can come and enjoy themselves.”
We’re in the entertainment business
Like it or not, drag racing is in the entertainment business, competing with an ever growing list of activities mum and dad can spend their dollars on.
Understanding this shift, the Perth Motorplex has adopted a three round format for various classes at non-championship events as compared to the traditional elimination format.
Initiated in the Ravenswood Raceway days, Kevin is of the opinion that “the three round format needs to be introduced into the Pro Series and we intend to pursue that for future events. There’s no doubt that it’s not beneficial to any of us to have good race cars sitting in the paddock area on a race day.”
“Top Doorslammer is a good example where you might have 16 or 18 entrants on the main day when arguably most of the people are here and you might have 8 or ten cars sitting in their trailers in the paddock area. The three round format does work really well and there are many benefits. It allows the racers to actually reduce their costs in some ways, it also means they’ve got consistency, they can tell their sponsors that they’re out in front of the public on both days and it also means you can generate winners on each day so there are so many benefits for it.”
“In its simplest form, in the first round all cars run in random pairings. In the second round all cars run again but they are paired up, depending on the results of the first round and then you take out the quickest four winners. They run off for first and second, and third and fourth place in the finals.”
“There’s no doubt that the market is shifting all the time and the days of having big long events are long gone. Part of the Perth Motorplex mantra has always been that racing starts at 6pm and we have always run 6 til 10.30 or thereabouts. In fact we now notice that come 9.30 at night, generally after the second round, there is generally an exodus of people,” said Kevin.
“That’s just the way it is. It used to drive us crazy in the early days but the fact of the matter is people aren’t there for long days anymore. If they go and see something, their window is three, maximum four hours. So what we’ve got to do it is work out how to deliver to them the best possible show in that period of time and subsequently using the three round format.”
Now for all you racers out there, get ready to hold on tight to something in case you start to feel woozy and the room starts to spin. Ready? The majority of spectators are there to see the big boys strut their stuff for a maximum of a few hours. And when they feel they’ve gotten there monies worth they head for the nearest exit.
Kevin explains. “If they [spectators] arrive at the venue at 6pm, they’re going to see all the cars run twice, they see them then run again at 8pm. And if they’re not there for the final, for them they haven’t missed a great deal in entertainment. Whilst it’s still important for the racers to produce a result, as far as the spectators are concerned they’ve seen the best possible entertainment package they can in the short period of time.”
Times, they need changing
Another area that the Perth Motorplex has diverged from the status quo is the sanctioning of their Whoop Ass Wednesday Street Meets.
“After fighting with ANDRA for some 5 or 6 years to change street car regulations, last year we made the change to not have ANDRA sanction street meetings because the regulations were, in our opinion, too restrictive. So we opened up the regulations to take into account modern cars and modern conditions,” said Kevin.
“Consequently, this was very much welcomed by the off street racers because we had a case where a lot of them were being sent home after a couple of runs because they’d run into the 11’s, which today is silly. Now they can run down into the 10’s. There are a basic set of conditions but it needs to be an original car. If you have a modern vehicle with airbags and all the relevant specifications then yes they can run into the 10’s. Once they get into that then we start encouraging them to go and get an ANDRA license and make the move to Fast Fridays and then into Super Sedan and Modified Bike."
In a recent annoucement by the NHRA, the largest drag racing assocaition in the world, from 2013 street legal drag racers with '08 and later vehicles will be able to run 9.99 seconds or slower and up to 135mph unaltered. Previously, vehicles running in the 9.99 to 11.49 range would have required a roll cage or roll bar.
Bracket ET cut-off times have also been on the management’s agenda for some time. As I’ve highlighted in a few previous articles, I personally believe the cut-offs need to be reviewed. It’s much easier today to make power than it was when the current cut-offs were introduced.
And Kevin and the management at the Perth Motorplex feel the same. “We’ve put forward a couple of proposals that the cut-offs for the eliminators do need to change. There’s no doubt about it, Super Street needs to be lower, Super Sedan needs to be a 9.90 or thereabouts, and that can be achieved very quickly over about two years by sliding them down by half second increments. “
“Modified to a 10.50; most Super Sedans are faster than the slow Modified cars. And the reality is that when you look at the number, and Peter Pike did a bit of homework on it, the number of cars that would be disadvantaged is very few nationally. Most of those cars, you’d find, would step up in performance. In our opinion there is a necessity to adjust Super Sedan, Super Street, Modified and Modified Bike, all of the ET bracket cut offs need to be adjusted.”
Changes to the calendar
While Perth can lay claim to being one of the most isolated capital cities on the planet (depending on who you speak to), the Perth Motorplex is not immune to decisions made at ANDRA’s head office which they feel negatively impacts their viability.
Case in point - the switch from a financial year to a calendar year for ANDRA Championship Drag Racing.
“It has the potential to create some serious difficulty for us, the change of season. We have been very public about the need to do it and the reasons for doing it and the effects of doing it and unfortunately at this point in time it will mean that we will have to review a couple of events. We have the potential to lose two championship events as a result of this change of calendar,” warned Kevin.
How can this happen? Because two of the Perth Motorplex’s major events, the Goldenstates and a round of Top Fuel, fall outside of the new calendar dates – February to November. The management at the Perth Motorplex are less than happy about the situation.
“ANDRA need to demonstrate that they believe Perth Motorplex is important. Unfortunately after the management, and not just myself, the whole management team at the Perth Motorplex, put 20 to 30 years into the development of ANDRA the changes that went through, starting about a year ago, have effectively dismantled a lot of that,” said Kevin.
“And things like the change of season and those items have a dramatic effect on the operation of the Perth Motorplex and we’re interested to see where ANDRA goes now. The three CEOs, two Chairmen and 12 months of turmoil after so many years of stability, it’s very distressing to us and we would hope that ANDRA is able to show some direction in the future.”
“Regardless of what occurs we want to get on with drag racing and we’ve got some fantastic racers in this country and they’re the most important part for us. They’re ANDRA members and we will be running ANDRA events, we want those events to go extremely well and we look forward to ANDRA talking to us about where we go into the future.”
The show will go on
For all the doom and gloom over the last 1 to 2 years in drag racing, the Perth Motorplex continues to hold its own when it comes to spectator and racer numbers.
As we discussed at the beginning of this article, there are a number of key ingredients to the continued success of the Perth Motorplex:
- Good economic conditions
- Good weather;
- And good management
Drag Racing does not run on the smell of an oily rag. Rather, it runs on the smell of exotic and expensive fuels and lubricants.
So what does the future hold for the Perth Motorplex? “Our aim is to continue to deliver the best possible venue, continue to deliver the best possible events and continue to have the best racers in Australia,” explained Kevin.
“We’ve been very disappointed about the past 12 months. Not from a track perspective, we’ve had a very good year, but the political situation and the marginalising of the major tracks has been a real disappointment. We look forward to ANDRA taking some steps to show us that they intend to remedy that and we will continue getting on with business.”