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Wednesday, May 22, 2024


THE opportunity to win big prize money lured plenty of drivers to Bob Jane’s Calder Park Thunderdome during the heyday of Australian NASCAR and AUSCAR racing.

Professional racers and battling privateers alike flocked to the high-banked oval for over a decade from the late 1980s, chasing tens of thousands of dollars in winnings.

FLASHBACK: Thunderdome’s $1million dollar race
PODCAST: The Rise and Fall of the Thunderdome

But did you know that in the latter years of the Thunderdome’s operation, drivers who crashed could receive cash payouts to help them repair their machinery?

It’s an interesting tale told by former AUSCAR (and one-time NASCAR) driver Nathan Pretty on the latest episode of the V8 Sleuth Podcast Powered by Repco.

Laughing that “a lot of people made a lot of money out of that”, the Albury-raised racer explained the premise of the NASCAR/AUSCAR Repair Assistance Fund.

“When the field started to lessen (in the mid-1990s) and they realised it was a battle for teams to get to each race they made this NARAF fund,” Pretty recalled.

“They took a percentage (of the prize money) away so then if you crashed, you would get a certain percentage (of the money in the fund).

“You’d have to put your quote in and then they’d look at it. If you were the only person to crash, you’d get most of that pool and actually nearly make money to crash!

Nathan Pretty on the Calder road course in 1995. Pic: an1images.com / Dirk Klynsmith

“If there was a big crash and a lot of cars got taken out, your payments for that race weren’t going to be that great, but they still helped you get your car fixed and get it to the next race.

“As silly as it sounded, it was a really, really good idea.”

According to a contemporary Auto Action report, the crash fund was introduced ahead of the 1995/96 season and involved a 10 percent levy on prize money.

It was instigated following a suggestion by none other than Jim Richards, who went on to win that year’s NASCAR title aboard a Dick Midgley Racing Pontiac Grand Prix.

Conveniently for Richards, the prize money was also tweaked that season to provide a bonus for the series champion!

Richards’ NASCAR title is one of many achievements set to be chronicled in our new book, Gentleman Jim: The Official Racing History of Jim Richards.

Speaking at the time, reigning NASCAR champion Brad Jones welcomed the crash fund, for which a five-person panel was set up to assess quotes submitted by teams.

“It’s only 10 percent so I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I don’t mind helping the battlers,” he told AA.

“It’s not the right way to go racing, but unfortunately, not a lot of the competitors at Calder have good sponsorship.

“It’s not designed to help the bloke who turns up on the bones of his arse and keeps on making mistakes!”

WATCH: NASCAR action at the Thunderdome from February 1995

For the record, the first recipients from the fund in December 1995 were AUSCAR racers Matthew White, Wayne Smith and Bruce Williams, and NASCAR runner Gene Cook. 

Pretty, whose sister Nicole also raced AUSCAR on the Thunderdome, recalled that the fund wasn’t just for those who crashed.

“My sister blew an engine at one stage and we got money to repair it through the NARAF,” he added.

Nathan Pretty raced at the Thunderdome for much of the 1990s before eventually switching to V8 Supercars, starting with his own team before becoming an endurance gun-for-hire.

Listen to more of Pretty’s stories in Part 1 of the podcast below and stay tuned for Part 2, set for release tomorrow (Wednesday June 29).

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