OZ Trip 2001

#1 Gail's Racing History  

#2 OZ Trip 2001

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Gail Watson Phillips

On Friday January 5th, 2001, Al drove home from Long Beach
breathing sighs of relief because the race car
 had finally been packed and sealed in it’s container. After handling the crisis of the car and equipment
 being too “long” to put in the 20’ container and having to switch to a 40’ one at the last minute with
the added expense and trouble, it was finally on its way to the dock to be loaded. When he arrived back
 home in Pismo Beach he was distressed to learn that we had received an email from the shipping
company saying the container had been “off-loaded” due to an overbooking and would leave on the
 next boat, a week later! After a weekend of being able to do nothing, everyone was closed till Monday,
we stewed in the juices of a dilemma, because that week would surely prevent the car from arriving on
 time for racing,
 so it appeared the adventure was over before it even started. On Monday, January 8th, the day the
ship was scheduled to leave, Al was on the phone making numerous long distance phone calls back
and forth across the country from corporate offices to shipping brokers and trucking companies
until he finally learned that our container did make it onto the original ship, after a few short cuts
were made. Then we were able to rest a little easy knowing (hoping) the ship would probably
make the deadline to Melbourne, and then be picked up by train for Adelaide, to be
 trucked to Lake Gairdner in time for the start of racing. The only hurdles left were to get
ourselves and the rest of the crew (Doug Odom and Wayne Villard) to Adelaide and make
 it through customs. Of course the price of flights was slowly moving up instead of down
 while we fine-tuned our travel plans.

Just a week before we left we heard that our container had arrived safely and the shipping
company had already had customs out to inspect it, even before our arrival. Fortunately
for us (but apparently not customs) it was well over 100 degrees when they entered the container where
inside it was even hotter. They cleared the car easily enough because they could see it
but the questionable things were in the packed boxes, which they did not open, due to the
heat. The whole container was cleared out of general frustration with the heat, so we were home free.

Al and I headed off on February 22nd and Doug and Wayne followed on Feb. 25th. That gave
us just enough time for Al to learn how to drive
 on the “wrong” side of the road with lots of teeth gnashing and barking at the navigator (me).
 We finally settled into a routine that had us all
at the container storage and trucking company, Mathews Nite Flite in Port Adelaide, every day
with the crew working on the car getting it ready for racing and Gail putting all the new decals
back on the car after the new paint job (if you recall it was just finished 2 hours before
loading). We can’t say enough about the people of South Australia. Every where we went
they went out of their way to be helpful, kind, gracious
and giving. All the workers at the trucking company offered us help whenever we needed it,
nothing was a problem. As the saying goes, “no worries”
and they really do mean it. In fact one helper who drove the forklift, brought us wood, tools,
and loaned us his own personal ice chests turned out to be Ellis Mathews, the OWNER
 of Mathews Nite Flite! They insisted we work inside their warehouse were it was cool,
with a breeze and a view of the harbor. Who could have asked for a more beautiful
 location to prep a race car?

While there we were contacted by the local paper called The Advertiser, which apparently
 serves 2 million readers throughout South Australia. They interviewed me and took
photos of the car against that harbor background and it was in the paper the Saturday
we left for Lake Gairdner. From that point on, in shops, in taxis, in restaurants, people
recognized me or had the paper or remembered me once they knew we were the
 Americans racing at Lake Gairdner. It seemed like such a small town atmosphere in a
city larger than my entire county (which has maybe 300,000) where no one knows me.
This is a country where you say Hi to everyone and they not only say Hi back but
want to know where you are from, whyyou are here, how do you like it, are you having
a good time? etc. If only Americans could let loose of their
 own schedules and agendas and take on the “no worries”
attitude, then maybe we wouldn’t have some of the troubles plaguing our society today.

On Friday 3/2 we loaded up the motor home and head off to Port Augusta to spend
the night and test out our “camping” arrangements at the last bit of civilization.
 The camper park had all the amenities like pool, laundry, electricity etc so we
weren’t tested too hard. Gail, being the only female amongst three men,
had to sort out her routine by claiming the top bunk above the cab as her
 own private domain (it had a curtain of sorts),
and master the ability to change clothes in a space only 24” tall and emerge fully
dressed, brushed, polished and shined. It was a miracle act for
sure (as only another female can fully appreciate).

On Saturday 3/3 we drove another hour on our last bit of paved road and turned
 off it at Iron Knob (!), a town only large enough to support one
 gas station and one street. Three plus hours of driving on a dirt road was not
as bad as we had been warned but we later found out that it had
 just been graded and that was why it was so smooth. We were lucky I guess.
The road had signs just like regular roads so we didn’t feel too
isolated. We passed 2-3 ranches in that 3+ hours and 2 trucks passed us going in
 the opposite direction but we never saw anyone else in that
time. The country side has a similarity to the area around El Mirage and
Adelanto but with a few more clumps of trees along the roadside
 periodically, and very red dirt and an occasional kangaroo or emu. I made
 Doug stop at every animal or interesting road sign so I could
film it with my video camera. Typical tourist! The last vehicle we met coming
at us was the Nite Flite truck returning after unloading our
 40’ container and Doug was relieved to find out that he was able to put it
directly onto the salt where the pits were being set up. We were
 worried it would be left at the edge or even inland from the lake and it would
 have been an added chore to unload and find a trailer to get
 the car and gear out to the pits, so now we really were “happy campers”.
And again, “no worries Mate”.

Passing by the sign and turn off for the Mount Ive Sheep station, which
owns the land DLRA uses to access the lake, we arrived with
 little teaser peeks of salt between the trees off in the distance,
but when we came to the Lake Gairdner DLRA red and white sign we
knew we had really made it. We rounded a bend at the top
of a low hill and there it was below us like a perfect white jewel of a lake,
bordered by lapping red sand and rocks. We paused to take
 in the beauty of it and the one moment before everyone else would arrive.
 Only one car and vehicle was parked on the edge of the lake
and the rest appeared deserted except for a row of yellow cones to follow
 to the horizon. We wasted no time following our
 “yellow brick road” to begin our Oz adventure.

As we moved closer to the horizon across the pristine salt we saw
 a red blip getting larger and larger and there was our red container
sitting all alone on the pure white salt anchoring the beginning of
the pits. If a man and his wife hadn’t been putting up an awning over
a motorcycle we might have thought we were in the wrong spot, but
 they assured us we weren’t. We opened our container and started
setting up our pit and began the infernal brushing away of flies that
started immediately upon our arrival. We were to find out later that
out on the salt the flies were nothing compared to the camp site.
We met the DLRA President Wayne O’Grady and the Chief Timer Peter
Noy and Assistant Timer Roger Voigt when they came over to
look at the car, now out of the container. They were out surveying and
putting up markers for the course. They filled us in on the camping
arrangements; set up close to the edge of the lake, where there was
water, showers and electricity, and more flies. Unfortunately the
 water truck hadn’t arrived yet so still waiting on that (it arrived Monday
I think). Again the friendliness of the members was only a prelude to
the people we would met later in the evening where everyone made
us immediately welcome, especially the flies. Several even had the
newspaper and asked me to sign my picture for them (club members
not the flies). The good news we learned was that the flies disappeared
when it got dark so then everyone came out from under their fly nets.

The camp site is a series of containers (just like the one our car came in)
that had been left by Roscoe McLashen’s jet car team several
 years ago. DLRA purchased them from him once it was determined to be
cheaper to leave them there than to truck them all out again.
They have about 12 beds in each for about $5 or $10 a night which includes
 electricity. Many members use the same container every year
and have personalized them with refrigerators, freezers and other homey
 items. One container had a kitchen built in though I never saw it
 being used for that purpose, except for beer in the frig. They also had
outside showers with wooden slated walls and a swinging half door
 which was the height of luxury after a hot day on the salt. One even
had a crooked cardboard sign with hand-printed letters saying ‘girls’
 though there were only a handful of us out there. We appreciated the
men sharing their showers so generously (once the water arrived).
 I felt like Hot Lips Hoolahan in the TV show M.A.S.H. The showers
 were very much like that. After meeting and visiting many people
we all went to bed to the sounds of muffled talking, laughing, music,
crickets, and other unidentifiable noises that quickly lulled us all to sleep.

Sunday 3/4 was a get ready, relaxed day for us though DLRA club members
 worked hard finishing up the course, dragging it and all the
 other little duties that take time to set up. I filmed all three of my guys either
sleeping or reading in the motor home in the middle of the
 day, a first for our team as I am sure most US racers will relate too, who ever
 has time to sleep during a race prep day? We had to keep
reminding ourselves that everything was at a slower pace here and it gave
us a chance to settle into the Aussie style of slowing down and
hanging loose. We even learned the finer points of how to play (understand)
 Crickett. Several Aussies (Leigh, Geoff, Wayne and others)
 mocked up a crickett bat and ball and had Doug and Wayne trying to show
off their “baseball” expertise until they discovered you swing
and hit down, not in the middle and up, and the ball is thrown in an overhead
 running pitch. There was lots of laughter and funniness and
fumbles as each tried to show the others how to do it. There was a challenge
of the Aussies against the Americans for a later day once
 they could fix up a better bat and ball. On Thursday an entire group of Aussie’s
 (most from Chuck Sharpe’s crew) presented Doug
 and Wayne with a hand-carved crickett bat, signed by all the guys, and pin-striped
 on one side by Geoff Rea (who later pin-striped
 my helmet with a lovely design too) along with two custom made crickett balls made
 from rolls of dense black tape. The game was
never played due to the heat (it finally got too hot) and lack of time but the little
ceremony was terrific and the sentiment was
overwhelming. (I think I saw a shiny spot in Doug’s eye, or was that just a piece of
 sparkling salt?). Inspection wasn’t ready by
the end of the day so we called it an early night. Doug and Wayne visited in various
 camp sites and Gail and Al looked at the
 beautiful stars and almost full moon so close you could almost reach up and grab it.

Monday 3/5 being pushy (or just ready) Americans we were first
in the Scrutineering line (AKA: inspection), and they were very
thorough and professional with Head Scrutineer Phil Arnold and
 his assistant (I think Lennie Souter). They checked everything
following SCTA rules and even made us open the parachute to
inspect for frayed or damaged cords. We were told to expect to
begin racing after dinner and at first we were disappointed for
the long wait until we found out their ‘dinner’ time is our lunch.
(Whew!) Eventually the drivers meeting was held then all seasoned
drivers were given a ride down the full long course in an air
conditioned bus by President Wayne O’Grady, pointing out
 important information along the way. The long course was also the
short course, depending on how fast the vehicle was expected to go.
You could choose your starting point and the starter would
just move to the other starting line. Most cars ran on the
short course with only a few of us using the long course starting point.
As our crew readied for a first test run we hit our first hurdle.
 A slow leak in one of the tires. It took the rest of the day/evening
to fix the problem so we didn’t get to run that day at all.
Notice the crew ready for the longest two days weren’t ready when
everyone else was!!)

Tuesday 3/6 Doug made a first test run of the ‘new’ car and
all went well. Doug decided to change the rear end gearing before
the next run and by then it was lunch (dinner). Keep in mind that
 there are only two timers and one starter and breaks are needed
by all because there are no trained replacement people. So everyone
 relaxed during the break. Of course the wind came up to
delay starting but eventually we headed out to the short course
starting line for my first run. The line had only 4-5 cars ahead
 of us so there wasn’t the pressure to suit up too early and then
wait in the hot sun for your turn. Also we had brought our own
shade with the motor home which everyone shared with us so it
 helped us become popular real fast. Since there was so much
new about the car I took it easy feeling things out and went only
 174.4 MPH. Everything felt good, and except for some bumpiness
(which they had been trying to flatten with the drag) it was a nice
 relaxed run. We felt it was a successful first full day of racing and
we were ready for the next day. Note: John Lynch went 272.8 MPH
 in his A/BFL Belly tank, the fastest run of the meet).

That night I had a talk with several Aussies about American TV
shows and are we really like that in America? (Oh Gosh No!)
And discovered that “tea” can also mean dinner, now I really
AM confused. I also met Andy Jenkins, who is the coordinator of
the DLRA and sets up the camp for everyone else, he doesn’t race.
He sold his patent on his head designs to Dan Iandola of
the Gold Coast Roadster & Racers club, who lives in Templeton,
only 30 minutes away from Shell Beach where we live.
I also had an article from the San Francisco Examiner about
the tiny town of Silverton which is often used for movies
like Mad Max II, just in case we had a chance to check it
out while in Australia. Andy was from Silverton and looked
at the article and pointed to a picture of someone sheering
sheep and he said “that’s Dinky, the town drunk, he’s never
sheered a sheep in his life”. We all got a laugh over that
and how small a world it truly is when you are among friends.

Wednesday 3/7 found us on the starting line of the short course
even before breakfast and managed a great 2nd run.
It was better this time and the Aussie rescue crew greeted my
 arrival at the 5ish mile with full yellow turn-out gear
and big smiles. I thought I had set a record for sure until
they told me 194 MPH. Of course that was a great record
 for there, but I had set my goals a little higher. We headed
out to the start of the long course where we waited by ourselves
 (can you even image that at Bonneville!) It was a great chance
 to truly enjoy the moment, the beauty, the sounds and of course
 the heat and the flies. But it was a definitely a moment to
remember for a lifetime because when the starter finished with all the
cars at the short course he drove out to us, all alone.
There I was with no one waiting behind me, no one watching on the side lines,
 just quiet white open spaces, Doug on his push cycle and
the starter (Chris Hanlon) in his straw hat and big smile and walky-talky.
When it was time to go I had all the time in the world to
 do what I had come half way around the world to do - become the first woman
 to set a record over 200 mph in Australia. It seemed a
perfect run at 8100 rpms with the bumps from before no longer apparent, and
 just a little loose salt between the 3 and 4 so I was timed
between 4 and 5 and the smiles on the rescue crews faces
 told me real story this time, 205.538 MPH!
After photos of my rescue guys were taken we headed back
 to the pits where I hoped to get ready for my return run. DLRA
does not require a return run, at this time, to certify a record at
Lake Gairdner so my new record was secure, but
 I wanted to do it anyway. It was very disappointing to learn
that due to the lunch break of the timers and a very strong head wind,
the course was going to be shut down until the wind died down.
I believe the wind kept me from going even faster so not having a
chance to prove it was hard to accept. But back at the pits with the
hood off and the engine being checked even I could tell that
 the water tank was way too hot and needed time to cool before
another safe run could be attempted. So making the best of it,
I cooked “Toad in a Hole” on the water tank of the race car and
then ate it. And it was good too! (Recipe: cut a hole in a piece of
 bread with a water glass, put it on the water tank, break an egg
into the middle, cook until done, sprinkle with a dash of salt -
 “does anybody have any salt” - a dash of pepper, then enjoy the
 best tasting, fastest, poached egg in the world).
(Rod Hadfield also went 229.767 MPH in his AA/FALT ‘96 Holden Commodore)

Not to waste the rest of the afternoon Doug decided to do the
engine swap and take out my E (258 ci) engine and
replace it with his C (368 ci) engine. They were able to complete
 that by the end of the day and we washed off the
 salt at the edge of the lake (don’t want to take any salt away
from this fabulous lake) and made it back to camp
in time for their famous auction. Every year they auction off
 donated items to raise money for the club which operates |
on the proverbial shoe string. The fact that they are able to
put on such a great event with obstacles like lack of
 man power and money is commendable, and I was happy to
contribute Bonneville, El Mirage and Gas-up T-shirts,
hats, key chains, posters, and other various items, for this
event. They raised over $9000 (Au) which is about $4500 US.
The items I donated (with a few discounts and freebies from Penny Cook)
raised over $3000 (Au) alone so you know
they love anything from America. But when I gave up my own personal
 signed copy of the 2000 Gold Coast Roadster’s
Hall of Fame Gas-up Program, with Al Teague, Ken Walkey
and Mary West’s signatures (all people who went to
Lake Gairdner in 1995) I was astounded when it sold for $500 (Au).
 A lot of money to an Australian, even if it was t
he President, Wayne O’Grady, who bought it for his own collection.
Of course the auctioneer ‘Animal’ probably helped
to part money from pockets but you will have to travel to Australia
to learn what he is really like. All American racers
should appreciate how well they are thought of and revered by
this not so fledgling group of racers ‘down under’.
 If anyone would like to contribute items for next year’s auction
to help them raise funds to continue racing successfully
 please contact the President at ranchero59@ozemail.com.au or
check out their website at www.vicnet.net.au for info
 on their club, membership, records, etc.

Thursday 3/8 was Doug’s day. He did a test run with no speed
for the new C engine and lucky he did because something
was wacky with the steering and when checked the steering box
 had broken. Aussie’s to the rescue, the “Crickett”
crew came over with their welders and gizmos and fixed it, while
 Doug and Wayne used my lip gloss to pack the bearings.
And it was done quickly even though they were running their own
car (Rea/Weir/Mumford) with Chuck Sharpe’s engine in it.
 Again the Aussie generosity of time, energy and spirit which did
 not go unappreciated. Doug ran again from the short course
and did an amazing 220.237 MPH, less then 5 miles off the Bonneville
record in that class. (C/MS). We were all thrilled with
the results of our runs (we were the third fastest car and Doug
and I made up 2 of the 4 who broke 200mph) and since it was
 late in the afternoon we decided to call it quits and started packing up
 to be able to leave Friday morning with all the hard
work done. Mark Arblaster, an editor and photographer for Australia’s
 Street Machine Magazine was there covering Gary Meyer’s
 black & flame Mustang’s, first runs and he interviewed me and
 took photos of the car out on the salt with an expected article
 to come out in probably their May issue. We saw several issues
 of the magazine and it was very well done and we were happy
 to get a little added exposure even if we never get to see the
magazine ourselves. We even ran into both of them at a car show
 near Adelaide the following Sunday and had a reunion like old friends.

Friday 3/9 the last day had only about 12 cars left to run, especially
 one team who arrived on Wednesday after many delays
 on the road, but they were able to get some of their licensing runs in
before everything shut down. We went out to the lake
 to help them begin the tearing down process and we were asked to
start pulling up the course markers, which were nailed
into the salt. It was slow going but a nice chance to again be out
on the distant salt with very little sound or disturbance to
 mar the beauty and we were glad to help knowing it would have
 taken the small group of people left a long time to tear
down by themselves. After saying our goodbyes we headed out
back to Port Augusta and the camp grounds where many
 were planning to meet at the end of the day for the traditional
event wind down party. It was an uneventful trip back, not
 a let down, just reflective and quiet as we all thought our own
 thoughts of the adventure we had just had. Arriving at the
 camp grounds we had the unfun job of washing and cleaning the
 motor home so it wouldn’t look as if we had taken it off-road
and also doing our own laundry and checking our email
(yup, technology has hit even the Australian camp grounds).
Later that evening Doug cooked up a bunch of all-American
 hamburgers and fried potatoes for the hungry Australians
and everyone drank beer and unwound after another successful event.

The remaining days in Australia had Doug and Wayne’s wives
arriving to join them for the final week, and the crew heading
back to Nite Flite to unpack the container and clean the car and
 equipment for customs inspection, which was even shorter
 and quicker than on arrival, and it wasn’t even hot, and then
repacking into a smaller 20’ container for the return to the US.
Just as they were pushing the car into the container (Tuesday 3/13)
 we got a message to call ABC News which had them
coming out to the trucking company warehouse with a film crew for
 an interview and to film the car. Fortunately Al and I
had decided to stay a few extra days so we were able to
catch the ABC News two nights later and they did a nice
 job using
 my video footage at the salt with their interview at the
container. They said it might go international but that seemed unlikely.
Doug and the family went off sightseeing and Al and I did
the same and had a chance to really enjoy the beautiful city of
Adelaide and the surrounding area. We really felt at loose
ends without some goal to work towards or prepare for or achieve
 since this trip had taken over 6 months of our lives.
Now we would have to learn how to live a normal life again, with the most
 exciting adventure of our lives behind us, but always
 in our memories. We will never forget it. We hope more American
 land speed racers will consider making this trip and help
support the DLRA, so the most beautiful racing spot in the
 world remains open to racers forever.

Article printed in Bonneville Racing News - May 2001 (Event happened March 2001)

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