It is a brave decision by a man to take a step away from a love – and for Maurice Fabietti the time came for him to hand over the reins to his Holden Trade Club Top Doorslammer.
Along with the likes of Zappia, Bray, Kapiris and Phillips, Fabietti has been one of the stalwarts of the pro tour since the early 2000s, always bringing well presented Holden Monaros to the track and always a threat on race day.
The New South Welshman decided to bring a close to his driving career in the brief off season of 2015, with some health issues at the Winternationals forcing his hand.
“I had some pain in my shoulder leading up to the Winternationals and by the time we drove the semi up to Queensland the pain started going down my arm,” he said. “By the first day of qualifying it had gone into my hand and my hand had gone all numb. I thought 'this is not a good thing.'”
With the ambulance close by in the Willowbank pits, Fabietti headed their way to see if they could make an assessment.
“They did my blood pressure and it was through the roof so they sent me straight to hospital where I spent most of Friday,” he said. “On Saturday I checked my blood pressure again and it was still high and I still had the pain.
“It wasn't worth racing. If something goes wrong I'm risking my life and the life of the guy in the other lane.”
It was the correct decision for Fabietti to make, albeit a tough one.
“When I flew back to Sydney I went to the doctors and they found I have got two pairs of vertebrae in my neck in that have collapsed and they are pinching a nerve which is giving me the pain - it ain't going to get better for a long time. There is the chance that more tyre shake, g-forces and crashes will only make it worse.”
Making the decision
Fabietti took pause at the time to weigh up his options. Driving a Top Doorslammer is an extreme activity even when everything goes right, let alone when things take a literal turn for the worse. He didn't want to quit the sport, so a new driver was to be the answer.
“My reaction times have started to slow down over the last couple of years, and I thought maybe it was time to hand the reins over,” he said. “I did a deal with Lucky and Mark Belleri and Mark became the new driver of the car. That freed me up for tuning, with the assistance of Lucky as another pair of eyes.”
The combination is a potent one for Top Doorslammer. Fabietti has always had pace on his side but not so much consistency. The Belleri family on the other hand have the ability to get down just about any track, but not quite the same outright performance.
Fabietti said he knew the time was right for some new blood in the seat of the Holden Monaro.
“I hadn't enjoyed driving the last couple of years, it had been getting harder to get in the car, physically and mentally. It was the opportune time to step out of the driver's seat and put someone younger and sharper in there.
“Mark is a great driver, he cuts great lights and he is sensible, so I think with Lucky and I tuning it and Mark driving we have got a good car with good parts that we need to give John (Zappia) a run for his money.”
Fabietti rated his 2014/15 season's second position championship finish as one of the highlights of his driving career along with the various round wins he has taken in the past and the great times he had in his Holden Gemini and Pontiac Transam when he raced in Comp.
“Doorslammer is a fantastic class, they are unpredictable and crazy things, they are a challenge and it is great when you can tame the beast and run a good number.
“One of the greatest highlights was after we crashed the car at Mildura (at a Slamfest event), taking it back to Murray Anderson and having him straighten it out. The very next meeting we qualified for Top Doorslammer and won the round, beating John in the final, so that was a testament to the guys and it was bloody hard getting back into that car after such a major accident. That kinda made up for all the pain we went through rebuilding the car.
“Any round of Top Doorslammer you can win you definitely earn it, these days nothing is given to you. Just in qualifying, let alone winning a round.”
Speaking of major incidents, Fabietti has had a few of those in his time. The aforementioned Mildura incident saw the car swing hard into the concrete barriers, while in Tasmania at another Slamfest he was involved in a bizarre incident when he got caught up in Tony DeFelice's parachutes. Add to that a firey blaze at Sydney Dragway and an epic save when the car broke an oil line at the stripe and Fabietti's video reel has been nothing if not spectacular.
“Incidents all come part and parcel in racing these things, they are not an easy car to drive. You are pushing the limits. I've done quite a few passes in Top Doorslammer and sooner or later your number comes up.
“The Mildura one I underestimated the track and the Tassie one was just plain bad luck when I got up in DeFelice's chutes. That's racing, that's what it's about. Every time you leave that start line there is a possibility of sh*t going wrong. It just happens.
“A simple thing like breaking an oil line, sailing on down the track, everything seems fine then at 220mph the thing does a hard left hand turn. Everyone says that was a fantastic drive, but I think it was more good luck than good management, you just do what you've got to do to survive.
“You've got to be on top of them straight away, you can't let these things take control, you need to be right on the ball as soon as the thing starts playing up.”
A bittersweet time
Fabietti acknowledged he would liked to have kept driving, but the circumstances prevented it.
“It's something I didn't take likely but sometimes you have to do these things. It's inevitable as you get older that you can't give 100% to everything. I'm better off giving 100% to tuning it. The (crew) guys are doing a great job working on the car, so now I can concentrate on tuning it.”
The concern around his own abilities in the seat were leaning Fabietti towards making safe tuning calls in the past, worried about what could happen on an errant pass. But with Belleri behind the steering wheel the tuning confidence can return.
“I've probably left a little on the table in tuning it because I'm always worried about it blowing the tyres off or shaking and that I won't catch it quick enough. I err on the side of caution. Now with a sharper driver I can push it closer to the limit. If we do overstep the mark, Mark can catch it in time. I only see positives out of it.”
As mixed as his feelings might be for not getting that driving thrill, there is an excitement in Fabietti's voice when he thinks about the strengths the team now has.
“Doorslammer is going from strength to strength, more new cars are coming every month,” he said.
“I don't think we can run as quick as John (Zappia) but with Mark doing his job on the tree sometimes you don't need to run as quick. We have got a pretty good package and we will see where it takes us.”
One thing is for sure, we haven't seen the last of Mr Fabulous.
This article was originally published in Drag News Magazine in August 2015. Subscribe now.