The Team Bray Drag Racing Train Rolls On
While he rarely had his name on the cutting edge of the sport in terms of performance, Victor Bray made three successive claims on the world's speed record for a doored race car. These records were set with a 229.94mph top-end charge at Willowbank in July 1999, followed by a 232.13mph shot at Calder in November 1999, and then a 237.40mph shot at Calder in November 2000.
Despite these remarkable achievements, it was his consistency that truly enabled him to overshadow everybody else.
The introduction of the heads-up Top Doorslammer bracket saw Bray take his Castrol 57 Chev to the points-based Australian Top Doorslammer Championship in the 1996 season, then to the same title in 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, and 2001. It was a string of titles that only John Zappia would ever rival.
Picture: To develop the sort of horsepower to push a Top Doorslammer to five-second and 240mph quarter mile passes requires, amongst a lot of other things, a very large screw supercharger, complex fuel plumbing and a sizeable fuel injection “hat” on top, as well as lots of direct injection ports. Driving with that lot in your face requires a lot of planning on seating position when building a race car.
When they brought out top-named US racers, he beat them flat. He built a burnout version of his famed '57 Chev. He recruited fellow South Queensland unknown, Troy Critchley, to drive a second Castrol-backed Doorslammer.
This time, it was a Ford Customline, tapping into the perennial Ford vs. Holden rivalry. Critchley carried that role through two years of racing until 1998 when he departed for the USA, where he began to carve a name for himself in their drag racing scene.
Picture: Son Ben supervises the start-up of the Castrol 57 Chev at Willowbank’s Winternationals in 2000. Ben would soon become a drag racing star in his own right.
Victor's son, Ben, came on board at the end of 1996 in a Junior Dragster (a small two-stroke 210cc-powered dragster capable of running 9.0 seconds over the eighth-mile). He then graduated to the ex-Critchely Customline in 2001 and, in 2002, to a '57 Chev Doorslammer of his own.
Later on, he advanced to a Monaro Top Doorslammer, and also ventured into racing an alcohol-fuelled Funny Car, all while still campaigning in Top Doorslammer.
Ben's racing career proved to be successful, as he went on to win the Australian Top Doorslammer and Top Alcohol Championships in his own right. Moreover, the tradition continues in the family, as his son, Zac, is now joining in the fun with a Junior Dragster of his own.
The team was also boosted by the performances of Victor’s son-in-law, Dean McLennan in an alcohol Funny Car.
By 2004, Team Bray had become something of a juggernaut, with sponsorships pouring in from all directions. Castrol was joined by Supercheap Auto, Sidchrome Tools, and Holden, and bookings were coming from every angle. In that year, Bray received requests for over 180 appearances by the team annually and committed to 46 weekends out of the 52.
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It was a remarkable transformation from the days of the guy in the stubbles, blue singlet, and thongs, who was living out his dreams with a battered old '57 Chev two decades earlier. Now, Bray had become a publicly known celebrity, making appearances on television and radio programs.
He even became the subject of an oil painting portrait submitted to the 2007 Archibald Prize, living out dreams beyond his earlier imaginings.
The team has had two breaks from racing, one in 2014 following a serious accident for Ben, and another in 2017-18 when Victor was dealing with aggressive skin cancer.
Picture: The Bray family, of Victor, son Ben and wife Maree has built a drag racing legacy that still sits like a mountain in the sport of drag racing.
He made a comeback to competition in 2018, having shed 110kg from the days when his sturdy form was a mark of his stature in the sport. A standing ovation from the crowd served as a testament that, as far as his fans were concerned, he would always be "the man."
His personal best performance today is a 5.86-second run.
Author: David Cook