WARRNAMBOOL driver Corey McCullagh hopes to cap off a breakout season with a top-10 finish at the Australian 360 sprintcar title this weekend.
McCullagh is one of three south-west Victorian drivers crossing the border for the two-night feature at Murray Bridge, which begins tonight.
Timboon class stalwart Phil Lock, who placed third in the All Star series, and emerging Lake Bolac driver James Gardiner are also among the 39-driver field.
McCullagh, 23, is into his second season driving sprintcars. He combines his passion for the dirt with go-kart racing, which he has done since 2002.
He raced seven times in his debut campaign last summer but has surprised himself since hitting the track with a new car in January.
His first meeting in the car at Simpson culminated with starting off the front row before spinning mid-race and finishing 15th.
But he was on the podium a month later after running third in the Tyson Perez Memorial at Mount Gambier — his 15th race in a sprintcar.
McCullagh said the new car had “transformed our season”. He was also indebted to sprintcar stalwart Dave McFadden for advice on car set-up.
“I wouldn’t be anywhere near where I am if it wasn’t for him. Every stupid question I ask, he’s able to answer,” he said.
But his journey to sprintcars hasn’t been smooth. McCullagh suffered third-degree burns when his formula 500 car caught fire at Horsham in December 2009.
The then 19-year-old spent a month in hospital and needed six months to recover fully, ultimately spending two years away from speedway.
“It only made me hungrier to achieve bigger and better things,” he said. “It gave me more drive, it made me appreciate what I’ve got now.”
Now he’s back, McCullagh said he was relishing the chance to drive a sprintcar — a major change from the challenges posed by go-kart racing.
“The main difference is obviously the throttle control into corners. Go-karts you can drive into corners hard on the brakes,” he said.
“Sprintcars, to turn the car you use the throttle. You’ve got to go a lot more aggressive in a sprintcar than a go-kart.
“Also you can’t see your front wheel, which is a little weird. It’s a completely different ball game but it’s a challenge I’ve liked so far.”
McCullagh, who left for Murray Bridge early yesterday, said he believed he was capable of finishing in the top half of the A main.
“I’m genuinely excited. The general goal is to make the top 10. There are a fair few good drivers,” he said.
“I’d really love to make the top five but as long as I made the show I’ll be happy.”