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V8 family tree

JACQUELINE BYRDE

It’s 7am on a Saturday morning, and while many teenagers are in bed sleeping off the vodka and tequila shots from a boozy night before, the Belladonna siblings are gearing up for a day of racing that will see their family Torana reach speeds of more than 300km an hour.

Ever since the Belladonna children could walk, racing has been a big part of their lives.

Their father Vince Belladonna has been a competitive drag racer for the past 33 years, and in that time has won many championships, beaten personal bests, and survived a few injuries.

“Racing is in my blood,” Mr Belladonna tells InkWire.

“I love it, and now my children love it.”

Team Belladonna

Every weekend between the months of October and April, the Belladonnas head to Kwinana Motorplex to compete in drag racing meets.

Australian National Drag Racing Association media manager Luke Nieuwhof says the number of families that own or operate teams has increased over the years, with most drag racers having at least one family member in their team.

“There has always been a family element to the sport but this has increased because we’re seeing the next generation come through,” Mr Nieuwhof says.

“Drag racing as a sport took off in the sixties and seventies, so now we are seeing the kids of a lot of people who began their racing then coming through the ranks.”

From cheering their dad on in the stands when they were little kids, to now being mechanics, computer analysts and assistants, Lina, Carmelo, and Cristina Belladonna know what it’s like to send their father out to tear up the tarmac.

The Torana

“Everything we do contributes to the safety of our father’s race,” Lina, 26, says.

Lina is the eldest of her siblings and has the crucial task of securing the parachutes to the back of Mr Belladonna’s red Holden Torana so that when he needs to stop he does not go flying into the barriers at the end of the raceway.

The Belladonnas like to think of themselves as a big, happy, extended family. Team members include the Belladonna five, next door neighbour Blake Malland, Cristina’s boyfriend Anthony Terranova, Mr Belladonna’s cousin Michael Macri, and family friends Colin Carameli and John Zappia.

Before every drag meet, the family spends $3000 preparing the Torana for a win.

THE BUILDUP

As the sun rises on race day, the team loads the red V8 onto a trailer to tow it to the Motorplex – but not before they pick up “the goods”.

Loads of freshly baked bread and kilos of meat are what you will find in the back of the Belladonna team van – right beside the spanners, valves and methanol fuel.

Vince and Michael inspect the engine.

After securing their spot among the hundreds of other racers in the staging lanes, the team jacks up the Holden, sets their gear out, and sits down to a feast of sizzled sausages, seared meat and succulent pork belly.

Vince Belladonna says the nosh-up is a satisfying tradition the family has enjoyed for years.

“If we want to win the race I have to make everybody on my team happy,” Vince says.

“And the way to make them happy is to feed them, to keep their energy up.”

And right he is, because not too long after the feast, the team is back at work preparing the car for the race.

Watching the Belladonna team is like watching rhythmic gymnasts at the Olympics. Everyone has their own job to do, yet all are in synch with each other.

Blake, Anthony and Carmelo make final adjustments

Carmelo Belladonna, 24, and Blake Malland, 20, work to ensure the motor is running well, while Anthony Terranova, 22, tops up the oil.

Michael Macri analyses data on the computer, while John Zappia gives advice on technical maintenance.

Lina and sister Cristina, 20, pack the parachutes while family matriarch Sophia Belladonna prepares snacks.

Vince darts around, supervising the preparation of the car.

The Belladonnas are well-known to many people at the track, constantly stopping to speak with a friend or hand out racing cards to eager children.

Blake and Lina pack the parachutes into the back of the car.

Members of other teams drop by the team’s tent to wish the Belladonnas luck, patting them on the back or bantering about which team will win the first round.

A crowd accumulates at the tent, as each car part is put together.

“You might want to cover your ears,” Cristina explains to the anxious children who are anticipating the first revs of the Torana.

All around, children pop tiny ear plugs into their ears.

Kids who are not so organised shuffle backward, blocking their ears with their hands as the engine roars to life.

After the warm-up, the children return to their parents in the grandstands to await the start of the first qualifying round.

Assembling the car

THE RACE

Mr Belladonna puts on his safety gear, which weighs about 10 kilograms, and the car is lined up at the start line ready to race.

The Belladonnas’ personal best time was earlier this year.

“We managed to reach the end of the 400-metre track in 6.63 seconds, and I’ve been trying to beat it ever since,” Mr Belladonna says.

That’s a blistering velocity of 1.65 seconds per 100-metres.

Yet, Sophia Belladonna sits calmly in the stands, clutching her earmuffs as the cool air swirls around her.

“I used to worry when they were younger, especially when Vince first started racing, but they’ve all been doing this for such a long time it doesn’t faze me anymore,” she says.

The starter’s light turns green and smoke fills the air as the Torana and another finely tuned machine leave the line at pace.

Blake takes video footage to analyse the race.

A nervous Lina clutches a small golden cross, attached to her necklace.

“I’m just praying to God those parachutes come out,” she yells.

Almost before she can finish her sentence, the parachutes are out, and the victorious Belladonna team is into the second qualifier of the night.

The earlier preparation that went into the car happens all over again as the team evaluates its previous race and the Torana is stripped down.

This can happen many times throughout the night depending on how many race stages the team makes it through to.

THE COMMUNITY

At the end of each meet, the Belladonna crew catches up with other members of the drag racing community.

Competitors on the track, but more often than not friends off it, members of the community congratulate each other on their wins or console them for their losses.

Kwinana Motorplex drag racing and special events manager Dean Neal says it’s very common, even for members of the same family, to race one another.

Mr Belladonna and the team

“These days you see a lot of family rivalry with brother versus sister or husband versus wife,” Mr Neal says.

“But it’s a healthy rivalry of respect and admiration for success.

“At the end of the day, each competitor would rather win a close race than win by miles.”

Even though it is now close to midnight, Mr Belladonna calls to his family and friends and gathers them ’round.

He lifts up a pork roast that for hours has been rotating on a spit, and brings it to a table to carve.

The aroma wafts through the damp night air, filling the nostrils of famished friends and family.

And the Belladonna clan, their friends, competitors and neighbours, await another extended family meal.

Photos: Jacqueline Byrde

Categories: People, Sport

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