As State of Origin fever takes over Queensland and New South Wales, the Maroons may consider themselves lucky that Pro Slammer drag racing hasn't been the sport of choice for the annual tri-series.
Queensland has been without a Pro Slammer champion since 2007, when Gary Phillips last won the title for the State. 2019 will be much the same, with Paul Mouhayet (NSW) and John Zappia (WA) the only two drivers with mathematical hopes of a championship.
The season points battle may have eluded the Sunshine State once again, but two local drivers are among the quickest of the contenders for the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, which begin today at Willowbank Raceway. Steven Ham and Scott MacLean have both proven themselves capable of record pace and may play disruptive roles across the four day event – the biggest in Australian drag racing.
Ham, who had to miss the last round of the championship in Sydney due to the birth of his second child, said he wouldn't mind playing a spoiler in either Mouhayet or Zappia's championship aspirations.
“We're not in the running for the championship ourselves, but we will still go and throw our spanner in the works and see if we can knock a few of them off,” he said.
“We had the car all loaded ready to go to Sydney, but a couple of days prior we had our second child. We tested at Willowbank over the weekend and we put up some fast speeds, despite being nowhere near the edge with the motor. We've put a new supercharger on, which made a tonne more boost and even with a conservative set up we were making low 5.7 second runs.”
Ham said the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals represented the pinnacle of drag racing in Australia.
“There is a lot of hype, and a lot of anxiety among the racers to get into the eight car field for race day, which becomes a whole new ball game,” he said.
Once a Darwin resident but now a Queenslander, Scott MacLean has been occupied with building his business, which meant taking a break from the quarter mile for much of this season.
But with Australia’s biggest drag racing event right on his doorstep, MacLean is unable to resist taking part.
“We are not in contention for the championship, but we are happy that we are able to attend the Winternationals and all the crew are stoked we are going racing again,” he said. “Everyone knows the Winternationals has the best field of racers, the best track conditions and the best atmosphere.”
It was 12 months ago at the same track where MacLean set everyone talking following a 5.57 pass in testing, only to snap his Achilles tendon in the celebrations after the run. He then missed the record Pro Slammer field for the Winternationals despite running a 5.83 second time.
MacLean believes that the team has just as much a chance at coming away with the Winternationals win as any of the teams entered, including the championship front runners.
“We haven’t been out at the last few events but we have a lot of data for Willowbank and my crew chief Darren Mayer is one of the most talented guys out there,” he said. “I’m looking forward to getting back in the seat, joining my hard working team and making some runs in front of a big Queensland crowd.”
Ham and MacLean might be the quickest Queenslanders in the Pro Slammer field, but for experience you can not go past Victor Bray, Ben Bray and Gary Phillips. Those championship veterans are all capable of reaching the winner's circle.
Victor said the Team Bray cars can still take second and fourth positions in the 400 Thunder Pro Slammer Series if results go their way.
“Mathematically Ben could overtake Zappia for second and I am very close to Emilio in fourth,” he explained. “As we have all seen time and time again, anything can happen when it comes to drag racing and we will be putting all we can into making sure we walk away from the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals with the best results possible.
“We would love to finish the season in third and fourth or even second and fourth if possible, and I can tell you that the ‘Victor of old’ is back and ready to give it a good crack this weekend.
“This is the biggest event of the year and with our naming rights partner Gulf Western Oil also the sponsor of the Winternationals, it is very important to us. We sure would love to add to our collection of Winternationals trophies!”
The Gulf Western Oil Winternationals runs from June 6 to 9 at Willowbank Raceway. Tickets are available online at www.willowbankraceway.com.au or at the gate.
- Willowbank Raceway Media Release