Ever wondered what it is like to stand between two of the most powerful internal combustion engines on the planet?
Race starter Royce Kahl tells Ipswich First ‘it’s a whole body experience’.
140 volunteers help to put on the event.
For the past 30 years, Raceview local Royce Kahl has had arguably the best seat in the house.
As head starter, Mr Kahl stands between two top fuelers when they start their engines, rev them up and scream off the starting line.
What is the Winternationals?
The Gulf Western Oil Winternationals is on from 7-10 June. The biggest event of the year at Willowbank Raceway, over 500 race teams gather in front of 30 000 spectators. It’s the 51st running of the event and the final round of the 400 Thunder season.
National championship honours will be up for grabs across all categories in motorsport represented at the Winternationals, including top fuelers, junior dragsters, modified bike, pro stock and pro slammers.
The earth shakes, the sound is off the charts, there are flames and intense heat not to mention the concussion of air tries to physically push you over.
“When I first started I would describe it as getting punched in the chest. I take a deep breath when they take off and hang on,” Mr Kahl said.
“I don’t notice it as much anymore. You get used to it. I don’t even jump anymore when they take off.
“I should have gone deaf 30 years ago. I only hear what I want to hear.”
A career highlight for Mr Kahl was being on the Christmas tree the day Jimmy Reed broke 300 miles per hour (nearly 500km/h) for the first time in Australia.
“It was right here at Willowbank back in 2000,” Mr Kahl remembers.
“Everybody just went crazy and having it happen at Willowbank was even better.”
Mr Kahl is in charge of flicking the switch in the box on the startline.
“I flick the switch and once both of the cars are in stage the computer sends the signal to the Christmas tree to start the lighting sequence,” Mr Kahl said.
“I also keep an eye on cars and make sure there are no oil or water leaks. I make sure the crews don’t get too close to the cars, that sort of thing.
“If a car is not running correctly I don’t let them run. We’ve had some arguments. After the meeting is over and you catch up for a drink, everyone is happy. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Mr Kahl still enjoys the work and has no plans for retirement.
“My kids and grandkids love it. I love having them out here with me,” Mr Kahl said.
Volunteers will contribute to around 1700 hours of effort into this weekend’s Winternationals.
Yamanto’s Mark Allan will be heard by almost everyone attending the Winternationals as one of the commentary team.
Mr Allan splits his time between racing and commentary, enabling him to give back to the event while still enjoying it on the track.
“I’m very fortunate to have the role that I have,” Mr Allan said.
“I get to call the racing from the best seat in the house. I’m invested in every race that I announce. I feel the jubilation of a record breaking run to the heartbreak of a team not qualifying in that final session.
“I like to think that way of calling a race engages the spectator to have some of their own personal emotional investment into each run from the stands as well.”
Drag racing terminology
A “dial-in” is a time the driver estimates it will take his or her car to cross the finish line.
“Christmas Tree” are the lights used to start a race in addition to showing starting violations
“blown” supercharged or when describing engine failure
“grenade” wreck an engine (the engine grenaded)
“holeshot” is when you have a significant advantage off the starting line
“put on the trailer” lost and got put on the trailer
“slicks” rear tires with no tread patter and soft rubber compound for increased traction
“slapper bar” or “traction bar” rear struts fixed to the rear axle to keep it from twisting
“wheelie bars” are rear struts fixed to the rear axle which protrude out of the rear of the car to help prevent the front from raising too high or flipping over on launch