Ponde Sand Drags East vs West

“Just power on! It looks out of control but it isn’t.”

PONDE is the spiritual home of sand drags. Not just for SA, but right across the country.

This is the place where it all started, in 1979, with a 120 metre track the Hells Angels built at the top of their site. People used to hack around on bikes at Ponde all the time and the whole sand drags concept quickly developed a life of its own.

The mighty V8 sand drag bike that Tomo from Hells Angels MC Adelaide built has become emblematic of the whole thing. An enormously powerful bike with a brutal appeal all its own, club members will tell you it was built with two thoughts in mind — one was Tomo’s perpetual quest for greater speed; the other was an idea to promote Ponde at speed shops, etc, although this didn’t entirely work out as there was more fun to be had with it on the track rather than leaving it parked outside somebody else’s business.

As testament to its durability, 20 years on the frame is still the same, although the bike’s had about three different engines so far: initially, a standard Chevy borrowed from one of the members, briefly followed by another borrowed Chevy, and finally the current 400 Chevy with a Crane cam. 

The rear wheel’s increased by 25 percent from 12 to 15 inches, and the exhaust is basically the same as when it was built. There wasn’t a radiator to start off, then club members put one from a little Jap bike under the seat but it proved inadequate for the job and kept boiling all the time. The current, more effective, cooling system involves a locally made radiator up front with a water pump from a Jap bike and an alternator to keep it charged up.

The original front-end was from a 1974 FXE that one of the members had bought new; it was eventually replaced by one with a shocker, and at the moment there’s a FXR front-end. 

Since the initial version was built, members and a few close friends have put in untold hours of planning, adjusting, modifying, rebuilding, experimenting… you get the idea. So there’s been 20 years of steady, incremental progress, and this is still the bike to beat if you’re serious about winning anything in the top category.

Of course, other categories beyond the monstrous Unlimited have a different approach, with some very creative minds hard at work. Darren’s bright yellow quad is a prime example — it started life as a Yamaha YFZ450 but since he massaged a Kawasaki 1000 cc ZX10 into it, it’s now something completely different. There’s a ZX10 wiring loom, an angled radiator and a custom fuel tank; it gets up to 220 km/h, and possibly best of all, it looks right, as though it was a standard factory product over in Tokyo. Darren’s next project is to fit a Ducati 848 into another quad for competitions that allow engines up to 850.

With Ponde being more crowded than it’s been for years, you know there’s a lot of interest in sand drags right now. It’s a combination of factors — the undeniable appeal of the bikes/ trikes/ quads themselves, the pageantry of the event as different clubs come together, and the need for motorcycle enthusiasts to get together as a group in response to the SA Government’s determined and repeated attempts to stamp us all as criminals. At times like this, it’s important that we stick together. Plus, there’s that thrill of getting to Ponde slightly the worse for wear at 8 in the morning and seeing all those late night faces eating BBQ breakfasts, the people you don’t see often enough, and realising again that Ponde’s just somewhere that you want to be both physically and emotionally.

As part of the ongoing rivalry between the states, Club Deroes from WA brought over a couple of hugely impressive bikes, including a monstrous 5.7 litre V8, and Mark from Hells Angels Brisbane had his Nitro bike — both of these won first prizes. Gypsy Jokers from WA were also present with their brothers from Adelaide out in numbers, and the Red Devils worked hard throughout the day, giving wholehearted support. 

Bob from Mannum — one of the first people to get into the sport — was an early casualty when his 650 hp 13B Rotary Series 5 Mazda blew a gearbox. Still, when you’ve been hammering a gearbox for 10 years and you’ve got that much horsepower, something’s gotta give: this time it was the teeth from first gear.

There’s remarkably few accidents at any properly run sand drags. Sure, plenty of mechanical mishaps occur as engines and gearboxes are strained to their limits and beyond, but it’s pretty unusual to see any people get hurt; it just doesn’t seem to happen. 

Maybe this is related to treating people like adults, because although there’s a relaxed air to the place, you don’t see competitors or spectators taking unnecessary risks. There’s a fair degree of access to the pits and plenty of room along the track for those who want to experience it all close up, but nobody seems to push it too far. So all the kids who are there — and there are plenty — learn from an early age how to behave when they’re around potentially dangerous machines.

Hells Angels MC Adelaide have created and nurtured something special at Ponde. It’s evolved over the years, and one member’s comment about his racing style could well apply to Ponde as a whole, not only the sand drags: “Just power on! It looks out of control but it isn’t.”

words & pics by Chris Randells

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