Exclusive Interview with Ryan Van Dyk — Gearhead Edition

Drag racing seems to be all the rave across Australia and the U.S.A., so we jumped at the opportunity to share Ryan’s know-how on what makes the sport so special. With the spotlight on the fireworks in a quarter mile showdown, little did we know of all the flavours it involves for all automotive aficionados.

We’ve covered the technicalities behind drag racing which make the sport fascinating and traits of the bestial engine for gear-heads placed strategically below. Trying to make the most of his precious time, let’s see Ryan’s take on what’s under the hood.

We suppose timing is of the essence, can you clue our readers in what it takes to be off to a head start?

Ryan: The trick with drag racing is you leave when the last amber comes on. There are three Amber lights that come on consecutively before the green one, all at intervals of .400 of a second. A fraction of a second too early, the red light gets you disqualified. If you don’t push it you will be late and potentially give your opponent an advantage. There is also a lot to do with car set up in reaction times as well. Mentally the only thing you can do is practice the routine in the car. We have a practice tree which we can hook up in the car to replicate the start line procedure.

What does it take for a drag racer to gain that competitive edge?

Ryan: Our style of racing relies on the car being consistent as we race handicap style. We must nominate our time for the quarter mile that determines how much of a handicap one or the other may receive. The tricky part is you’re not allowed to go quicker than your “dial in” time otherwise you get disqualified. You need consistency to be able to nominate a dial in with any sort of accuracy. We use data from sensors while looking at how we can make the car more consistent as well as the driver.

That is a bit over our heads, could you break it down for us and our readers?

Ryan: Yeah exactly, I have lost a race because I left the start line too soon and red lit by .001 of a second. For example, I nominate my time at 6.5 seconds and my opponent nominates 7.0 seconds, he will get half a second head start. If our reaction times were equal and I run 6.53 seconds and my opponent runs 7.04 seconds I will get to the finish line first by .01 of a second. Now if I run 6.49 seconds and my opponent runs 7.04 seconds I will get to the finish line first but I will “break out” and my opponent will be deemed the winner.

The footage suggests you need James Bond accuracy. What is your personal record for a quarter mile and what speeds do you reach in your category?

Ryan: Yeah exactly, I have lost a race because I left the start line too soon and red lit by .001 of a second so yeah it comes down to the millisecond and that’s why doing the same thing consistently is so important, my personal best for the quarter mile is 6.76 seconds and my best speed is 191 mph which is about 306 kph, so yeah from a standing start to 300 kph in 6.7 seconds.

We understand performance racing is both mentally and physically taxing, how do you manage to stay sharp?

Ryan: A day of racing is an emotional roller coaster as each round of racing you get nervous and pumped up before the run. You’re excited if you win the round then you go back to the pits and turn the car around to get ready for the next one. You wind down and relax for half to an hour then it’s time to tow up to the start line and do the same thing over. Repeating this process 4 to 5 times in one day can wear you out by the end of the day.

As far as myself I keep fit by going to the gym regularly, I think physical fitness brings a sharpness of mind.

Do you still get a kick out of revving the engine or have you grown immune to it?

Ryan: I get a kick out of revving up the engine in front of a crowd and scaring them a little bit. That will never get old.

What role does torque play in drag racing?

Ryan: A massive role, in each gear the torque of the engine pulls it through the lower part of the rev range. As the revs get higher the horsepower takes over and keeps the car accelerating. You want to keep the engine in its power band from peak torque at about 5500 rpm to peak horsepower at 7000 rpm in our case. If the engine drops below that peak torque after the gear change it will pull the motor down and slow the performance of the car down. If you rev the engine much past it’s peak horsepower it will just stop accelerating.

At what RPM do you shift gears?

Ryan: We shift gears at 7000 rpm, we run a 2 speed powerglide so we only have one gear shift on a run. It’s an old Chevrolet 2 speed automatic transmission. They started making them circa 1950'.

How much horsepower does your dragster sport?

Ryan: Somewhere in range of 1600–1800 depending on a few little adjustments we make to suit track conditions.

Drag racing takes modding to the furthest extent. Did your racing career start with dragsters?

Ryan: I was born into the sport, my dad is a former four time Australian champion in the Pro Stock category which is the premier naturally aspirated sedan class in drag racing.

We suppose the car upkeep and improvements require a team effort. Does working on a high performance dragster make the work more interesting?

Ryan: Yeah definitely, between me and dad we do everything on the car apart from the transmission maintenance. On Race day we need a few more people helping us and we couldn’t do it without them but in between meetings me and dad do all the maintenance. My partner Hannah is great too, she always lends a hand at home when I’m working on the car on my own. She is a massive support.

Keeping in mind Ryan works a 9 to 5, is a family man and hits the gym on a regular basis to perform on the track, we’re glad an exceptionally devoted sportsman took the time for this interview. On an end note, with his family legacy in Australia’s racing history, give us a shout and share this article for a follow up with some legendary pictorials.

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