Physical toll of drag racing forces a veteran's hand
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Physical toll of drag racing forces a veteran's hand

Four years ago Maurice Fabietti had been driving up to compete in one of Australia's biggest drag racing competitions in Queensland when he felt a curious tingle in his left hand.

"When I saw the ambo at the track, he told me to go straight to hospital because he thought I was on the verge of having a major heart attack," Mr Fabietti said.

Former drag racer Maurice Fabietti  with his Pro Slammer Monaro

Former drag racer Maurice Fabietti with his Pro Slammer MonaroCredit:Sitthixay Ditthavong

"Luckily it wasn't as bad as all that but they told me I couldn't race that weekend."

It was a telling psychological blow for one of Australia's fiercest drag racers who for 35 years had strapped himself behind thousands of horsepower and won the much-coveted Winternationals drag title twice.

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What his local GP found on close examination was collapsed vertebrae in his neck. His C4 and C5 vetebrae had compressed and crushing the nerve which goes down into his left hand.

Decades of high level drag racing when the rear tyres spin up and exert a force of more than three times gravity against his chest and spine, and when he releases the braking parachutes, wrenches his body forward at more than four times gravity, had squeezed and squashed his spine beyond its repair limits.

"That's when I thought: 'Well, I'm 55 years old; maybe someone's trying to tell me something'," he said.

Stepping out of the driver's seat has given him a fresh perspective on the business of drag racing and his team, based out of Richmond, in Victoria, is busier than ever.

He hasn't been back to Canberra since the old drag racing strip closed down in the mid-1990s.

The covers come off Maurice Fabietti's 3000-horsepower Monaro drag car at Summernats

The covers come off Maurice Fabietti's 3000-horsepower Monaro drag car at SummernatsCredit:Fairfax Media

At Summernats this year he revealed his team's newest drag car, a Holden Monaro which generates around 3000 horsepower and accelerates from rest to 100km/h in 0.9 seconds. At the end of the 400 metre drag strip, it tops over 400km/h. When fired up, the huge supercharged engine produces a whipcrack effect on the surrounding air.

The Monaro incorporates an enormous amount of aerospace industry knowhow, and in labour and materials alone is worth around $500,000. The bodywork is just a composite shell which wraps around a tubular frame and chassis.

"We use composites, chrome moly tubing, titanium, aluminium and magnesium in our cars; everything that's used to make modern aircraft light and strong," he said.

"But there's still many people out there, even those involved in motor racing, who think drag racers are knuckle draggers.

"It's a tough perception to shake off but we're doing everything we can to change it."

Peter Brewer is a Canberra Times reporter.

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