Opening battle of 2024 looms for NDRC

Drag racing fanatics don’t have to wait long for the first NDRC event of 2024, with the South Coast 660 taking over South Coast Raceway this Saturday and Sunday (January 6/7) as more than 140 Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship racers do battle for prestigious Christmas Tree trophies and valuable championship points.

As the Portland (VIC) venue gets ready to kick off 2024 with what is sure to be an action-packed two days of racing, racers from all across the country are putting the final touches on their preparations for the first event of the new year.

Amongst the line-up will be Michael Jennings and Kenny Stewart, who each took the wins in their respective brackets at the last NDRC points event of 2023, which was also held at South Coast Raceway – the South Coast Nationals.

“The South Coast Nationals were awesome, obviously!” said Jennings, who won in Super Street in his 1970 Nova.

“It was a good weekend, I always love travelling to Portland – there is a group of us from Adelaide that always travel together, and it is always a lot of fun, staying at the track and enjoying ourselves and some great racing.

“To come away with the win was awesome, and hopefully I can do it again at the South Coast 660 this weekend.

“I don’t like saying I am confident, but I go there to try and win, we all go there to win, and I will try my best and if it happens, it happens. Some days it is your turn, and some days it is not!

“It would be awesome of course to get two in a row – I have never got back-to-back Trees before, so that would be something really special.”

Jennings races alongside his brother, Paul Jennings, in the Super Street bracket, with the pair facing off against each other in the semi-final in December.

“I have raced him a couple of times before, so we know the deal – we are brothers off the track, on the track we are competitors. It is the same when you are racing friends – once you put the helmet on it is on for young and old, but then you take the helmets off and we shake hands and are brothers and best mates again.

“We do have a bit of a laugh about it of course, and I stirred him up quite a bit that night of the South Coast Nationals win,” he laughed.

2024 will mark 30 years of drag racing for Jennings, who rates Portland’s South Coast Raceway amongst his favourite venues.

“Portland is an awesome place. It is run by a great bunch of people, and I always love going down there,” he said.

“It is friendly and you always have fun, and a bonus is that it is only five hours away from home for me, so that is good!

“I would like to say thank you to all involved at the track, they do a really great job. And thank you also to my brother Paul, my young 15 year old neighbour Koen who comes and helps me and a heap of other people out at the track, and also Brett from Gawler Mechanical, Grant from Norwood Automatics, Ned and Karen from Smart Road Wreckers, and RodTech.”

Kenny Stewart has tasted a lot of success at Portland’s South Coast Raceway over the years, including the Modified victory at the South Coast Nationals.

At top: Michael Jennings (left) and Paul Jennings. Above: Kenny Stewart. Both images thanks to BrightDesign.com.au

“The win in December is one I will remember for a long time,” Stewart said.

“We were very happy with how the dragster qualified with times between 4.73 and 4.75 which gave us confidence going into the eliminations.  It was really tough, with lots of close racing, tough competitors, including racing a current Australian number one.  I wasn’t going to back off this time against him like I did in Mildura for him to drive around me!

“Portland has been a very lucky track for us, and we have a lot of data collected which really helps setting the dragster up. I have no idea how many wins I have at Portland, but I do always remember the great feeling of towing back down the return road and getting the thumbs up from the officials,” he smiled.

“We have been racing at Portland from pretty much the beginning and immediately fell in love with the place. It has been great to watch the club grow and the continued improvements to the facility. And the post-race catch ups in the club rooms are always a fantastic way to finish off a great day of racing.

“I have to say too that getting back to South Coast for the first event after their off-season, it was really clear all of the effort the club has put into track preparation, and it really helped the consistency of our dragster. I think the track will undoubtably continue to live up to its reputation as one of the most consistent tracks in the series.

“We can’t wait to get back to South Coast for the South Coast 660, where I am sure there will be plenty more tough and close racing.

“Heading to that event, we have confidence in the dragster after finding some electrical issues from last season, so that has taken a lot of stress off.

“At the same time, there are a lot of great racers in Modified, so you can’t ever take anything for granted. We will give it our best shot though.

“Of course, we would love to go back to back with wins, but every other Modified racer will be giving their 100 percent too which will make for very competitive racing. What is for sure is that however it pans out, we will have a great time.”

As well as another event victory, valuable championship points are also on Stewart’s mind, who won the national Modified title in 2012.

“We will go to as many points rounds as we can and see how it pans out at the end of the season. Hopefully we will have enough points to be invited to the Grand Final and have a crack. At this stage, it is still early and there is still a lot more opportunities for racers to earn points,” he said.

“In the meantime, I would like to thank my hard working crew for all they do. As soon as I get back to the pits, they are amazing in getting all the maintenance done for the next round and this takes a lot of stress away knowing everything is perfect. 

“Thanks also to our sponsors Fuchs Lubricants, Proshift Automatics, Swarf King, Gerry’s Ski Shop, R&J Batteries, and Gene Cook Race Engines, who continue to believe in us and make this all possible.”

The South Coast 660 at South Coast Raceway opens the NDRC calendar for 2024 across January 6 and 7, with the racing action to then swiftly continue throughout January with the Festival State Nationals (Dragway at The Bend – 13-14 January) and the Australia Day Nationals (Sydney Dragway – 26-27 January). For event info and tickets, go to ndrc.tv

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