Mount Maunganui car-lover Gary Raiti laughs about getting off the straight and narrow as a young drag racing enthusiast.
“I had the misfortune of being a muscle car lunatic at the age of 19 – which is when I got my first Mustang – a 1967 GT fastback and pretty much started racing from then on.”
Bitten by the drag racing bug he was a regular competitor at Meremere in a series of Mustangs – first in his fastback, then a “big block” 1969 Mach 1 and a 1970 Boss 302.
“This was all up until my mid-20s, then I found out about circuit racing. I discovered happiness was not around the corner – it was the corner.”
For the substantial sums of money poured into cars and racing, Gary says it was over and done too quickly with drag racing: “Whereas, with circuit racing, it was the thrill of carrying corner speed, braking… It’s just fascinating. So I’ve been into circuit racing pretty much ever since.”
Gary, who shifted from Auckland last year, now races a 1973 Falcon XA Coupe – a car he originally bought for his son Jason Cowan-Raiti in 2005 after being impressed by his talent.
“He is absolutely the most humblest person you will ever meet and a most gifted person behind the steering wheel,” says Gary. “He used to race my RS Cosworth and he was insane – I thought this kid is really talented so we ended up buying the coupe.”
In 2007, a 21-year-old Jason raced the car at Sydney’s Eastern Creek Raceway in the Australian Muscle Car Masters. But, despite being a good meeting, ended up blowing the engine.
Gary started racing the Falcon in the Production Muscle Car series three years ago – having a good debut season finishing fourth overall. Last year he raced three rounds in the series and was ranked third overall at his last race.
“We are going exceptionally well, but then I bought my new house so it was put to the side. The car doesn’t wear out when you put it on axle stands.”
The season started at Hampton Downs last Sunday, but Gary decided to miss the race to focus on preparing the car for the Ford Muscle Car Club’s Taupo Track day this Sunday.
While Jason no longer races the Falcon – putting his energy instead into competitive woodchopping and 4WD jeep racing – Gary will be racing it mainly in the non-championship Historic Muscle Car Series with a few rounds in the Production Muscle Car Series.
“The historic series is just a better place for the car to run. Muscle car racing is quite epic, it’s going to be bigger than most things. Everyone likes seeing these old dinosaurs running around the track.
“There is no championship, people are just racing because they want to – basically the cars are the stars. My philosophy is the older I get the faster I was.”