Wazza. Designated Adult. Fluffy. Hollywood. There’s a slew of nicknames Warren Luff has collected in 10 years as part of the MOTOR family. The firm favourite, though, is Our Luffy.
The 39-year-old Gold Coast local, Carrera Cup front-runner, V8 Supercar endurance specialist and Movie World stunt driver first fell into the MOTOR world during PCOTY 2004. “Like a stray dog, I just stayed around,” he jokes.
Many in the MOTOR pound would swear the fastest pooch on our block isn’t getting older and has certainly learnt a new trick or two.
As the girth of the Luffy trophy cabinet blossoms in tandem with the size of the bloke’s formidable talents behind the wheel, his skin seems to get ever browner, his smile more gleaming, his hair wilder and more sculptured, and that X factor – the aura that separates career racing drivers from the rest of us in a police line-up – seems ever increasing in its glow.
Those inside his professional and personal circles note that his one-liners have become quicker, his wit sharper, his tongue buried ever further in his cheek. You’ve changed, Wazza. Even your email and text attachments are now suitable for the workplace. Well, some of them…
What stands unwavering are Luffy’s professionalism, work ethic and humility. On tour, he’s first to man fuel pumps, wash cars, stuff show bags or volunteer for unglamorous duty. And he’ll party as hard as anyone once stumps are pulled.
But it’s his official role in the MOTOR cavalcade where he’s indispensible. His ability to extract maximum potential from any car – anywhere, in any prevailing conditions – with military-like precision, tireless enthusiasm and with mechanical sympathy is not just extraordinary, it’s unmatchable.
Believe us, we’ve tried. We’ve paired plenty of big-name hired guns on track with our resident hot shoe during car tests and none seem able to match his combination of pace, feedback and consistency.
“Over the years, I’ve driven so many different cars that I now find it easy to get in and find the limit,” he explains. “You don’t have to kill the car to get the best times. I usually do one warm-up lap and two flyers. More often than not, the first flyer is the quickest.”
Of the MOTOR crew past and present, the difference in lap pace between Luffy and The Rest Of Us varies between noticeable and, frankly, embarrassing. During an early BFYB session, former editor Amac, a very handy steerer, tried to measure the gap via stopwatch in tenths using an entire field of test cars, only to discover handfuls of seconds.
My personal measure was less scientific. Once, riding shotgun in Audi’s R8 LMS GT3 around Mount Panorama, I watched Wazza slice an armful of opposite lock in correction before I even felt the tail snap.
Where does his speed come from? “Racing my whole life, I’m probably more comfortable with a car on its limits than most,” he responds. It’s the simple answer. But circumstance and conditioning are key to a longer explanation. The son of larger-than-life ex-racer and gun driving instructor Ian Luff, junior was born closer to apexes and deeper in the braking zones than most.
“The first car I ever drove was an XE Falcon… at (now-defunct race circuit) Oran Park,” he laughs. “I was so small at the time that Dad boosted me up with pillows; I could barely touch the pedals or see over the dash. I remember track owner Tony Perich came running out of his office because he saw a car lapping at speed with no driver behind the wheel!
“Dad was a huge influence, not just in my early years, but as a great mentor throughout my career. I grew up around cars, watching Dad race and running the driving school, so at a young age throwing cars around circuits seemed just like a normal thing you do.”
Wazza doesn’t remember a point of decision to turn ‘pro’: “I loved cars, loved motorsport, so it’s been a fortunate journey. Even today I don’t see myself as a pro driver, just a big kid who never stopped playing with cars that got bigger and faster along the way.
“My first race was in 1993 at Eastern Creek in the Alfa Romeo six-hour relay race. I was driving a Honda CRX, sharing it with Dad, which was such a huge, awesome buzz. So many people go through racing careers not getting to race with their dad.
“The early days were like everyone else’s, though, tough trying to get sponsorship for that next drive. I was lucky that, through Dad’s business, I met a lot of people in positions to help me with my racing. Without them, I’d be nowhere.”
These days, Wazza certainly feels somewhere. “I’m really happy right now driving for McElrea Racing in Carrera Cup and doing the V8 Supercar endurance races with HRT,” he beams. “I couldn’t be happier.”
And neither could his employers after two recent, successive Bathurst 1000 podiums that Wazza ranks as his career highlights to date… behind sharing racing seat time with his dad.
That peak, however, doesn’t negate the security of a day job. But his gig at Gold Coast’s Movie World certainly isn’t flipping burgers.
“A friend told me Movie World was auditioning for stunt drivers while I was checking in to fly to Germany to race the Nurburgring 24 Hour. The applications closed that day, so I hastily emailed my CV moments before I boarded the plane. Of the 200 applicants, I was one of 10 who were picked for the show. After six years, I’m still loving it.”
He learnt early on that, as constant risky business goes, magazine work and racing isn’t a patch on showbiz. “Each day we do two full morning rehearsals, but when you’re up on two wheels, you’re never far from disaster.
We used to do a two-wheeled right turn in the show with the car so cocked up you could reach through the side window and touch the ground with your hand.”
Our Luffy has had his fair share of ‘moments’ and close calls wearing motorsport Nomex.
His biggest off chasing the chequered flag was at a four-hour race at the Nurburgring. “I was on slicks in practice and it started to sprinkle, so I lifted on a kink you normally take flat at 270km/h. The car took off at about 250. I don’t know how many 360s I did, but it was a miracle that I didn’t hit anything. Complete luck and zero skill involved [laughs].”
And while wearing the MOTOR gurnsey? Lady Luck, Murphy’s Law and Wazza’s no-quarter approach occasionally collide and have made for a few, erm, interesting moments on MOTOR’s watch over the past decade. Both on and, ahem, off the track.
Most are writ large in our unpublished folklore, pub banter if you ever have a beer with us. Some – only some – are occasionally teased as cryptic references in print.
“I’ve had some close calls at MOTOR. Hitting a seagull in a Lamborghini Gallardo at Phillip Island at 260km/h is right up there. And once I had a huge spin in a Porsche 911 Turbo coming onto Winton’s old pit straight and somehow managed to not hit anything – it seems someone thought 45psi in the rear tyres was a good thing...”
Then there was the big-power Aussie muscle car whose floor mat jammed the throttle pedal down en route to a Victorian roundabout. “Rather than slam into the Jag that Morley was driving, I flicked right, jumped the concrete verge separating us from oncoming traffic, jammed on the handbrake and spat sideways through the (raised concrete) roundabout. It’s the scariest on-road moment I’ve ever had.” The car escaped with nothing more than a damaged rim.
Wazza reckons the time a certain little French car grenaded its engine tipping into Turn One at The Circuit Formerly Known As Eastern Creek (now Sydney Motorsport Park) was more “spectacular than scary”, and not a patch on the hard-tuned Golf at Hot Tuner one year that was travelling much quicker when it had “a massive ABS sensor failure” in the same corner. “Only one wheel had braking and it was the right-front, which locked up anyway. Somehow I made it through, but the right-front tyre looked like a 50 cent piece.”
Hot Tuner is where Luffy really earns his keep. “There was that FPV that made  horsepower on the dyno. When it came on boost on the drag strip, it just wheelspun right through to fifth gear.
"It was still sliding all over the place at the 350-metre mark when it blew a radiator hose, spraying coolant under the rear tyres. The car started in the left lane, was completely sideways at the 400[m] mark, and I only just caught it as it almost went into the right-side concrete wall.”
Speaking of walls, MOTOR’s now-defunct Sydney office pinboard was once festooned with evidence of hi-jinx not fit for publication.
It included a fetching pic Wazza piloting a VW Transporter with enough air between its tyres and the distant tarmac to drive a truck through. “That was the support vehicle for the annual tyre test at Sutton Road [Training Facility in Canberra].
We’d tried the jump a few times in a WRX when shooter Thomas Wielecki and I spotted the van; we looked at each other and then knew it had to be done.”
The Wall of Fame (or Shame, depending on your viewpoint) also documented much proof of MOTOR after-hours shenanigans, with Our Luffy rarely far from the crime scenes.
“There has been many a wild night on road trips, from fancy dress costume nights and birthday celebrations to that not-so-quiet game of pool in Canberra,” which may or may not have involved a pig costume and details of which are certainly not fit for print.
Wazza can also lay claim to inventing a custom Chilli Vodka Cruiser for the benefit of a visiting British journo who was none the wiser. “He couldn’t feel his lips for days,” Luffy laughs.
So what has he learnt in his 10-year tenure at MOTOR? “Well, firstly, never open a styrofoam Esky that ex-editor Amac has had in his possession,” he advises, shedding a dim light on perhaps one of the darkest incidents in MOTOR infamy. I was there. And I’m not saying, either...
“What else? Don’t question photographer Wielecki as to why food should be served on round plates. Never trust Easton Chang when, at midnight, he claims there are just ‘a few more photos to take’. And never let Nathan Ponchard near a PA system.”
The Wise One. Friend. Ally. Comrade. I’m sure we’ll come up with a few more labels for Our Luffy in the coming decade to add to the tally.