Petrol-head heaven returns to Whanganui on Saturday when the Wanganui Road Rodders stage their annual street drags in the city.

But this weekend's event is special because it marks the 30th anniversary of what has become a hugely popular event.

The drags will again being staged over a closed quarter mile stretch of Taupo Quay between Heads Rd and Liffiton St from 9am-3pm and on that 400m piece of street the quickest cars will cover the distance at blistering pace.

The first Wanganui Road Rodders event was held on a section of Heads Rd in 1985 and was suggested by club member Ian McDonald the year before.


Tony Johnson, then Road Rodders president and his committee approached Wanganui City Council for permission to use part of the road from what was the old bacon factory (now Porter Hire's depot).

The "Christmas tree" starting lights were sourced from the council. In fact they were a set of old traffic lights redesigned by club member Willie Pelzers.

That first drag event was a huge success with club members' cars supported by some from Wanganui Car Club members.

The 200m strip ran southward but the following year the cars tore northwards on Heads Rd. It enabled the club to use Emmett's yard as both a starting point and pits.

Racing continued on Heads Rd until 2001 when the club opted to move to Taupo Quay. It was seen as a better option, providing a straighter stretch of road, offering a bigger and better pit area and better viewing for the growing number of spectators.

There were many street drag events being held across the country when Wanganui Road Rodders launched their event and in the 1990s the city's event was was part of a national series for three years. It meant the top cars from the North Island took part.

A feature of Saturday's anniversary drags will be the appearance of a number of those cars which took part in those early drags.

Among them will be Euan Mark (Palmerston North) in his big block Chevy-powered T-bucket. At the time it was New Zealand's fastest street legal vehicle, having run the standing quarter-mile in 8.2 seconds reaching a terminal speed of 160mph (257km/h).

Only twice in its 30 year history have the drags not been held - in 2002 when the club was hosting the national hot rod event and again in 2004 when rain caused the cancellation.

This year there will be four full competition cars taking part. As well as Mark's T-bucket, Dean Scott (Whanganui) will be running his super-charged Holden ute, and Craig Wilson will have his new HT Holden sedan on the grid.

Also fronting up will be the Rivers family from Whanganui with their 320km/h dragster.

There are strict rules in place on raceday and that includes no dogs, no glass, no alcohol and no eftpos will be available.