Life on the road becoming a drag

By Catherine Pattison on Sat, 28 Oct 2017 | Latest News
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Steve McLay, of Milton, races his mild-looking 1987 Chev Corvette down a drag strip, its super-high speed indicating it is hiding something under the bonnet. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

Steve McLay has spent several years turning his 1987 Chevrolet Corvette from an essentially mild street car into a smoking-hot drag racer.

The owner of Milton boat-building company McLay Boats believes one of the best things about his car is that he can drive it - at the legal speed limit, of course - to a drag meeting, switch its road tyres out for racing slicks and then unleash the beast.

In drag racing terms, the Corvette is classed as a super sleeper, which means it looks stock standard on the outside but courtesy of its ‘‘huge, huge engine, he's going so fast it's incredible'', according to Southern Dragways club area steward Rhys Jones.

McLay has been a member of the club for about five years and enjoys drag racing as a ‘‘hobby away from boats'', he said. During this time he has taken his 250hp (186kW) Corvette, which was run 30 years ago with a 350cu engine, ‘‘which was a very popular motor in its day'' and given it a massive upgrade in the form of a 6.0-litre LS2 power-plant.

Add in headers, a cold air intake system and then progress further to putting a ‘‘good cam in the engine to bring the power up'' and his quarter-mile drag times started dropping rapidly. Force more oxygen into the new engine courtesy of a supercharger and the end result is a 650hp (484kW) Frankenstein that confines its monstrous brawn to its internal workings and remains relatively benign on the exterior.

The standard transmission did not like all the extra muscle it had to deal with and a replacement from the United States was fitted that can handle up to 1000hp and, coupled with a new heavy duty diff, McLay's work is now done. He has clocked a best time of 10.8sec over a quarter-mile race and if he goes any faster, the regulations require that he fit a roll cage in the Corvette. That's one modification its owner is reluctant to make.

‘‘It's still a fun car to drive on the road. It is easy to drive at 100kmh but when you put your foot down on the drag track, whoa it's a different story,'' McLay said.

He enjoys the adrenaline rush of watching the staging lights come on as another racer lines up alongside and then the challenge of timing his accelerator foot to coincide with the illumination of the green-for-go light.

The Corvette's four-speed automatic gearbox is almost instantly in second off the start line and once the car reaches 7000rpm and about 150kmh, it will change up to third and will be reaching the rev limit and around 215kmh by the time the drag race is done - just over 10secs later.

‘‘You are really thrust back in your seat and even right to the end the thrust is there. All the way there's no way you can lean forward off your seat,'' he said.

If that description gets your blood racing, the Southern Dragways club is running an event, which includes a ‘‘have-a-go'' class at Teretonga Park in Invercargill tomorrow. Jones said it was designed for people with fast street cars to enter and as long as their car had a current warrant of fitness and registration they could ‘‘basically race down the track'', he said.

The more than 100 club members drive a range of vehicles from turbo-charged street cars that clock 15sec quarter miles through to ‘‘full-on competition cars'' that scorch through 8sec quarter miles, Jones said.

There are also high-powered motorbikes and the club is pleased that Invercargill's Burt Munro Challenge in February will hold a drag race for motorcycles for the first time. 

‘‘Burt Munro himself was a great drag racer,'' Jones said.