Drag Racing a Family Affair for Race Series Champ
Paul Winkel likes to drive fast. Really fast.
The 33-year-old auto electrician who, with wife Tanya, owns PTW Auto Electrical (formerly Rayners Auto Electrical) in Roma, has been involved in drag racing for most of his adult life and recently wrapped up victory in the JP Racing Eighth Mile Drag Racing Series, winning three of the four rounds of the Queensland-based competition in the Modified Bracket category.
Held at Willowbank, Warwick, Benaraby and Roma’s Ironbark Raceway, the series is fiercely contested and with the shortened on-track distance of one-eighth of a mile (to accommodate the smaller regional track lengths) the times set to cover that distance are ridiculously quick. Driving a new 450hp machine in this year’s competition, Paul was covering the distance in about six seconds, reaching more than 110mph (177km/h) as he did so.
“I’ve had that car a little bit over 12 months and the first race I ran it in was at Warwick in the first round of the series,” said Paul. “And I came away with the win!”
Paul’s car is known as an ‘altered’ in the drag racing world, and he bought it race-ready.
“I actually found it on eBay and it was a ‘turn-key’ set-up,” he said. “It has a Ford T-bucket style fibreglass body to dress the cabin, has a 350 Chev stroked to 383 cubic inches and runs on petrol. It has a decent set of heads, rods and pistons and runs about 450hp at the wheels.
“It really isn’t that expensive a category to be involved in,” he added. “There are categories in which the cars are very high maintenance – such as alcohol fuelled cars – but this one is really just like jumping into a normal car and all I have to do is normal oil changes and so on.”
The title-winning car is not the only drag car Paul owns. He also runs a rear-engine dragster that he built himself over a period of a couple of years. Not quite as powerful as his new car, it has served him and his family well . . . perhaps too well.“
That one I bought as a chassis off some friends and built the motor for it,” he said. “It has a 202 in it – an old Holden motor - it runs on alcohol and nitrous and it does look cool! Tanya drives it now and, hopefully, she will be able to enter some competitions next year. She is quick in it and actually, and this is a bit of a sore point, she beat me the first time we raced against each other! There was only a tenth of a second in it but she doesn’t let me forget it and neither does anyone else!”
Drag racing has been a passion of Paul’s since his teenage years and there is an amusing connection between it and his chosen auto electrical profession.
“When I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do,” he says. “Funnily enough, the first Fast and Furious film came out the year after I left school and as well as the racing in the film there is a scene where the characters are walking down an alleyway looking at cars which have massive sound systems. When I watched that scene, I thought to myself, ‘That’s what I want to do – build that stuff, those systems’! However, it turned out that there was no trade for that. The closest thing was auto electrical, so I went down that path.
“As for racing, the first car I had was a Nissan Pulsar into which I put a fuel-injected turbo motor. A friend of mine was into V8s and we became great rivals and raced against each other often. The whole thing developed from there.”
These days, Paul doesn’t compete as often as he might like – his growing PTW Auto Electrical business keeps him pretty busy.
“We bought the business six years ago from a gentleman who was retiring and who had been running it for 35 years,” he says. “It was a big step when we bought it but we have steadily grown and we now have three blokes working with me in the workshop and a couple of office staff. We’ve grown enough that we have built a big shed on the block and the original building is now our parts room. Things are going well but it has been hard work!”
While the thriving business means putting the brakes on his racing ambitions, Paul’s passion for drag racing is clear. He is the vice-president of the local club in Roma and was involved with wiring the timing system at the local Ironbark track – a job that keeps him busy on track days as he takes time to make sure the system is running smoothly between races.
For Paul, drag racing is more than just a sport. There is, he said, a tremendous bond between the enthusiasts who take part and it has become an activity his whole family enjoys - Tanya has been bitten by the racing bug, the couple’s eldest daughter is showing plenty of interest and Tanya’s father also participates, running a 2500hp monster in another vehicle class.
“Drag racing has a tight-knit community and it almost isn’t about the racing but about the people you meet and get to hang out with,” he said. “We are pretty busy running the business but drag racing is a great family pastime that we can all do together and it’s great that everybody gets involved and helps one another.”
With his drag racing season now over, Paul is looking forward to another successful year in 2017, although some recent unrest within the sport means he is uncertain exactly what events will be held and in which he can complete.
“There is a bit of turmoil in the drag racing scene with different sanctioning bodies and that has thrown a bit of a spanner in the works,” he said. “We will see what happens but it’s a bit of a waiting game at the moment.”
However next season takes shape, and whatever competitions are held, one thing would seem to be clear, Paul and his family will be there.