// ISSUE 41
Wayne Newby’s Top Fuel Title // Ryan Learmonth Simon Richard’s Supercharged Outlaws Camaro Chris Diggles // Shane Tucker // Stig Olsson Gulf Western Oil Winternationals // Nitro Up North
Drag News Magazine Issue 41 Print Date: July 15, 2019 Editor: Luke Nieuwhof (firstname.lastname@example.org) Advertising: Rob Sparkes (email@example.com) Photography Editor at Large: Grant Stephens (firstname.lastname@example.org)
ENGINEERED TO WIN: Wayne Newby’s Top Fuel championship win confirmed him as one of Australian drag racing’s great talents.
BUDGET BRAWLER: Chasing a national record on a budget is possible, as proved by drag racing tragic Chris Diggles and his four-cylinder C/MA.
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PORT POWER: Simon Richards’ tidy Supercharged Outlaws Camaro brings Pro Mod flair to the dialyour-own blown bracket.
WISE CRACK: Ryan Learmonth pulls off an unlikely 400 Thunder Pro Bike Championship..
FIVE HUNDRED UP FRONT: Sweden’s Stig Olsson is packing Pro Stock horsepower in an unconventional way.
PLUS: Shane Tucker’s Double Up (42), Gulf Western Oil Winternationals (48), Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars at Nitro Up North (60).
FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHERS: Joe Maday (NSW) - email@example.com Dave Reid (Qld) - firstname.lastname@example.org Hayley Turns (Vic) - email@example.com John Bosher (NSW) - firstname.lastname@example.org Jay Treasure (WA) - email@example.com Craig Radcliffe (NT) - firstname.lastname@example.org
WANT TO SEND US CONTENT? Send an email to email@example.com. LEGAL: All content is copyright to Drag News Australia Pty Ltd and may not be reproduced in any form without express written permission. Views expressed in this magazine by interviewees do not represent those of Drag News Australia Pty Ltd.
EDITORIAL Group Two is at a cross roads. IHRA Australia recently announced that Competition and Super Stock will be merged at 400 Thunder Sportsman Series events next season. This is something ANDRA has been doing regularly when they have small fields. But the numbers are plain to see: Group Two just isn’t what it once was. I’d like to start by saying I love watching Group Two. The unique nature of the vehicles is what appeals to me; there are so many solutions to going fast. Every race car and bike has a story and a level of innovation that is not found in a lot of other brackets. ‘Cookie-cutter’ is not a term you often hear applied to Group Two fields. Contrary to opinion, there’s not less cars and bikes being built in Australian drag racing. They’re just being built to compete in categories other than Group Two, and increasingly outside of traditional championship brackets altogether. Take a look at the Extreme Bike guys, who are adding fresh, low seven-second machines with almost every event – these are the people who used to race in Competition Bike. There have been constant changes to the handicapping system to appease racers and promote more even competition, but the fact of the matter is not everybody can be a winner. I have to admit to being more than a little confused about all the different indexing systems now in play, and I spend a significant portion of each day embedded in Australian drag racing. What chance does your average spectator have, or even a racer in Group Three looking to step up? When it comes to sportsman racing, I have said before we shouldn’t care too much about the spectator, because it has to be participant driven. However too much confusion will drive the participants away as well. Group Two definitely has an image problem. They’re the nerds of drag racing – highly accomplished but out of place with the zeitgeist. Again, I love watching Group Two, but I am a drag racing tragic and I saw how great national index racing could be. But the fact is the world, and drag racing, have moved on. There is little social media attention when a national record is broken, but a wild radial tyre run with the front wheels up gets all kinds of views. You might think that is irrelevant, but ego is a large reason why people race and they will choose brackets based on their budget and how much they like to stroke that ego. I’d like to think that branding or marketing is a way to help Group Two, but any kind of handicapped racing will always be a difficult sell. There was once a time when Group Two was considered an important stepping stone to professional competition, but that is no longer the case and there are several reasons why. Firstly, there are so many more options now for competition outside of the traditional championship classes. People are building eighth-mile radial cars by the truckload right now, dwarfing any growth in Group Two. This is heads-up racing on a budget and racers love it, and I believe many of the racers now investing in radial cars are the type of people who would have gone Group Two racing in the past.
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Secondly, knowledge is no longer simply accumulated by racing. The internet made it significantly easier to learn about drag racing, without ever having to make a run down the track. Sure there is no substitute for experience, but you can get one heck of a head start with the right Googling. The ease of communication now available means you are better off going straight to where you want to race, rather than taking a long path by way of Group Two. Merging Competition and Super Stock does come with some headaches, not the least of which is closing speeds. While closing speed accidents are extremely rare, the odds are increased when two vehicles with a high difference of speed are combined. The quickest car Competition currently allows is a Top/Pro Alcohol Funny Car, capable of 5.3 second times and 270mph top end speeds. The slowest record in Super Stock is for C/MS, at a 10.05/134mph. I can imagine there would be a few nerves on both sides if that match up were to ever occur. One aspect of Group Two rarely spoken about is the amount of time that goes into tech for the brackets. There is a lot of resources given to ensuring fair competition, for a relatively small amount of racers. Is this a fair or reasonable commitment for ANDRA or the IHRA, or would time be better spent on different issues, like safety of all vehicles or initiatives to increase the number of racers in Group Three? The question is where to from here? We don’t want to lose any racers, especially those who have invested significant amounts to compete in Group Two. A combination bracket is probably a wise thing for the future, but I predict we could see the faster Comp classes fall, simply because the large capacity blown alcohol cars have Pro Alcohol to step into and it would solve the closing speed issues. From here, maybe we need to start thinking about heads-up sportsman opportunities if we truly want to have stepping stone classes. ANDRA should have added a radial class to its sportsman series a long time ago (even more in recent years given the series attends a bundle of eighth mile tracks), which would have greatly increased the visibility and relevance of the series. Perhaps there’s room for a heads-up doorslammer or dragster class for racers who don’t want to race in the fully fledged pro series – maybe capturing a selection of current race cars. This would give a significant feeder category for the pro ranks (and make no mistake, Pro Slammer needs that right now with its recent car counts). This is assuming ANDRA even wants stepping stones anymore, given Group Two is its current championship peak. We need to consider whether or not the resources Group Two takes, from the time of the sanctioning bodies to the prizemoney of the tracks, could be better allocated to areas of the sport that will support new growth. Group Two needs a solution, but rather than question how to save it, we first must answer: should it be saved? - Luke Nieuwhof
STAND WITH THE DRAG RACING INDUSTRY Drag News Magazine is rebooting its business listings. Rather than one page with all the listings, we will be running small ads throughout the magazine, sized like this FuelTech one. These ads are supremely affordable at just $300 for the year (eight issues), including a print subscription valued at $90. Or for $600 we will include your businessâ€™ logo in our email blasts, reaching over 4000 people. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to take up the offer and support your industryâ€™s magazine.
// SHUTTER SPEED FRONT END FLYER: Terry Sainty unleashed one of the most spectacular wheelstands we have seen from a Top Fuel car in a long time during round one of the Gulf Western Oils Winternationals. The Sainty three-valve dragster clocked its quickest run yet with a 4.02 over 1000 feet - expect to see this team in the threes very soon. Canon 1DX at ISO 500, 275mm, 1/2000sec, F5.6. Photo by cacklingpipes.com.
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// SHUTTER SPEED ALTERED SHUFFLE: Darren Bazarnik had a hard time keeping things under control after getting a bounce up in the Willowbank Raceway braking area. Photo sequence by Joe Maday.
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TO WIN The massive resources of Australiaâ€™s biggest Top Fuel team have combined with do-ityourself smarts to create a two-time champ. By Luke Nieuwhof. Photos by cacklingpipes.com, Joe Maday and John Bosher.
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No-one can accuse Wayne Newby of being undeserving of a Top Fuel drive. The modest Sydney racer has a drag racing resume that would impress even the hardest of observers, with close enough to three decades of driving, well over two decades of team ownership, and a talent for making the parts he needs to go racing. The Newby family were originally part of New South Wales’ drag boat scene – a thriving community that produced a number of other tough racing families. Wayne’s father David loved the thrill but the risks were high and he didn’t want to lose a son to the sport. With Eastern Creek Raceway opening, the timing was perfect to switch to hard-top drag racing and the Newby family procured a dragster from the USA, getting straight into the deep end of Top Alcohol. “Dad didn’t want me to drive boats because of the danger, so he bought me a drag car,” Wayne said. “I crewed for Stan Tindal in the early days and I learned a lot through him, before we purchased a car from America and got help from a guy named Doc Conroy. I first drove that when I was 17 years old, starting at the old Canberra strip where I got my eighth mile licence. Doc taught me everything he knew about driving, but I had also been around the boats and cars all my life.” Newby has fond memories of his time in Top Alcohol. A number of championships came his way, three of them in fact, and he drove both a dragster and a funny car. “We were competing with the best, Gary Phillips and all the guys like him. We started out hoping we could just qualify but soon we learned we could run with them.” Newby Engineering was founded by Wayne’s grandfather and passed down through the generations, first to David Newby, and then to Wayne. The ability of the family to make their own parts and repairs has enabled them to race at a level they otherwise could not afford – the only cost was time. “We have always made performance parts, machined blocks, looked after superchargers and repaired stuff for people,” Wayne said. “If we had to buy everything, we probably wouldn’t have been able to run where we did. But we could make everything on our cars, from clutches to con-rods, you name it we could make it. And that was how we could afford to do it. There were a lot of hours and late nights but we could have a lot of inventory at hand because we could just make it.”
Nitro dreams Among the teams Newby worked with was Rapisarda Autosport International. Lots of jobs from Australia’s biggest Top Fuel team flowed through the business, and the Rapisarda family wanted Newby to come and give driving a shot; they knew he understood the driving and mechanical roles equally. “They had been hassling me for a long time to come and drive,” Newby said. “My father had retired and I took over running the business, and I thought it would save a bit of time not racing our car. “Santino Rapisarda and Santo Junior were so keen, and when I spoke to them they were so passionate, they liked their cars the way I liked my car. “I’d also done a lot of work for all the Top Fuel teams and driving was one thing I wanted to tick off the bucket list. It has worked out well for all of us.”
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Newby had experienced plenty of fast, and wild, runs in his methanol-fuelled dragster and funny car and said when he made his debut run in one of the Rapisarda Autosport International nitro cars, he wondered what all the fuss was about. “The first time I drove it I didn’t think it was that impressive,” he said. “When the alcohol car leaves the start line and it is shaking the tyre and you are driving through it, it is pretty violent. The boys had it set up soft to start with and it still went 4.80 though.” But then his crew chief Santino turned the screws on the 10,000 horsepower Hemi. “We went to Perth and it went 4.58, and the difference from the 4.80 was incredible. In an alcohol car you are very busy trying to pick your shift points, whereas in a Top Fuel car you are only concentrating on steering, so I could better experience the acceleration.” Since those first forays into nitro competition, Newby has since proved himself as one of the sport’s most versatile talents. He took out the 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship in 2016/17 not long after beginning to drive for the team. The Rapisarda family has afforded opportunities to Newby he would never have considered possible. When Newby was asked to race one of the RAI dragsters in the USA, he had to pinch himself. “Racing in the NHRA was a dream come true,” he said. “Any drag racer would die to do that. While we have had ups and downs over there, the team overall does very well. I think it was very impressive when we got to the semi finals in Charlotte – we were just one run away from the final. I have had a couple of rounds ones and some we were beating them fair and square, some we got lucky. “I dreamed about racing in America as a teenager and I didn’t think it would ever happen, but thanks to Santo it did. There were plenty of people in America the team could have chosen to drive over me, so I can’t thank them enough.”
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CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: The Winternationals threw tough conditions at the teams, but Rapisarda Autosport International stood tall with Wayne Newby recording a PB 3.780. Like a land-locked missile, the dragster is prepared for another 320mph punch. Crew chief Santino Rapisarda has been able to apply power more readily to the new chassis.
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Under glass Before the 2018/19 400 Thunder season commenced, Rapisarda Autosport International surprised Australian drag racing when they unveiled the second canopy-equipped dragster in the country. The streamlined rails offer improved safety thanks to the enclosed cockpit, but the fresh chassis would also allow the team to better apply their power. “They bought the car incomplete, so we had to finish a lot of things on it, but that was great to get to know the car,” Newby said. “It is certainly different, your view is more restricted compared to the open car.” The dragster proved itself at the very first event it entered, and went on to win two more events during the course of the season. “We won our on debut and since then Santino has become very confident in the car and the way it reacts to what he does. He has big plans going forward – which means running faster of course. “This one is a bit more flexible through the chassis so we can put the power into it a bit better. We have still only done 30 runs on it so we are still learning.” Newby claimed the championship in entertaining fashion, with the title coming down to a pedalfest final round at the Winternationals against Kelly Bettes. “Coming into the Winternationals with the points lead was probably the most pressure I have felt in my 30 years of racing,” Newby said. “It had been a hard fought couple of months and I thought it was great for the crowd how the championship came down to the final round.” Newby recorded a personal best time of 3.780 seconds in the first round of eliminations, but then the team needed to ride their luck. “We missed the tune up a bit on the first qualifier so I was down on confidence before the first round, but Santino told me it would run a 3.76 to a 3.78, and we went 3.78,” Newby said. “Everything was on the line in that last race. I was pedalling the car and had a big look at the centre line, I almost thought I had disqualified the run. But it came back and we got to the line first.” The last half a decade has seen Rapisarda Autosport International dominate the Top Fuel category, winning four of the last five national championships. Newby doesn’t see many changes to the game plan for next season, and expects the team to continue to field three cars. “I think Santo enjoys bringing Ashley out, she is great for the sport. As long as you get all the other big teams running next season will be good. I understand that Top Fuel is not a cheap thing to run and there are only a couple of teams who can afford to do it properly. “For now everybody just has to get on. I think the sport can grow.” DNM
CLOCKWISE FROM RIGHT: Gold Christmas trees are no stranger to Newby’s hands, but this one came with plenty of pressure. A new chassis came equipped with a canopy for added safety. With the huge resources of Rapisarda Autosport International behind him, Newby had the right equipment to take the title.
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BRAWLER National records arenâ€™t only for the rich, just the brave. By Luke Nieuwhof. Photos by cacklingpipes.com.
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Drag racing has been touted as a sport with a class for everyone – heck, even too many classes. Some of those classes are extremely popular, you could fill an event with A/MDs or SS/As alone, but others are sparsely occupied. C/MA is one of those classes, but the rarely touched designation appealed to Chris Diggles. Diggles is mostly known as a drag racing commentator, but he is no stranger to the quarter-mile himself. “I used to go to Surfers Paradise on rare occasions to watch my uncles race,” he said. “Jeff, Laurie and Allan Watson raced mainly four-cylinder cars, with their ‘Badger’ X/D being the most successful of the bunch, setting the class record back in the seventies. “When Willowbank opened in the eighties, I was a regular street meet entrant with my little Mazda Capella. I had some stripped out specials but then went to a Datsun-powered CC/MD that ran low 10s. My first and only V8 followed, with a turbo 308ci-powered Nissan Bluebird.” Diggles’ interest in commentary followed on from his racing and he first turned to the microphone in 1999. “I would take my dragster for three runs at the street meet, park it after qualifying and then go and commentate the racing. “I prefer to race, but commentary is still a big passion of mine. It gives me the opportunity to share the passion for the sport through the freedom of expression that commentary gives, plus you get paid! That helps finance the racing aspect. I’m lucky enough to have no real clashes where commentary and racing collide, but that might change in the future.” Taking a national record had been a long term goal for Diggles. He wanted to chase a record on a budget and that meant looking for an obscure class that hadn’t been touched in a while. His ideas went all the way back to the 1988 Australian Nationals, where he was intrigued by Bob Blackley’s C/MA, which used a Yamaha R1 engine. It was a project Diggles always wanted to start, but it took time. “I was initially going to replicate the motorbike-powered platform that Bob used, he even told me how to build one the exact same. It took more than two decades before I made the move.” The NHRA’s Competition Eliminator class provided further inspiration in the late nineties. Diggles read about naturally aspirated four-cylinder altereds tearing into the eights and beyond, and he decided to ditch the Yamaha idea. He thought a stroked Holden Starfire engine, basically a 202ci straight six with two cylinder cut off, might do the trick when teamed with a Yella Terra alloy head. “Back in the day, the NHRA cars were just photos in a magazine. There was no internet back then, so knowledge was scarce. They used Pontiac Super Duty-style engines but they were foreign to me so I thought the Starfire was the way to go. “But then I saw Clint Neff’s K/A run mid-sevens. Research showed that his engine was based on an old Ford Motorsport block that was sold back in 1986! I remembered seeing that block in the catalog as a 17-year-old and I was told by my mate to ‘forget about it’, because they were so ridiculous in price.”
TOP RIGHT: Chris Diggles is mostly known for his commentary, but truth be told he prefers to actually be racing, and his C/MA allows him to chase national records on a tiny budget. BOTTOM RIGHT: ‘Notec’ perfectly sums up this simple combo.
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FROM TOP LEFT: Chris Diggles first discovered the Ford Motorsport four-cylinder in a catalogue, but the price was too high - until he found one second hand from a swampy buggy racer. It may not look like much - but this is planned to be a national record setting engine. The cylinder head is a rare Barnett Shotgun hemi. A Toyota Hilux diff fits in well at the rear end of the chassis, which was originally built for Nitro Funny Car duties in the USA.
Diggles matched photos of the engine in Neff’s car with the catalogue. It was 224 cubic inches in size and with compression and a cam, Diggles thought some healthy horsepower would be available. But there was still the problem of the price, until he discovered a Florida swamp buggy racer had one for sale. “It was more considered an endurance motor, so this swamp buggy donk was happy to buzz around the swamps for minutes on end. I gave it a retirement in Australia for light sprint work.” The engine had been stroked to 241 cubic inches, with a 4.39 bore and just under 4.00 stroke, using 6.600 GRP aluminium rods. A stock, reground flat tappet cam, T&D rockers and 3/8” Comp Cams pushrods play supporting roles, but the star of the show is the rare alloy Barnett Shotgun hemi cylinder head, which uses 2.4 titanium inlets and 1.94 exhausts. The block required extensive clearance for the hemi valve angles. A wet sump oiling system, Peterson oil pump and Fluiddampr balancer completed the picture, and the combo was good for 297 horsepower at the wheels, an impressive figure for a naturally aspirated four-cylinder. With the engine sourced, Diggles next had to find a suitable chassis. Queensland’s Casey Mortensen had a damaged chassis for sale which would be perfect. The chassis was originally brought to Australia from the USA by Scott Ferguson, and was formerly owned by another Australian, Robert Schwab. Ferguson restored the chassis but later sold it to Darren Di Filippo, who wanted it for the diff. Mortensen then took on the remainder of the chassis, but a trailer fire badly burned the front of the car and twisted the chassis. “I bought it as a bare chassis and sent it to ET Chassis, who took the rails back to behind the engine plate and ran a new, narrower front end,” Diggles said. In went a Toyota Hilux diff and V8 Trimatic transmission and Diggles spent a further 12 months fitting out the car before its debut last year, where it ran a 10.10/133mph leaving from idle, instantly bettering the national record. C/MA has the dubious honour of being among the oldest national records in Australian drag racing. South Australia’s Mark Gedye was the last driver to reset the ANDRA mark, running 10.36 at Adelaide International Raceway in 1991. The IHRA mark is a
minimum based on the same record. Gedye was driving Bob Blackley’s car, the same one that inspired Diggles in the first place. Unfortunately the current split in drag racing means opportunities to reset ANDRA quarter mile records are limited to Perth Motorplex, and that kind of travel was beyond Diggles’ budget. “There’s really no chance to reset the mark etched in history, so I set getting the IHRA record at the 2019 Winternationals as my goal. I vowed not to get a haircut until I set the record, so I may be a very hairy man.” Diggles decided that there was plenty more left in his altered. “The V8 converter was too tight, so the 750 four-barrel carb gave me a flat spot with not enough revs. I fitted a 625cfm two-barrel carb instead and ran a bunch of 10.20s in bad heat.” Before the Winternationals, Diggles had to make another budget decision. The VP Roo16 was his first preference for fuel, but was setting back his bank balance. He decided to shift to E85, which required another carb change, this time a Quickfuel 750. Diggles was pleasantly surprised when the engine made produced even more grunt, knocking out 346 horsepower at the wheels after the fuel and timing change. “Not bad for a flat-tappet, 7000rpm, aspirated four-banger,” he said. We can’t help but agree! The extra power was enough to affect the gearing and when Diggles went testing at the Winters Warm Up, the car was on the rev limiter 300 feet before the stripe. He made a last-minute decision to switch to 33inch tyres instead of the 30inch rubber he had on the back for testing, and was excited for the possibilities of Australia’s biggest drag racing event. “The Winters is Australia’s ‘Big Go’, and it’s the one everyone wants to race at. This was my first crack at the big event, as I prefer the quieter QDRC events, but there was limited chances to set the national record, so it was either do it now or wait.” Diggles began qualifying with an 11.2 at 133mph, well off the ET record but over the existing speed record of 126mph. “A flat-spot revealed itself on the hit, as the two-step was set right where the secondaries were opening,” he explained. The second qualifier improved dramatically, even though Diggles drove the car off the line instead of using the two-step. A 10.207/132mph flashed up on the readout boards.
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“We were under the record, but there were certainly no signs of our 49hp improvement from the dyno. After those two runs, plus the dyno runs, we decided it was time to check all the bolts on the engine overnight, including the crank bolt, which needed a decent twist! All part of the joys of a four-litre four-cylinder.” The team also tweaked the two-step as high as the brakes could hold, with the car still not equipped with a transbrake. A cold qualifying session on Friday morning had Diggles worried. “We learned that the E85 allows the car to run much longer without heat being an issue, and after being held up on the line twice already in qualifying, we knew the heat was good for it. But the third session took an hour to complete, with numerous delays on track that saw the warm-up temp drop below 60. We warmed it up twice in the lanes waiting, trying to keep the engine warm, and easy to start. Once we were turned loose and did the burnout, it happened again! We waited nearly 90 more seconds while someone was cleared in the braking area. “The car then left with a PB 60 foot time, and even walked around a bit in low gear, with an odd spluttering that cleared after the shift into second.” A 10.205/132mph was the result this time, marginally improving on Q2, and Diggles was confident he had a good chance of
Though Diggle’s quest for the record was thwarted by a starter motor problem, he is still keen to chase the mark and see what the small-capacity altered is truly capable of.
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nudging the record, if not smashing it. “Returning to the pits I saw that there was virtually no fuel left at all, courtesy of the two warm-ups and the extra stuff-around on the line. I also assumed that was the cause of the spluttering when it left harder.” The team needed a run under the record in racing to officially make their claim. Race day arrived and the team went through their checks, during an initial warm-up. They then went for a second to warm the transmission and convertor, with 20 minutes before the first round “We attempted to start it, but this time the starter motor had told us that this was its last crank! The starter had come all the way from Florida with the engine, and had never been out since owning it. “Before I built this car, I vowed if I ever went racing again that I wouldn’t stress over the car on race day, no matter what the implications. I was quite happy to park it and try again another day. But when you have plenty of supporters who don’t share your views on this, things started to happen without my knowledge!” There was another delay in eliminations and the team had been given a lifeline. Diggles had a spare starter at home he had acquired for another engine. “We raced off home to find the spare and return in the hope
that we could perhaps do this. As I was just reaching for the new starter, my phone rang with Paulo Pires on the other end and the car idling in the background! The dash back wasn’t as frantic, as I had already admitted defeat, but still I had a ray of hope that the delays would continue.” The team hitched the car up and towed to the staging lanes, but they were still missing a driver. As they reached the front of the lanes still sans Diggles, they realised they would have to pull out. Seven minutes later he arrived. “Several helping hands had rebuilt the starter, soldering the failed armature wiring and making the repairs in the pits, if I had only stayed! I could have sent my wife Liz, but as I said to her, it wouldn’t have been the same if she had gone off to get the starter by herself, only to have her miss the pass for the record. She’s a big part of going racing again, and will be there when we achieve the goal.” Diggles’ attitude is refreshing in a sport where racers can be prone to spitting the dummy if things don’t go their way. He instead chooses to ride the waves and knows that eventually he will catch a break. “It’s interesting to see IHRA have now changed how you can set records, with two qualifiers being enough to reset it. Where was
that decision four weeks ago? I missed it by that much! “House renovations are receiving more of a priority since the Winters, as well as commencing the building of a small radial car for the Radial Rumble class at the Kenda Tires 660 Radial Series. “The altered is ready to run of course, and I might get out to defend my Middle Eliminator B nostalgia win from last year. After that, a transbrake will be installed to try and climb up these 33 inch rubber mountains that are on the rear, in the hope that I can get to a QDRC round before the year is through. The strip record may fall before this year, and I hope that the New Year’s events at Willowbank will allow the national mark to be finally mine!” Once he has accomplished his goal, Diggles will get his haircut and reset the car for a new record. “The motor is to be retired after the record is set. The car will be back at ET for the fitment of an aspirated Barra engine to try B/ MA.” Diggles’ account of his endeavours to reset the national record resonate with the hot-rodding origins of drag racing. If you think the golden days are over, maybe you just aren’t looking in the right places. DNM
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POWER Port Pirieâ€™s Simon Richards brings Pro Mod punch to Supercharged Outlaws. By Luke Nieuwhof. Photos by Hayley Turns.
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Simon Richards remembers his first experience of drag racing vividly. He was a 12-year-old boy who was into motocross and was competing at a junior state title round in Adelaide. The dirt and jumps were the main focus of the day, but once racing was complete he and the family went to Adelaide International Raceway for a look. The Nitro Funny Cars were in town and Sydney invader Graeme Cowin was taking on the local hero Geoff Pratt. Richards made it to the fence only in time to see the Funny Cars backing up from their burnouts, he’d just missed their burnouts, but now they were cackling away ready for their runs. “We stood right at the start line as they staged,” Richards recalled. “At Adelaide International Raceway you are just three metres from the track and one metre above, looking right down on top of the cars. “They both staged, then boom! They disappeared down the track and it sat me on my ass as I tried to run away. I will never forget that moment, I was hooked.” Motocross remained Richards’ priority and he raced dirt bikes from age six to 25 with much success, earning a national title and four state titles.
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When he left school, Richards eventually crossed paths with more drag racers. He worked in a spare parts business and there he met Colin Will, one of the original members of the Wild Bunch – the precursor to Top Doorslammers. Will was an extremely popular racer in Adelaide and Richards revelled in the personal access. “I delivered parts to Colin for his automotive repair business, and I always wanted to talk about racing and his cars, but I never had the funds to buy or build anything,” Richards said. “So I had to settle for a trip to Adelaide every month for a race meet.” Life progressed and Richards began working at the family business, a heavy mechanical fleet repair workshop based out of Port Pirie, about two-and-a-half hours along the Spencer Gulf. He was able to move a step closer to his dreams of quarter mile glory with the purchase of a Holden HT Monaro. “I always wanted a HT Monaro after their early Bathurst years, they’re just cool,” he said. “I acquired one and built a fairly stout 355 Chev and T350 transmission behind it and went racing.
Simon Richards (right) found this beautiful Camaro Pro Mod for sale in Florida and decided it was going to be the best option for his drag racing future.
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CLOCKWISE FROM MAIN IMAGE: A 540ci Chev is doing the hard work up front. Sleek Pro Mod dimensions allow the car to cut through the air. A 14/71 Littlefield supercharger adds boost to the equation. Richards is keen to box-on with his Supercharged Outlaws rivals.
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“The first run was everywhere! I headed for the fence, missed gear changes, it was terrible. By the end of the day we had a 10.4/129mph under my belt, and at the end of my run I was punching the air and woo-hooing. Unfortunately, with no cage, that was also the last time we raced it, and it was time to go faster and be safer.” With the street Monaro no longer an option, Richards began work on a full chassis version. He purchased one with a half cage and some good parts. In the meantime, some searching on the internet uncovered a Pro Mod Camaro for sale in Florida, and with the Australian dollar fighting fit, Richards made the decision to bring the car to Australia. “Once the Camaro arrived we completely stripped it and checked it over. We looked at the welds and structure, the fittings and safety, and replaced all the hard wearing parts. We repaired a few battle scars, repainted it and put it back together. “The owner in Florida was a tall guy, so I fit in perfectly. It was
set up for a Hemi and Lencodrive, so we had to make some new engine plates and mid plates for our combo.” That combo would be a 540ci Chev using a CN billet block, Brodix/Sonnys cylinder heads, a Hogan’s sheetmetal intake, Bryant billet Pro Mod crank, BME rods, JE blower pistons, T&D rockers, Victory 1 titanium valves, LSM blower cam and a 14/71 Littlefield high helix blower spun to 20% overdrive. There’s 11.5 to 1 compression, an MSD Pro Mag 20 lighting the whole deal and a Lencodrive three speed with Neal Chance all billet convertor. Richards had been inspired by his heroes on the track but now it was time to emulate them by taking his Camaro for its first runs. “This was the first blown car I have driven and it has taken some time to get my head around, and to be confident in the car,” he said. “I had no idea what it would do. Would it go straight, would I keep on it, what about pulling the chutes? I didn’t even know if it would turn off at the end.
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“After a very short burnout I backed up, came into stage and hit the throttle. It immediately pulled my foot off the throttle, then I was back on, then off and back on again. By then I was in top gear at 2.5 seconds into the run, it must have looked ridiculous from a spectator’s point of view! “Now with more runs I am confident in the car. I think back to my grass roots of motocross, to focus and get myself in a zone and go through everything in rhythm on the run. The car is easy to drive and goes straight, it doesn’t move around a lot and the hardest thing is seeing the shift light.
“I have a very good crew, which I think is paramount. All of them have mechanical backgrounds and they are all on the same page when we get back to the pits.” Richards has enjoyed the ride so far, though he is already getting keen to step up his performances. “The current tune and timing is very soft, running only 21 degrees of timing and very fat,” he said. “We have some new parts including a 44 amp Pro Mag and new gearing to be fitted, then we will pull some fuel and give it some timing and see what it will do.
“It has taken some time to get used to the scream of the engine.” “It has taken some time to get used to the scream of the engine and the revs when changing gears. Most of the runs so far have been short shifted, but I will get that sorted.” With just three events under his belt since licensing, Richards has been as quick as 4.54/154mph on the eighth mile and 7.15/179mph on the full quarter. “We have only had two runs in the quarter at Swan Hill, including me getting my quarter mile licence. The 7.15 had two pedals and pushed a head gasket out just past the 1000 foot mark, so it has a lot more in it yet. I know everybody says that!” The maintenance demands of a seven second race car are predictably higher than a street-driven Monaro, but Richards said he and his team have come to grips well. “Maintenance between rounds is quite easy. We have a very strong valve train, but we always check it between runs. Other than that it’s the usual stuff of topping up fuel, hooking up transmission coolers, checking all the nuts and bolts and packing the chutes.
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“If you see us breakout with a personal best at a meet, I guarantee you my guys will be partying on the start line and not be disappointed.” The team plan on doing much travel in the coming season, including heading to the Red Centre Nats for the ‘Heavy Hitters’ meet at Alice Springs, and travelling to all the Victorian regional tracks. They are then planning on heading further afield to Perth Motorplex, Willowbank Raceway and Sydney Dragway in the following season. Richards is proud of his Camaro and looking forward to what is to come. And believe it or not, it’s all about relaxation. “At the end of the day’s work, I will always spend a little time in the race shed checking things, sitting in it, wiping dust off the roll cage, or just having a beer and looking at it. It’s a wind-down from my working day. “My attitude is the same with life, business and motorsport. Nothing comes easy, dreams are possible, and never give up.” DNM
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The only fresh champion in the 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series was an unexpected contender ready to take advantage of a rare opportunity. By Luke Nieuwhof. Photos by Joe Maday, John Bosher and cacklingpipes.com.
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Mathematical. That was Ryan Learmonth’s only chance of a 400 Thunder Pro Bike title heading into the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway. Western Australia’s Learmonth was 59 points behind Victorian Glenn Wooster going into the championship finale, and Learmonth thought the championship was a foregone conclusion. His Wiseguy Racing team only had intentions of trying to win the event and running their first six second pass. The likelihood of Learmonth carrying out the championship trophy was low when the event started, but the inclement weather shook up the odds in a big way, and after the first (and only) qualifying session the fight was on. The conditions were tricky and all of the Pro Bike teams came into the qualifying session blind. “We could see the weather was coming in, and we guessed it would be one shot to make the field,” Learmonth said. “Our bike spun the tyre and I was short shifting all the way down the track. I started out in the right hand side of the groove and ended up way over in the left hand side. We only went 7.55 but I was still really happy in the braking area because we had a full run and we were in the field.” Ironically, Learmonth was opposite Wooster for the qualifying run, and as the pair pulled up at the end of the return road, Learmonth asked his points rival how his run was. “I asked Glenn, ‘How did you go?’ and he said he spun up like crazy. He almost changed lanes.” Wooster had recorded just a 9.04 and sat in number nine spot after the session, outside the eight-bike field. Learmonth, qualified sixth, had received a highly unexpected boost to the small championship aspirations he had. “We got back to the pits and Luke (Crowley) told me they had called off the rest of the day, and we realised Glenn would not be in the field. Matt Cavanagh (from the 400 Thunder TV crew) pulled up and told us what the points situation was and what we had to do to get the
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championship. We had to get to the final to beat Glenn.” The mood was upbeat in the pit area, yet Learmonth remained cautious. After chunking a rear slick at Sydney’s Nitro Thunder event, the team had a fresh slick on the bike which wasn’t yet in the zone of ideal traction. “We were on a brand new tyre for the Winternationals and it needed to be scrubbed in. We didn’t know if it was going to get down the track at all to start with.” As the rain fell down on Willowbank Raceway, Learmonth went back to his hotel to think about the possibilities. His daughter Alyssa was sick and as he stayed awake to look after her, the championship kept crossing his mind. “I only got about an hour of sleep. The more I was awake the more I was thinking about it.” Returning to the track for Sunday’s eliminations under brighter skies, Learmonth was due for a match against former champion Maurice Allen. “Maurice had lane choice and he took the right lane, which we were happy with as we preferred the left. We left our bike soft because we knew the tyre was still no good, and we had everything backed down.” Learmonth was given yet another stroke of luck however as Allen red lit away his chances. “I saw Maurice’s red. My bike still spun like crazy to 60 feet but I went 7.25. The track just didn’t seem as good as we thought it would be and we didn’t know if our tyre was going to come around.” The semi finals beckoned, where Learmonth could take out the championship if he defeated opponent Scott White. White has only recently returned to the Pro Bike fray, but had plenty of potential up his sleeve. Meanwhile, Learmonth patched up a series of problems on his Suzuki. “My vac pump kept melting the earth wire and turning off halfway through the run, and we had a lot of little issues from the tyre shake, like it snapped a bit of the chain guard off.” With his problems addressed, all that was left for Learmonth to do was to shoot for the win light.
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“I said to the guys we had to go after this one, so we basically put it back to the set up where it went 7.07 in Sydney. I knew it was the championship race and I didn’t want to red light so I pulled a bad light, but it went 7.13 and we won the championship. “That was a pretty cool moment, and pretty emotional. Going to Willowbank I didn’t even have that in mind. Everyone kept asking if I could do it, but it was only a mathematical chance.” Learmonth had just secured an unexpected honour in winning the championship, but his two original goals of winning the event and running a six remained. With quasi-team mate Luke Crowley bowing out in the semis to the USA’s Katie Sullivan, Learmonth asked for Australia’s first six second Pro Bike rider to provide some input ahead of the final round. “I grabbed Luke and said, ‘Let’s tune it up for the final’. Katie had just run 6.96 in the semi final so we knew we needed something in the sixes or at least a 7.0 to stand a chance. The bike was set for kill.” Learmonth had a chance to fulfil ‘the double’ by earning both gold Christmas trees on offer at the event, but it wasn’t to be. “As I was creeping into stage I noticed my foot was sliding, as there had been some water on the track from the Top Fuel burnouts in the race before. Then I was trying to get it on to the foot peg where I was comfortable but it was like I just kept finding the edge of the peg. Katie was in stage and I knew I had seven seconds, but
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I crept in with my foot not where it should have been. It took off like a rocket, then in second gear my foot slipped off the peg and I punched the shift button twice, so it went straight to third gear. “We still went 7.18, and we did a 1.10 60 footer which was the quickest I have ever been. The 7.07 run was like a 1.14 to 60, so what we did on the tune up was right. “I was really happy for Katie to win, it was cool for her to come all the way and win the event. I was a little bit disappointed in myself because I stuffed it up for my team, and we might have had a six. But everyone said not to worry, as it was still making progress.” Learmonth’s season has been impressive. Despite missing the opening round of the season in Sydney, he took two wins straight at Willowbank’s New Year’s Thunder and Sydney’s Nitro Thunder. “Every meeting we have run PBs and we have ticked goals with every pass,” he said. Pro Bike has enjoyed a resurgence of performances in the last few months, most noticeably with Luke Crowley’s 6.90 pass in May, while Katie Sullivan’s appearance at the Winternationals also provided a boost in fan attention. As we covered in our last magazine, Crowley and several other racers, including Learmonth, White and Daniel Rabnott, have allied themselves to share resources and data. Crowley and Learmonth first discussed the idea in 2017, when they were both on a trip in the USA. “Luke is a fast racer, he knows his stuff and he has a lot of experience,” Learmonth said. “He is helping me with some little
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Clean runs were hard to come by at the Winternationals, but Ryan Learmonth made enough count. The season wasn’t always so happy, with an excursion into the sand at Sydney Dragway. The Wiseguy Racing team celebrates on the start line of Willowbank Raceway.
things that I wasn’t aware of, such as being able to work on the data once we got to a good run. We both learn different things that we can apply to our bikes. “When we first spoke about teaming up it was to try and run some 6.9s and get the class looking fast so people took notice. I couldn’t be happier; the camaraderie between us has been awesome. I remember Pro Bike back a few years ago and it was every man for himself and closed doors in the pits. “Luke loves Pro Bike and he wants it to be recognised by the fans, the commentators, the media and the car guys. Everyone knows he is fast and to see him go 6.90 was amazing. That was the highlight of the season for us, besides our own championship.” Learmonth’s victories were helped by some extra horsepower thanks to a new Rhett Lougheed-built bottom end. The capacity was taken up to 1872cc from 1640cc, which the team felt would be a better strategy given they have a heavier bike and rider than most of the field. The Lougheed motor was teamed up with their existing Star Racing/Monster Race Products cylinder head. Combined with a fuel change to VP PSX+ there was plenty of performance on offer as the team got the bike fine tuned. “We changed our gearing a lot this season; we had gearing that was too aggressive before and we were spinning the tyre a lot. We made a huge change for the Willowbank New Year’s Thunder meeting in January. We dropped five teeth off the rear sprocket to make a huge change to see what it would do. It wasn’t quite right so
we came back up to meet in the middle and everything started to come together from there. My rear wheel is only a 15 inch rear wheel, whereas most people use a 16 inch, so that is something we are looking to change next season.” Learmonth is currently on the lookout for a major sponsor for the team to try and take them to all the 400 Thunder rounds next season. Right now the plan for Wiseguy Racing is to do some early season testing in Perth in the hopes of securing a sponsor before the opening round of the 400 Thunder Pro Bike Championship in Sydney in November, but if that doesn’t happen they will be content with contesting the Nitro Thunder and Winternationals double at the season’s end. One x-factor for not just Learmonth, but all of the naturally aspirated pro teams in the country, is the switch to unleaded fuel. Learmonth would rather be sure they have a competitive package first than taking too many risks early in the change. “None of us really know what is going to happen with unleaded. We do know from talking to Pro Stock car guys that they are talking about a 5% loss in horsepower on their engines. That might be a smaller difference in our engines. It might just take us a little longer to get the tune right. “We will be testing in October at Perth Motorplex and by hitting those two days hopefully we can get it working.” DNM
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DOUBLE UP The Tuckers continue to ramp up their USA racing operation, with a new Camaro added to the fleet. By Bruce Biegler. Photos by Bruce Biegler. 42 | DRAG NEWS MAGAZINE
Shane Tucker could be joined by father Rob in NHRA competition later this year, following the team’s acquisition of a new car. Multi-car teams are nothing new to the formerly Queensland-based family, who once competed with three cars at the same event, but to accomplish the goal in NHRA Pro Stock would be a significant achievement. Shane Tucker’s new Pro Stock Camaro was unveiled at NHRA’s Norwalk event, a ride purchased from Drew Skillman. The team now has two Pro Stock Camaros, a fact that may very well open a door of opportunity for non-other then team patriarch Rob Tucker (pictured, above left). “Our plan was to begin running the second (blue) car with Jessie Ross (chief operating officer for Auzmet Architectural) driving it,” Rob said. “But that probably won’t begin until after the Charlotte race in September — because we wanted to keep Jessie’s name as a candidate for NHRA Rookie of the Year in 2020. That means he can’t run more than four events max this season to keep that valid. “So right now that car has become available — and I’m kicking around the idea of jumping in it and racing it myself at the NHRA Chevrolet Performance US Nationals. Doing that (racing at Indy) is something I’ve always dreamed about doing. We are throwing the idea on the wall and we’ll see if it sticks.” Rob did confirm that the blue Camaro is available if someone else wanted to lease it to race at Indy and should that happen, that would be his team’s priority. But in the meantime he is drawing up some plans to renew his licence, just in case. “I’ve run the Pro Stock class back in Australia — and was series champion in 1998,” he said. “I did a handful of races since — I was in one of three Pro Stock cars our team raced at the 2012 Winternationals at Willowbank.” In order to get his licence re-stamped by NHRA, Rob would need to make the necessary handful of laps for that process and right now that is a consideration for the Monday after the conclusion of the Lucas Oil Nationals at Brainerd International Raceway in Minnesota in August. “I would do some testing to get re-accustomed and move forward from there.” Rob, Shane and Jessie are all native Australians from the Gold Coast — but are also now permanent residents of the USA, with their racing operation based in North Carolina. Shane and Jessie live and work in Dallas. The new car didn’t rotate the Earth on debut, with the team struggling to find the right balance. Shane (pictured, above right) said a difference in weight distribution hampered initial efforts. “We got the car from Drew Skillman, but we put our motor under the hood and there was a considerable weight difference,” he explained. “Our motor is heavier and we had to work all weekend to deal with the weigh transfer. That one element is so important on these race cars.” The highlight of the event for Tucker and his Auzmet/StructGlass team was being recognised by the NHRA as the Best Appearing Car for the event. The new look Camaro was an original design by Tucker and has drawn rave reviews from NHRA officials and fans alike. “I have designed a lot of my race cars and I am really proud of this design,” he said. “I get a lot of inspiration from a lot of different places. I am a big fan of F1 and how clean their race cars look. I wanted to tie that look and colour into our Auzmet corporate colours. We work with a lot of different materials and we want to keep everything looking fresh.” DNM
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Donâ€™t make any Ikea jokes this is one fast Swede. By Luke Nieuwhof.
For sheer drag racing div ersity, it is hard to beat Competition Eliminator – and that goe s for anywhere in the world . While we mostly cover Au stralian racers in Drag Ne ws Magazine, a 500ci Pro Stock-powered front engine dragster cau ght my eye at the Gatornationals ear lier this year. It reminded me of Kyle Putland’s similarly-cubed altered from Perth, a car we featured in our very first issue, but wit h a more international flai r. Stig Olsson hails from Str omstad, Sweden, a small town on the west coast of the country bordering the Atlantic Oc ean . Stromstad might not be recognised as the horsepower capital of Europe, but Olsson attended his first drag race in 1976 and wa s instantly infected by a love for the sport. “I bought my first dragst er later that year,” he said . Joining forces with his brother, Olsson fou nd $2000 to buy a race-r eady rail and the siblings shared the sea t. “In true democratic spi rit we switched
driver every second race, which of course was no t particularly successful.” A third driver did however prove to be a race winner. “In 1978 we put my wif e Bente in the car and she had instant success and won her first race, which was also the firs t drag racing event ever in Norway.” Olsson crew chiefed on som e other cars and gained exp erience in Powerglide transmissions, which would later prove val uable to both his racing and his career. A second family effort saw the team purchase an ex-To p Fuel front engine dragster chassis, wh ere they initially inserted a 331ci Chevy. Seeking more horsepower, Olsson made his first con tact with Neil & Parks Racing, a Kansas-b ased workshop. “I can say that (contactin g them) was one of my sm arter moves,” he said. “Frank and Sco tt Parks have built me som e good cars
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and I can’t thank them enough for all the help and support they have given us through the years - they are a big part of our racing success.” Olsson went on to order a complete chassis from Neil & Parks in 1989, to go with a Nickens engine. “With this car we raced at Las Vegas, Phoenix and Pomona before we shipped it to Sweden,” he said. “This trip gave wonderful memories. But in 1992 we decided to quit racing - all of us had kids and our families deserved more of our time.” Crewing with a Pro Stock team part time allowed Olsson to stay in touch with the sport temporarily, but even then he was missing out on spending time with his family and so he decided to go ‘cold
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turkey’ for ten years. He even changed his business to something less intensive. “My brother and I discontinued our speed shop and I started a bicycle shop that became very successful.” Fast-forward to 2003, and Olsson began to attend races once again, first as a spectator but then getting back to turning the spanners on a team. It wasn’t long before the itch to race had to be scratched. “In 2006 I decided to go back to racing, and because all of my race cars have been dragsters the choice of car wasn’t difficult. “I bought a front engine dragster chassis from Neil & Parks. This was their personal car that Scott (Parks) drove and it became the most tricky sportsman dragster ever in Europe.”
CLOCKWISE FROM LEFT: Stig Olsson’s ‘Living The Dream US Race Tour’ has seen him make a number of journeys from his native Sweden to drag strips of the USA. From this angle the dragster looks all motor, and it pretty much is, with 500ci of ex-Pro Stock horsepower on tap. The hefty combination has so far pushed the rail to a best of 6.47 at 210mph - and it’s a national record holder in the A/DA class.
Olsson campaigned his new rail for 11 years, using a bunch of different engines, from an ex-Pro Stock 358ci to the big block 500ci Pro Stock motors. He laid claim to the European Competition Eliminator records in A, B and C/Dragster and earned the European Comp championship. Before Olsson started his bicycle shop, he had a side hustle building Powerglide transmissions. What started as a few racers coming to ask for help turned into StigO Transmissions, which Olsson figured could make a contribution to his racing budget, even though he planned on retiring. “Thanks to the Powerglide business I came into contact with Brandon Barrentine at BTE Racing, and a few years ago I him told about my dream to drive in the United States. He stepped up big, he helped me a lot and pushed me when I was in doubt.” Olsson decided to create his self-titled ‘Living The Dream US Race Tour’, which would start with a brand new car, another Neil & Parks FED. “The old car was a bull-ride to drive with the aggressive Pro Stock engines I use. I wanted to
do some changes on the balance in the car and after a discussion with Neil & Parks they built us this piece of art.” While the front engine configuration is associated with the drag racing past, Olsson said the chassis is a modern as you can get, with carbon brakes, ceramic bearings, dAMBEST fuel system, MSD Grid ignition and a Racepak data logger. The dragster uses a 500 cubic inch Gray Motorsport Pro Stock engine, hooked up to a Powerglide two-speed. As a transmission specialist, Olsson was able to give the gearbox ‘all the tricks in the book’. The combination has so far produced a best of 6.47 seconds for the quarter mile at 210mph, recorded earlier this year at the Gatornationals. “We plan to have the car in the USA for at least a year, and fly over four or five times to race,” Olsson said. “The first trip was no racing success, with some new car blues and some driver error stopping that. We could have made it easier for ourselves, a hot Pro Stock engine in a front engine dragster is no easy task. But why do it the easy way when you can do it the fun way?” DNM
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Weather and timing system gremlins pester what remains Australiaâ€™s biggest and best drag racing event - the Winternationals.
By Luke Nieuwhof. Photos by cacklingpipes.com, Joe Maday and John Bosher.
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The 52nd running of the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals brought an end to the 2018/19 400 Thunder season in its usual spectacular fashion, though the ever-more-regular dance with the weather played a large part in how the event played out. There was a period in time where the Winternationals seemed unrainoutable (a new word we just made up), but in recent years it has been harder and harder to get three days of clear weather at Willowbank Raceway. The wet stuff interrupted both Friday and Saturday’s racing, while the effects on the track lingered into Sunday. In many ways, the 2019 version of the Winternationals felt like the event that could have been. It had a lot of the components to be great, but the wheels seemed to fall off at inopportune times. The most frustrating example of this for Willowbank Raceway was with the timing system, which was experiencing frequent lock-ups and eventually required a complete halt of the first round of pro eliminations to fix. The embarrassing situation did not reflect well on the sport, but it was one of those things out of anyone’s control. Thursday’s opening day was perhaps the smoothest of the lot, with near ideal conditions for racers. Nowhere more was this seen than in the Super Stock class, with six teams running underneath their national records in the day’s single qualifying session. Jason Payne’s turbocharged Nissan Skyline scorched to a 7.188, over a tenth of a second underneath the 7.30 national record for the DD/APIA class. But he was hotly trailed by Steve Sloan (-0.086 in CC/OM), Clint George (-0.062 in B/APA), Omar Sedmak (-0.056 in A/ APA), Jason Simpson (-0.033 in G/GA) and Craig Urquhart (-0.015 in B/GA) in an epic session. The remainder of the official 400 Thunder sportsman championship classes delivered some seriously quick runs also, with many racers taking advantage of Mother Nature’s kindness. In Competition, Tony Bellert went two hundredths of a second underneath the national record in his A/DA-classed dragster with a 6.770 run, keeping Gulf Western Oil Nitro Thunder runner up Rolinia Tremayne in second place with her 7.078, only just off her recently set 6.99 B/DA national record. Craig Edwards was doing double duty in Competition Bike and Extreme Bike, with the former treating him well as he ran a 7.258 aboard his CC/CBI for the early lead, almost two tenths of a second underneath the 7.44 national record in a crushing pass. Supercharged Outlaws initially looked like it was going Peter Gratz’s way with a 6.291 pass, but a disqualification for leaving the parachute pins in during the burnout saw Matthew McKnight’s 6.357 instead elevated to the number one sport. Queensland’s Simon Isherwood took the lead in the massive Top Sportsman field following a 7.013, but had Darren Saliba hot on his heels with a 7.089. Jess Turner’s tow up from Victoria was rewarded with a 6.889 to give her Thursday’s number one in Modified, while Patrick Barron’s 8.530 commanded Super Sedan. Michael Beaton hot footed to an 8.308 in Modified Bike, with Super Street’s early honours resting with Brett Ogden on a 10.055 after two qualifying sessions. Vince Panetta went 9.911 in the pursuit of the Super Gas 9.90 index and Ricki-Lee Dransfield set up a tough early pass in Junior Dragster with her 8.009. The quickest run of the day overall was carded by New South Wales’ Greg Tsakiridis, whose 5.678 at 255.53mph (411.22kph) took the early lead in the Pro Extreme class. The diversity of the category was on show with Collin Willshire’s four cylinder Mitsubishi Eclipse hitting a 6.341, while Archie Kajewski’s screaming rotary-powered Mazda 6 got down the strip in 6.438 seconds. The eighth-mile exploits of Pro Radial saw James Horan guide his wild mini truck to a pedalling 4.424/169.15mph for the early number one position, while Shaun Soboll put his hand up in Extreme Bike following a 7.337 second run on his Suzuki Hayabusa. After glorious conditions to open the event, the second day was cut short by weather as rain and then cold brought an early halt to proceedings. The hard working team of officials at Willowbank Raceway worked diligently to dry the track after showers but with the track temperatures dropping to levels that would be unsafe for high horsepower vehicles, the decision was made to cancel the pro qualifying sessions that had been scheduled. While pro qualifying did not make it on track, fans were treated to a fun match race between Supercars driver Chaz Mostert in his Ford Mustang and drag racing legend Ben Bray, driving his turbocharged Toyota Solara drag car. Bray’s run was off his usual six second pace but he still left Mostert in his rear view mirror in what was an interesting comparison to demonstrate the acceleration differences between the two cars. Sportsman qualifying wrapped up with several drivers making late charges to the top. Supercharged Outlaws driver Gratz redeemed himself, returning for an even better 6.221 at 230mph in his Hemi Cuda. It was a new personal best for the Queenslander, who once held the world record for the fastest supercharged sedan pass in the world.
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CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Jason Payne’s Nissan Skyline cut through the toughest Super Stock field of the season, as well as setting a new national record. Greg Tsakaridis top qualified in Pro Extreme and took out the event. Peter Gratz’ Cuda gets a little wild in the braking area after a six second pass. Greg Ward’s altered is a gorgeous addition to Supercharged Outlaws.
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CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: Steven Ham was one of the few Pro Slammer competitors to really get a hold on the track. Tony Marsh showed the crowd what an A/Fuel dragster is like, with a 5.47/269mph run. Chaz Mostert match raced Ben Bray. Ricki-Lee Dransfield top qualified and won in Junior Dragster. Luke Crowley makes a young fan’s day in the Pro Bike pits.
Jason Ellem stepped up in the Extreme Bike class, knocking out a 7.105 run as the contenders edged closer to the six second zone. Peter Anastasopoulos took his Ford Mustang to a blazing 6.893 in Top Sportsman to take over the number one position, while Turner slightly extended her lead in Modified with an improved 6.883. David McDonnell went extremely close to the perfect 9.900 pass in Super Gas, going 9.901. Otherwise, the Friday leaders kept their positions and times at the top. While Barry Plumpton was unable to best Greg Tsakiridis’ time in Pro Extreme qualifying, the New Zealand driver made an
impression on Willowbank Raceway fans with a 5.886 from his Camaro, the quickest run by a nitrous vehicle ever at the venue. A single qualifying session for the professional categories decided who would compete on race day, which also resulted in several categories having their championships decided. Western Australia’s Damien Harris unleashed arguably the run of the day, with a 3.778 from the Rapisarda Autosport International driver qualifying number one in Top Fuel. The pass was only one thousandth of a second off the quickest Top Fuel run ever in Australia, a mark Harris set himself at last year’s Winternationals.
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“It was good to come back after the weather and run that number off the trailer,” he said following the run. The seeding for Top Fuel delivered a nearly perfect scenario for championship anoraks. Sydney’s Wayne Newby held the lead in the points chase, but was on the opposite side of the ladder to his primary rival Kelly Bettes, setting up a final round showdown. But dark horse Ashley Sanford, who sat third in the series, could also take the championship if Newby was to go out in the first round and Queensland’s Bettes went out in the semi finals – with the Californian Sanford possibly meeting reigning champion Bettes in that round of the bracket. Sanford’s 3.852 run was the only other ‘full pull’ of the session, though she got close to the centre line towards the 1000 feet beams. Bettes looked good early but got out of the groove and spun the tyres, while Peter Xiberras endured some serious tyre shake. Terry Sainty was shut off on the start line with a leaking fuel fitting. Pro Slammer saw a wild qualifying session as racers tried to navigate their 3000 horsepower machines down track for a single shot at making the field. Queensland’s Steven Ham found his way with a 5.701 run taking top position, followed by privateer Geoff Gradden’s personal best 5.77. Facing a cool track and one chance to get it right, Ham said the team had his Camaro set up to make it A to B. “It was a little loose out there so we just needed to ease it down the track,” he said. “It was a little bit sketchy at the top end (of the run) and I had the parachutes out early.” Also impressing were Geoff Gradden and Scott MacLean. They were the first pair out for the session and set expectations high with a 5.77 and a 5.78 respectively. Paul Mouhayet slowed after backfiring shortly before the finish line as championship rival John Zappia spun the tyres almost at the hit and had to recover quickly to ensure he made the field. Mark Hinchelwood went for a wild ride, going on two wheels over the centre line shortly after launching. The Pro Slammer championship was
FROM TOP: The Aaron Tremayne era continued unabated in Pro Stock. Justin Walshe rode his luck to a Pro Alcohol runner up. Katie Sullivan ran Australia’s second Pro Bike six on her Force Wear Group Suzuki. Peter Xiberras had a disappointing event and was unable to get reverse after his first round burnout.
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decided earlier than expected, with Mouhayet’s fourth qualifying position giving him enough points to keep Zappia at bay on race day. Mouhayet’s lead was extended to 71 points while the maximum Zappia could take over him on race day would be 70 points. Pro Alcohol veteran Gary Phillips used his experience to come out on top of the category, a 5.408 second time almost a half a second ahead of the rest of the field, who struggled to find the right set up. With championship rival Steve Reed missing the field, Phillips was able to add yet another 400 Thunder Championship to his mantelpiece. Queenslander Phillips said the team had to search longer than usual to find a tune that would match the conditions faced by teams at Willowbank Raceway yesterday, but it paid off in the end. “The main thing was to get that first run in,” he said. “The car was getting on down there and I short shifted, but we were happy. We didn’t leave too much on the table for that one.” Justin Walshe’s 5.860 in his altered might have been much quicker, if the car hadn’t backfired just after half track. In fact, Walshe was only seven hundredths slower than Phillips to half track, with all signs pointing to a 5.5 second run - which would have beaten Mark Sheehan’s long standing 5.649 mark for the quickest altered in Australia. Chris Hargrave also had engine problems and planned to have his spare motor in for race day. The field was bumped by Victorian Cameron Ambesi’s dragster. Top Bike’s only qualifying session proved a difficult affair with no rider making it down track cleanly. Queensland’s Chris Matheson led the field with a 7.494 second pass, way off the true potential of his motorcycle. “We were too greedy,” he admitted afterwards. “We’re just going to have to soften him up.” Jay Upton managed just an 8.952 after spinning the tyre, while the bracket’s only other pair - Gavin Spann and Les Holden - had a timing issue which resulted in no time for either rider. The 400 Thunder Pro Stock Championship was decided when Victoria’s Chris Soldatos failed to qualify into the field, as championship rival Aaron Tremayne top qualified with a 6.985 pass. The title marked the eighth time the Queenslander has won a national championship in Pro Stock. Pro Stock saw the most full runs of any pro bracket and ended up with a relatively
tight field, with the top three separated by just three thousandths of a second. Nino Cavallo held the bump spot with a 7.132. Hopes were high for another six second run in Pro Bike, with Queenslander Luke Crowley’s 7.100 clocking the closest after qualifying. While much attention had been on performance in the class, the championship scenario became radically more interesting after qualifying as Victoria’s Glenn Wooster missed the field, which opened up the door for Western Australia’s Ryan Learmonth. Eliminations got underway for the 400 Thunder sportsman categories late on Saturday, however most brackets only completed one round before more rain began to fall. Sunday thankfully dawned bright and clear and the early priority for the race track was to complete pro eliminations. Wayne Newby clinched his second 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship in a winner-takes-all final against defending champion Kelly Bettes. Both drivers had recorded strong performances earlier in the event, but the final saw each car overpower the track as the drivers fought to regain control. Newby’s time of just 5.608 seconds proved enough in the end to get by a struggling 10.210 from Kelly Bettes (read more about Newby’s championship win on page 10). Newby’s team mate Damien Harris also made headlines, setting a new national record with a pass of 3.774 seconds in the first round. “I think we were going for a little bit more but that was a great way to start the day,” Harris said. Meanwhile, championship third place sitter Ashley Sanford was upset in the same round by a stunning 4.02 from Terry Sainty, complete with one of the best wheelstands seen from a fuel car in years. A disappointed Sanford, who had her parents and grandparents over from the USA to watch, said she had an issue with her helmet that hampered her ability to steer the car. “The second I hit the throttle my helmet went forward, I was driving one handed trying to keep my helmet up,” she said. “I really wanted this win today and it just sucks something so weird had to happen.” Unfortunately Sainty was unable to return for the semis, which gave Bettes a second solo for the day. Earlier Bettes had been due to face Peter Xiberras but he was unable to get reverse after his burnout. Queensland’s Gary Phillips was another to celebrate dual wins, earning his 20th Pro Alcohol championship and yet another
Gulf Western Oil Winternationals victory. Like the Top Fuel final, Pro Alcohol proved to be a survival of the fittest contest as Phillips used a lacklustre 8.228 to take the win from Justin Walshe, who was nursing a damaged motor. “We race ourselves just as much as anyone else and that in itself is an incentive to try and be better,” he said. “I will have been racing for 50 years next year and the mechanical side of it is what keeps me driven, that attention to detail. This is (Pro Alcohol championship) number 20 and it has been tough all season.” Pro Slammer’s championship winner Paul Mouhayet and his rival John Zappia bowed out in earlier rounds, leaving top qualifier Steven Ham and third seed Scott MacLean to battle for the trophy. Ham’s 5.720 took the win as MacLean was left stranded by a broken blower pulley, rolling through for a 6.272. “We needed to repeat from yesterday,” Ham said. “A to B and going rounds was the plan. Today we just repeated, repeated, repeated.” MacLean was far from disappointed, relieved to finally get some results he had long been chasing. “I’m stoked, really happy. The hard work is starting to pay off and it just feels great,” he said. “There was a star line up today (of teams), but we went one at a time. I couldn’t be happier to be beaten by Steve, he deserves it.” Meanwhile Mouhayet was able to celebrate his second straight championship and said the team was planning on a third. “It was a big season for us and it didn’t run smoothly, but I am still learning how to tune a blower car,” he said. “We’re going to try and three-peat next year. We worked hard this season and did it ourselves.” Brian Pursell earned his second Pro Stock victory in one of the feel good stories of the event. The North Queensland driver used a stunning 6.986 personal best in the final to defeat Tyronne Tremayne’s quicker 6.985. Pursell’s 0.057 reaction time to Tremayne’s 0.116 proved the difference. “This is the best feeling ever,” Pursell said. “I’ve been trying to win the Winters in any class since 1989. We worked on our clutch and rear suspension, using our data from the Winters Warm Up test days. The car was near on perfect for the conditions.” Top Bike was another category to see its title decided on the final pass, with a 7.66 from Chris Matheson defeating Jay Upton’s 8.78 and taking out the 400 Thunder Championship. Earlier, Matheson recorded the quickest pass ever on two wheels in Australia with a 6.036.
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OPPOSITE PAGE, CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: John Cannuli’s new Pro Alcohol Funny Car hit the track for the first time. David Hellyer’s Torana took out Top Sportsman. Blaze Hansen keeps an eye on Craig Edwards’ Comp Bike. Josh Fletcher made his mark in Super Street, instead of his usual Supercharged Outlaws. Chris Matheson defeated Jay Upton in a winner-takes-all Top Bike final. Stephan Gouws knocked out Kellie Kidd in the final of Modified. Dereck Brooks went all the way in Super Sedan. Kids documenting all of the action! THIS PAGE FROM TOP: Tony Bellert hikes the front end of his Comp dragster. Gary Phillips earned an amazing 20th Pro Alcohol championship. Dayne Brandon’s hornet-like Suzuki proved unbeatable in Modified Bike.
“The boys put one in it (a more aggressive tune up) on the line because we couldn’t get a reading earlier in the track, it’s a good result,” a modest Matheson said. Pro Bike saw a historic day as the USA’s Katie Sullivan became the first woman to ever win the category in Australia. Her 7.004 pass defeated Ryan Learmonth’s 7.181 and also backed up a 6.969 run in the semi finals which became a new national record. “This has been one of the best times of my life, I can’t thank everybody who has helped us get here enough,” Sullivan said. The news wasn’t all bad for Learmonth, whose third final round appearance in a row garnered him enough points to take out the Pro Bike 400 Thunder Championship. Greg Tsakiridis had several loose runs on his way to the Pro Extreme title but wrapped it up with a final round bye as Mark Jacobsen did not return for the final in his Nissan GTR. Jason Ellem took out Extreme Bike with a 7.34 pass to defeat Craig Edwards’ 8.06 and preventing what would have been a very cool double up for Edwards, who also won Comp Bike. Jason Horan won Pro Radial with a 4.51 to 5.09 victory against Andrew Lange. 400 Thunder sportsman competitors raced into the night to finalise their eliminations. Tony Bellert defeated Anthony Buckley in an all dragster Comp final, with a 6.89 on a 6.79 A/ DA record defeating a snoozing reaction time and 6.95 on the 6.85 A/DA mark from Buckley. Super Stock top qualifier Jason Payne drove hard through eliminations and was rewarded with the win, defeating a red lighting Fred Nicastri in the final. Payne earlier reset the DD/ APIA record with a 7.09 backing up his qualifying run of 7.18. Craig Edwards had a big advantage on most of the Competition Bike field and stormed through to win the final with a 7.29 against the 7.44 CC/CBI record, eliminating Jason Ellem. Edwards earlier ran 7.15, but the pass was not backed up, which meant his qualifying run of 7.25 would become the new record. Matthew McKnight used an impressive .028 reacted 6.38 on a 6.34 in the final of Supercharged Outlaws to defeat Graeme Frawley, who was almost dead on the dial but missed the tree with a .090. David Hellyer won in Top Sportsman, his 7.58 on a 7.56 defeating an 8.53 on an 8.50 from Brad McKie. Stephan Gouws came through for the Modified victory in a double breakout contest against Kellie Kidd. Kidd’s 7.53 on a 7.57 had the stripe but broke out by more than Gouws’ 7.14 on a 7.15. Earlier in Modified, Cory Dyson rode out a big braking area crash in his dragster. Dyson had just got the chute out when his rail hooked left and rolled several times, coming to rest against the braking area walls. Dereck Brooks was on his game in the Super Sedan final with a .017 light and a 9.25 on a 9.21 dial in to defeat Allan Grimsey. Dayne Brandon scored in Modified Bike, using a .028 reaction time and an 8.46 on an 8.42 to force opponent Laeith Skinner to a breakout. Perennial winner Josh Fletcher is normally up in lights in Supercharged Outlaws but this time he made Super Street his own, taking advantage of a red light from Shawn Taskis. Kerry Boyde went ‘dead on eight’ in Super Gas with a 9.908 getting him the win. Anthony Panetta had six hundredths on the tree but broke out by a mere two thousands with a 9.898. Ricki-Lee Dransfield top qualified in Junior Dragster and capped it off with an event victory, her 8.16 on an 8.06 dial in defeating Nicholas Polito. DNM
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A WORD ON THE WINTERS By Luke Nieuwhof.
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The 52nd Gulf Western Oils Winternationals may have copped it from a few directions this year, but this event remains vital to the health of Australian drag racing. The Winternationals has had the single most consistent branding of any event in Australian drag racing. Racers and spectators know what they are getting, and that is the single most prestigious event on the calendar. It also has a stable place on that calendar, allowing teams and spectators to plan their attendance well in advance. And make no mistake, a huge proportion of those people are travelling across state and even international lines to witness the event. The Winternationals brings everybody together in a way the rest of drag racing has failed to in recent times. Racers catch up in the tree-filled pits to exchange stories, often with friends they haven’t seen since the last Winternationals. They’ll sit around fires at night, camp in the icy-cold air and make their weekend an adventure. The Winternationals is an experience, and experiences are what make people attend events. The weather has hit the event more and more in recent years. Perhaps that is a changing climate, perhaps it’s just bad luck. But statistically, there are few better times to run an event at Willowbank Raceway, meteorologically speaking. The Willowbank Raceway team have always gone above and beyond to ensure the Winternationals has an atmosphere like no other drag racing event. Roving entertainers in the pits give the event a festival feel, as do the myriad catering options. It might be one of the most expensive events to attend in Australian drag racing but when you look at the value of the day, and the size of the crowds, I’d have to say that the price is right. The conditions in June at Willowbank Raceway are regularly ideal for drag racing, rain aside. Cool air with low humidity (well, lowish, it is Queensland after all) and the magnificent track preparation combine for a perfect opportunity to set national records. Because of its position at the end of the season, the Winternationals delivers the high stakes championship drama that fans love. Top Fuel titles decided in final rounds, qualifying battles that decide champions, it’s all part of that Winternationals experience. I’d hate to imagine Australian drag racing without the Winternationals right now. It has remained one of the few stable pillars of the sport that convinces racers to keep their investment, and to be confident that they have made the right decision. One taste of Winternationals glory can make all the time and money worth it. There’s a lot wrong in drag racing in Australia right now, but when someone does something right it should be praised. And when it comes to the Winternationals, Willowbank Raceway is definitely doing something right. DNM
BEGLEY BREAKTHROUGH Anthony Begley’s commitment to the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Car Series was finally rewarded with victory in Darwin. Photos by Craig Radcliffe. Hidden Valley Drag Strip’s Nitro Up North event underwent a transformation this year, with a switch from the 400 Thunder series and Top Fuel exhibitions to a round of the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Cars. With the opening round of the ANDRA sportsman series pushed to a separate event, Nitro Up North had a different flavour to the last few years but still enjoyed good spectator support from the Darwin locals on the hill. Anthony Begley took his first win in six years of trying as part of the series, going to the victory with a 5.69 win against daughter Emma Begley in round one, followed by a 5.72 against Andrew Katavatis and another 5.72 against Shane Olive, who blew up big time after spinning the tyres at the hit. “I thought it was never going to happen,” Begley said. “I have driven few different cars for Graeme and Wendy (Cowin) and I have had some super quick times, but never quite got it over the line. I have been drag racing for a lot of years and there is not a better deal than what we have here.” A circumspect Olive was left surprised by the carnage in ‘Red Devil’. “It was a big bang,” he said. “I haven’t had one of them before. I’d say it has dropped a valve which means catastrophic stuff happens (in the motor).” While Begley had the consistency for the win, low ET for the night went to Josh Leahy’s 5.58 in ‘The Bandit’.
CLOCKWISE FROM BELOW: This video still shows the considerable explosion from ‘Red Devil’. Anthony Begley, driving ‘LA Hooker’, was finally rewarded with a victory. The night’s podium - Justin Walshe, Anthony Begley and Morice McMillin.
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The Wild Bunch lived up to their name with some crazy driving and crowd pleasing half track burnouts. Greg Angus took the win from Mark Hunt when Hunt’s Customeline crossed the centre line. Todd Knight returned to Hidden Valley for the first time in 2019 to compete in Top Eliminator, with an untested combo due to the new fuel regulations. However this didn’t hold him back, setting a new personal best of 6.96 in the nitrousassisted Pontiac and taking the win from Dwight Brieffies. Super Modified saw Craig McGregor in his nitrous injected Holden Rodeo take the win from veteran racer Ron Heyes. Modified Bike was one of the largest brackets of the event, with Tony Clarke taking the win over Al Henry. Theo Karamanidis came out victorious in Super Street over Claude Petrilli. Street Bike was taken out by Andrew Reid over Reece Tjung and Joe White claimed the Street Car win over the ever-consistent Grant Radcliffe The hero story of the night went to Scarlet Sherwood, who after recently gaining her Junior Dragster license, won at her very first competition meeting over friend Danielle Abel. DNM
FROM TOP: WA’s Andrew Katavatis got the call up to race the newest car in the fleet, ‘King Kong’. The beautiful 1963 Corvette of Andrew Cole shakes the tyres hard in the first round of Wild Bunch. Todd Knight’s switch to unleaded fuel actually resulted in a new personal best and a Top Eliminator win.
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Drag News Magazine Issue 41 is packed to the brim, profiling the movers and shakers of Australian drag racing. In this issue, we find out wh...
Published on Aug 5, 2019
Drag News Magazine Issue 41 is packed to the brim, profiling the movers and shakers of Australian drag racing. In this issue, we find out wh...