I’VE RACED bikes—motocross, everything—all my life—but riding The Big Red Machine is a big challenge for me. I have a Hell of a lot of respect for this bike—there’s no room for error.
You’re sitting on the start-line, you grab the handbrake, you increase the revs until the clutch starts engaging, the lights go green, and then you hang on for grim death. 120 metres is a Hell of a lot of distance to be racing this machine in the sand. But the most difficult and dangerous part is still to come—as soon as you back off, all the weight goes on the front wheel and it digs into the soft sand. You have to put all your strength into the handlebars to keep it going straight or you’re history.
I usually get seven to eight runs, depending on how many other V8’s are running that day. One of The Big Red Machine’s strengths is its reliability. It doesn’t matter how much you give it, it lasts all day.
words by Bernie, Hells Angels MC, Adelaide
pics by Wall to Wall
Sand drag racing was first established in South Australia on a roughly constructed dirt-track of 120 metres on a 50 acre property at Ponde, 5 km downstream from Mannum, in conjunction with the Ponde Rock Concert, in the early ’80s.
A visit to the Ponde Sand Drags is impressive. The old track has since given way to a new track which is wider with better spectator facilities. This was done mainly for safety reasons as the drag bikes got quicker with faster top-end speeds. The track is professionally set up with starting-light-trees and lighting for night-time racing, etc.
It’s very much, you bring your own bike and race it. Some guy will turn up on a motocross bike, put a paddle wheel on the rear and race it; others just go with normal tyres. There are Harleys and Japanese bikes racing. You just turn up on the day and have a good time. There are classes for Pee Wees up to Unlimited which includes V8, rotary and Subaru powered-bikes. There are usually about 80 races. You race each other—you loose one, you are gone.
The big V8 sand-drag bikes are mind-blowing—the noise, the rooster tails—and are sure to have the adrenaline pumping of everyone within ear-shot. From a spectator point of view, the bikes are totally awesome. There are usually five or six V8’s running, and Bernie, on The Big Red Machine, has won the last three years in a row.
Tomo, from the Hells Angels MC Adelaide, was the inspiration for sand drag racing at Ponde with his massive V8 bikes. The Big Red Machine was originally built by Tomo and friends in 1989—1990. Tomo raced Top Fuel and PCB Harleys, and he based the Big Red Machine on a top fuel bike using the body, back wheel and centrifugal clutch from John Hoskins’ record-holding Kawasaki. Tomo, Neil and Peppy built the frame and everything else on the bike.
The Big Red Machine has been refined through the years. The motor, built by John Sawka, is now a 400 cubic inch Chev with a Crane cam, MSD distributor and ignition. It runs a 10-inch centrifugal clutch and 15 by 14 inch paddle wheels.