08_03_2011_downunderTake a ride with CompetitionPlus.com's publisher/editor Bobby Bennett as he travels to Brisbane for the Castrol Edge Winternationals hosted by Willowbank Raceway.

In the first segment, Bennett prepares for the nearly 15,000 mile journey.

Part 3 focuses on visiting Willowbank Raceway and gathering stories.


Traveling to Australia created emotions on both extremes.

When it came time to leave the United States, I was not excited about the necessity of dealing with government requirements and paperwork required for travel outside of the country. I really wasn’t excited about flying for nearly 24 hours and losing a day in the process while crossing the International Date Line.
Once I got settled, I wasn't in a hurry to leave except to get back home to my family.

The first day I arrived was spent adapting my body to travel, the second was in getting up to race speed and working the race but the third day was facing the reality that I had 36 hours left.

By this time, I had adjusted to my Australian settings and feeling rather comfortable.

During this time, I was able to venture out to nearby diners close to the hotel and do a little bit of shoppingl. I also spent quite a bit of time with my gracious host Victor Bray traveling around and seeing the sights of Brisbane.

I got to meet the Bray family and one of the advantages you have as a foreigner is you can make up your country’s history.

In this video, I was hanging out with Ben Bray, Victor’s son, who is one of the nicest and kind-hearted kids I’ve ever met. Victor did right with this kid. Did I mention he’s an excellent Top Doorslammer driver?

It’s Monday, and we are hanging out at the shop, when the topic came up of the English influence on his country.

This was enough to inspire quite the history lesson of the American Revolution; of course, with a Southern twist to it.

This is where I kind of let Ben know how we put our foot down in the 1700s in regards to English rule. I kind of let him in on how the Southerners took control of the Revolution and won it for the Colonists. The best stories are those where the facts don’t get in the way.

Just to make one point clear, I am honored the U.S. has great allies today like England and Australia … especially those Australians.


Victor Bray has a neat farm outside of Brisbane, complete with kangaroos and koala bears. What’s even neater is his race shop and collection of old cars.

So we went to Willowbank Raceway on Sunday, the second day of the meeting and while it had rained much of Saturday night and into Sunday morning, race officials elected to pull the plug until the next month. What inevitably happened after this decision is what we call the “Bill Bader Syndrome”. If you call the race on Saturday, the clouds will dissipate, sun will come out and not one single drop of rain will fall for the rest of the weekend.
With no racing, and in Brisbane until Tuesday, Victor decided to head back home where I hopped a ride in the rig for some old school travel and interesting riding conversation. Of course, with my body still on American time, I nodded a few times during the journey.

However, there was no napping when Victor introduced me to his first true love – a jet black, lumbering Aussie-built 1957 Chevy affectionately referred to as Bessie.

Bessie is not your average street car, especially when you consider there’s a 1400-horse, supercharged powerplant between the fenders. This is the car where Victor got his racing start.

Up until this point, I’d never ridden in a supercharged car of any time. Bessie was my first.

Victor is very selective where he drives Bessie, so we kept our journey confined to the private roads around his house.

Man, what a ride. At one point, headed down his long paved driveway, Victor nailed the throttle, filling the interior with smoke and providing me with a journey throughout the front seat.

I asked Victor if I could drive Bessie and he politely declined. This was a far cry from the gentleman who suggested once I land on the first day, pick up a rental car and drive to his house – on the wrong side of the house.

I simply refused, fearing for my life and those fearless yet unsuspecting Aussies.

Finally, after we had taken the Holden Monaro for many journeys through the field in pursuit of Kangaroos, I told Victor I would give it a shot. After all, we had full insurance on the car.

Needless to say, after a speedy ride around town which included a ride by parked cars on Victor’s side [missing by an inch or so]; he acquiesced that maybe I shouldn’t drive after all. In America, we stay closer to the outer boundary than the center line. In Australia, it’s the opposite. I drove the Monaro American style.

The usually unshakeable Victor bray was reduced to a simple comment exiting the car, “You puckered me bum, Matt. I think I need a drink.”

You know, a funny thing happened from this point; he never let me drive again.


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Here is a tip for anyone traveling to Australia. When you land, add a day to the day after you leave the U.S.
I found this out after walking around the first day thinking I was there on Thursday and this day was in preparation for Friday. It wasn’t until late in the day on Saturday before I discovered, the professional cars weren’t qualifying on Friday. Friday had come and gone.

If I had investigated a little better, well … a lot better, I would have realized during the course of the flight I flew over the end of Thursday and into the start of Friday via the International Date Line.

When I realized the day was Saturday, immediately I wondered where Thursday went because I left on Wednesday. I finally drew the conclusion that I hadn’t lost a day like that since a Super Bowl in the early 1990s when I showed up on a Sunday night and didn’t wake up until Tuesday.

The first day, after a trip to Victor bray’s farm and a ride through the field in the rental car chasing kangaroos, we headed to Willowbank Raceway outside of Brisbane, the host of the Castrol Edge Winternationals.

I took in a couple of sportsman sessions and met some interesting blokes namely ANDRA PR director Brenton Edwards and the talented Lex Swayne, editor of Aussie publication The Elapsed Times.

I walked around Willowbank meeting and greeting all and I held strong for about an hour or two before  my stamina tank ran out of gas. I fell quickly into walking dead mode.

I reached my hotel, Ipswitch International, at Noon where I unloaded my gear and collapsed on the bed. Five hours later, and a full night’s sleep, I woke up at 5 PM and ready to go to the races.

My first dose of reality once I woke up was in trying to plug in my laptop only to realize my plug-in wasn’t compatible with the wall sockets. Then I spent the better part of ten minutes trying to figure out how to turn on the lights. I flipped the switch and nothing happened. Finally, I realized there is an apparatus where you have to insert your car and it serves as the “battery” for the lights.

I called down to the front desk who informed me that they didn’t have an adapter for my plug but if I wanted to walk five blocks, there was an electronics store with the device I needed. Taking directions, in a foreign country, with only 30 minutes to find it, incredibly I arrived with five minutes to spare.

What you will see in this video diary is my Saturday visit to Willowbank Raceway. In this one day, I managed to pull off another installment of this diary, four video features and a notebook. 

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Spend two minutes in a foreign land and you quickly how helpless you can feel without your modern day communications.
Well this is sort of how my first five minutes following touchdown in Brisbane felt. Grab my Blackberry and there is no service. You’re handed documents on the plane and instructed to fill them out. You walk up to the agent at the desk, present your documentation and passport, and then if all is well, you pass to customs inspection where they ask about the “stuff” in your bag.

For me, I brought along my native snacks just in case a Vegemite sandwich was not to my liking. There were Mountain Dews galore packed between the shirts and trousers.

But before I could get to this point, I had to pass the lady at the first checkpoint.

Remember, the paper I needed to fill out? One of the questions was my destination once I left the airport and where I planned to stay during my trip. This created a problem. I had no idea. All I knew was my host Victor Bray had it covered.

The only issue was, with no way to contact Victor I was pretty much in the dark and at the mercy of the government agent.

She was a nice lady, much nicer than the female border agents I’ve encountered in Canada over the years.

I handed her the sheet hoping she would overlook the section I failed to fill out. Then she asked, “Where are you going to be at?”

Nervously I tried to explain how I was in town to report on the drag racing. She then smiled and said, “Oh really? At Willowbank?”

Then I realized how much clout Victor Bray has in Australia.

I opened my Blackberry, and showed her the email from Victor Bray to which she responded, “I know Victor, have a nice day and enjoy your time here.”

Yes … that’s how Victor rolls.

Once I met up with Victor, it was as if every person in the airport and the country who was Australian, knew who he was. Strangers would yell out, “Victor!”

Victor confided with me he was once in a foreign country, could have been someone in Europe or Southeastern Asia, and a stranger walked up to him and said, “You’re Victor Bray!”

Victor has clout in Australia, well beyond his six ANDRA series championships. His family was a fixture in the tomato growing community dating back to the 1890s.

Take a ride with me in our Holden Monaro rental car as we visit the Bray farm and ride around Brisbane before headed to the track.




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The email was simple and to the point.
“Would you be interested in coming down to cover our Castrol Edge Winter Nationals at Willowbank?”

Visiting Australia has always been one of those bucket list destinations. It’s always been one of those places you envision visiting but never really expect to happen.

Clicking on the respond button, my response was, “No races that weekend, would love to.”

Then it hit me. June for me would contain four consecutive weekends of drag racing starting in Englishtown and ending in Norwalk. Two of the three races would require flights and the one was in Bristol, just a two-and-a-half hour ride through the scenic mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee.

But this flight to Brisbane, it would be a monster.

In case you were wondering, the flight from Los Angeles to Brisbane is a relatively short 13 hours. This 13 would come after a flight from Charlotte to Dallas and then to LA, where I would have a 10 hour layover.

A week after the initial contact, the travel agent contacted me with the flight info.

Generally, it takes two days to come down off of the adrenaline a race weekend generates.

For me, a race weekend consists of usually three consecutive 12 to 15 hour days at the track. You’re chugging Mountain Dew and Five Hour Energy shots all day to maintain the momentum needed to chase down the stories [on foot, no golf-cart] and then come back to the media center, transcribe and write into a story. This is a day in the life of a CompetitionPlus.com reporter.

Well, I’m sure there might be some who will suggest, “Cry me a river, you sit and watch racing all day.”

Yeah, Funny Car racer Robert Hight thought the same thing and we took him to a race. His response, “After about 25 hours in a day, I figured you guys might call it a day.”

Before headed to Brisbane, I was coming off of a challenging Englishtown assignment. Now I had to get amped up for what seemed like 24 hours of flight time.

This video will be a synopsis of the journey to Brisbane. You will get to see the interaction between myself and my youngest daughter, the camera hound Emily, and my cousin Philip. Cousin Philip is my “git-er-done” guy and usually a behind-the-scenes person.

Hope you enjoy the first of many video diaries.

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