Australian nitro teams just miss out on making NHRA race day in Las Vegas

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The two Australian Nitro Funny Car teams competing at the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four Wide Nationals in Las Vegas have unfortunately missed out on the race day fields despite some strong efforts.

Peter and Helen Russo again had Jeff Arend at the wheel, where they bested in Q2 with a 4.20 – a run that would just miss the 4.13 bump. 

“The track was tricky for occasional racers like us,” the team said. “No magic rabbits for us for this event even though Damien (the Russo’s pet name for their nitro destruction causing demon, Ed) was a no show. The upside is that we get to race and hang with some awesome generous people who give 110% and work their hearts out for us.”

The Russos were carrying a special tribute to chassis builder Steve Plueger, who passed away last week. Plueger built many of the Russos’ cars and even their current chassis, though built by Australian Murray Anderson, is based on the Plueger design.


Phil Burkart and the TNT First-Aid Funny Car owned by Australian ex-pat Robert Schwab made gains through the four qualifying runs, but despite making his best pass of the weekend in Q4 at 4.260 seconds at 283.25 mph, Burkart fell just short.

“We made progress on each run,” Burkart said. “We learned from each run but just ran out of runs to get in the show. If we would’ve had just
one more …”

Burkart made the 11th-quickest run in Q2 and was sitting No. 15 after Friday, but NHRA only carries over the top 12 times into the final two sessions Saturday. Burkart made a decent pass in the final session, but it wasn’t quite enough.

“On the one run when it backfired and we had a flash fire, we lost a clip on the barrel valve – the proverbial 50-cent part,” Burkart said. “That caused us to not make that full run.

“We didn’t hurt any parts, didn’t beat up a lot of equipment, so that will enable us to do more in the future and build toward going to another race if some funding comes along.”

The unique four-wide qualifying format means each team gets only one pass on each lane, which could make it tough for smaller teams because there’s less data to be acquired. But Burkart was pleased with the preparation made on each of the four lanes.

“I didn’t notice one lane being way better than any other,” Burkart said. “NHRA and the Safety Safari did a great job prepping all four of the lanes evenly. We didn’t suffer, certainly, because of the track conditions.”

And personally, Burkart adapted to the unique staging procedure of four-wide racing and didn’t have any issues.

“This was my first time running the four-wide, too, and I got acclimated to that very quickly,” Burkart said. “It was a non-issue, really.”

Burkart and the team did attract some attention for their sponsor, TNT First-Aid and the company’s many products, like the Moto-Fak motorsports first-aid kit, Burn Free and the special Virtual Medic app that helps users with step-by-step first aid treatments.

“It’s very cool for TNT First-Aid,” Burkart said. “That’s what really made this thing happen. They got a ton of feedback and talked with a lot of people. Every race trailer out here should have their first aid kit in it. For a low amount of money, it could be ready for any situation that may happen – and we know things can happen at the race track.”

All TNT First-Aid products are available at 

Amethyst Beverage and Symply also served as sponsors, with Amethyst executives on hand to catch the action.

“The owner and other partners were here, and they had a great time,” Burkart said. “They loved what they saw. They’re looking forward to doing more races this year.”

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