Peter Gratz Head of the Class

2023-06-19 07:00:00

Peter Gratz Head of the Class
Drag racing in Tasmania has never quite reached the heights it did on the mainland, but it has nonetheless produced some significant figures in the sport.

However, none of them could hold a candle to the brightly burning flame of Top Doorslammer star, Peter Gratz.

Gratz began to make waves in the early 1990s with a 1957 Chevy street car. The car, which started as a comfortable vehicle to cruise the roads, gradually evolved past its initial purpose and upgraded to a blown big block Chevy engine.

It was Gratz's visits to the local Tarmac strip that captivated him, leading to his pivotal decision in 1993 to step up into a more serious race car. He ventured into the realm of alcohol-fueled Funny Cars but soon grew hesitant. The Top Alcohol bracket of that time was the most challenging and competitive within the ANDRA racing spectrum. With bracket bump spots reaching the 6.3-second range, the rookie started to have second thoughts and sought alternatives.

If there was one factor that contributed to Gratz's rapid success, it was his eagerness to seek and invest in valuable advice from from the right people.

While searching for a suitable powerplant for his short-circuited Funny Car, he came across a 526 cubic inch Keith Black engine previously used by Top Alcohol star Gary Phillips. This engine had achieved impressive elapsed times in the low 6.2-second range. Additionally, with an attached three-speed Lenco transmission, Gratz had acquired a serious power package.

Picture: Peter Gratz was just a plumber when he decided to go to the head of the class in drag racing. It cost him the sale of his home and considerably more to achieve what he did but the results were pretty impressive, all through a policy of not cutting corners.

The next step involved approaching Victor Bray's pit area during a Willowbank race meet and asking him what it would take to get a seriously quick Wild Bunch sedan on the track. This was before the Top Doorslammer bracket, where cars raced with driver-chosen handicaps, which suited Gratz. Bray took the neophyte seriously and suggested consulting Murray Anderson, a respected car builder responsible for Bray's vehicles and other top race cars.

The then Melbourne-based Anderson was present at the event and mentioned that he had an available slot in his schedule, which others were considering. He offered it to the first person who could provide the funds for their new race car. Gratz returned home, scrounged up enough money for the initial payment, and within days had a top-of-the-line 1957 Chev race car on the jig.

Picture: Peter Gratz hangs out the laundry at the end of Eastern Creek Raceway in November 1995. The Valvoline-backed 57 Chev was one of the heaviest hitters in the ultra-tough Top Doorslammer ranks in the late 1990s.

The newly completed car was debuted at Willowbank. In May of 1994, Gratz had moved himself and his plumbing business north away from Tassie to access the more vigorous drag racing opportunities. In August 1994, at just his third race in the car, with the tuning help of the highly respected Phillips, he drove to a record-breaking time of 6.63 seconds at 210mph, becoming the quickest sedan racer in Australian motorsport history.

Talk about overnight fame! All the race tracks wanted to book Gratz but he was so financially stretched by this time that he didn’t have a better transport arrangement than a small flatbed open trailer so his racing options were greatly limited.

These were the days when the new Top Doorslammer bracket was on the horizon. Among the new regulations introduced to govern the emerging heads-up top-tier sedan bracket were stringent supercharger drive restrictions. These restrictions had the consequence of reducing the speed of the cars compared to the unrestricted, no-holds-barred approach of the past.

It wasn’t until June 1995 that Gratz was able to improve on his numbers securng runner-up spot at the 1995 Winternationals, with a best of a 6.59. Slowly the numbers improved until he won the 1996 Grand Finals at Eastern Creek. This initiated a streak of remarkable victories, including notable wins at the 1997 Winternationals, the 1998 Nationals, and the 1998 Winternationals.

Picture: This was the end of the line for Peter Gratz’s Valvoline 57 Chev. After ripping out the rear end at the 1998 Winternationals the big sedan crunched the wall at Willowbank, ending its four-year career in one serious thump.

The last victory came at a price, when that poor 57 Chev literally blew the wheels off itself, throwing the diff out from under the car in a solo final round launch and putting the car into the concrete barriers.

Picture: Peter Gratz’s back axle and wheels lie against the concrete wall where they finished after his 57 Chev tore them loose in a solo final round pass to win the Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway in 1998. The loads imposed on pushing a full-bodied Top Doorslammer to low 6-second elapsed times at over 220mph are immense.

That was the end of life for the Chev, and in its place was a Dodge Daytona-bodied Top Doorslammer, which demonstrated its aerodynamic capabilities with a 229.24mph top end charge in June 1999 that was a world record speed for a Top Doorslammer or (as the American’s called them) Pro Modified.

Picture: A year after writing off his 1957 Chev at Willowbank Peter Gratz was back with this big and swoopy Dodge Daytona-bodied car.

However, a small time plumber’s wages just couldn’t afford to stay in the heat of this sort of competition after main sponsor Valvoline quit all motor racing sponsorships and Gratz had to call it a day in 2001.

He didn’t stay away from the quarter mile forever, and in 2018 he returned to action with a new 521 cube Brad Anderson engined Studebaker to run in the dial-your-own Supercharged Outlaws bracket.

Despite professing no interest in the tough Doorslammer ranks he was back in there at the end of 2021 along with a new Plymouth Barracuda-bodied racer.

His best yet 6.01 at 240mph says he has lost none of his touch so who knows where the mercurial ex-Tassie plumber will be in the future.



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