As Sprintcar and Super Rod teams rolled into Avalon Raceway for night one of the yearly Sprintcar Easter Trail, so too did the dark clouds. Melbourne and the rest of Southern Victoria had been hit by multiple showers leading up to Good Friday. Luckily Avalon had avoided most of the rain and there was even a nice and sunny couple of hours before engines roared to life.
Even with the threat of more rain on the horizon, plenty of speedway fans had joined the convoy, never wanting to miss a chance to watch some of the best Sprintcar drivers and teams in the country. I also wanted to try out my 105mm Macro lens (Nikon calls it a Micro because they're odd).
The clouds and the chance of rain was being ignored by teams, their only focus being getting their cars prepped as best as possible, fitting racing tyres, spraying the bodies clean, setting up suspension and loading the team push buggies with all the amenities for qualifying.
Team buggies and Sprintcars made their way to the centre of the speedway. The sky grew dark, and the precipitation in the air mixed with the methanol powering the 410 cubic inch V8's, burning the eyes, as if we were all standing too close to a Top Fuel Dragster at idle.
Super rods were the first to take to the track in anger for their first three heat races. The Easter Trails are three straight days of Sprintcar racing in Victoria, starting on Good Friday at Avalon, with teams heading to Borderline Speedway in Mt Gambier on Saturday, then racing at Premier Speedway in Warnambool on Easter Sunday. The Super Rods would also follow the same schedule, with late model speedway teams joining the proceedings at Borderline and Premier.
The Sprintcars would go straight to qualifying without any practice hot laps to speed up proceedings. With them following the Super Rods, it was very cool and clear to see the difference in speed. The 900 horsepower Sprintcars are visually so much faster (particularly when following them through the camera) then their clockwise racing cousins, it's phenomenal, and I don't think I'll ever get bored panning them.
Jock Goodyer claimed victory in this year's Australian Sprintcar Title at the Perth Motorplex, meaning he would race adorning the Australia number 1. Marcus Dumesney was the previous holder of the special national no.1, but his sprintcar still is one of the best looking in the country, even when back with the number 47. There aren't many paint schemes that can beat the classic Valvoline look!
As qualifying went on, the darkest of clouds passed over, and it looked like Avalon Raceway had dodged the rain. However, during the break before the next heat races, the clouds opened up.
With the nights racing in question, the tractor was sent to rip up the dirt to mix in the now wet top layer and a drivers briefing was called. The new plan was one more set of heat races for the Super Rods and only one round of heat races for the Sprintcars, followed by the Super Rod A Main, and the two main Sprintcar races, to give time for any short rain delays that came along.
The Super Rods would have three final ten lap heat races to set the grid for their A Main, demonstrating their close racing and also that despite the rain, the track was still suitable for racing.
Dane Court would jump into the lead on lap one and never look back, claiming victory in the first Sprintcar race of the night.
Troy Little separated himself from the pack early out front until two stoppages came - including a rollover from Bobby Daly - bunched up the pack. Unfortunately, this would give Tim Hutchins the chance to snatch the lead and the win, as Little dropped to fourth.
Supercars driver Cam Waters would lead from pole, green flag to chequered in the third and final Sprintcar heat of the night before the Super Rods came out one final time.
The Super Rods began their A Main with good rhythm and tight battles throughout the field. The first red flag would come out when Domain Ramsey in the W84 slid up into the wall and into multiple rolls on the front straight, ripping his bodywork to shreds. On the restart, Jacob Pitcher in the V1 car had a huge moment as he hopped on three wheels through Turn 1. Two laps later, Corey Degliatis would do the same, but was unable to save it. As recovery crews came to check he was okay (he was) and remove the car from the track, the rain came down.
The Super Rods stayed out to assess the track, but it had become just too slick (see how shiny the rear wheels were becoming). The tractor was sent back out, and the fireworks show was moved forward.
Fireworks are often an added attraction to larger speedway events, and is popular particular with young kids, who got really excited. So, although a lot of racing was missed out on, at least the fans got their fireworks show.
The Super Rods would get underway again but not for long. With less than ten laps to go, it started bucketing down, and soon the call to abandon racing all together was made. It was a valiant effort by Avalon Raceway to squeeze in as much racing as possible, but unfortunately, you can't race through the weather on dirt. It's always a risk when deciding to come and watch this type of racing, but for those who braved it out, I think they got to see more racing than they thought they would.