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Four days of history-making Australian drag racing has come to a thrilling conclusion today as the inaugural National Drag Racing Championship (NDRC) champions were crowned alongside event winners and Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship Eastern Conference victors at the season-ending Gulf Western Oil Winternationals.

There was no shortage of edge-of-your-seat action across the day at Willowbank Raceway with plenty of side-by-side runs, rookies lifting championship Gold Christmas Trees, and nail-biting finals to decide who would lay claim to championship and event glory.

The intensity was quickly dialled up from the first three-second 500kph+ Top Fuel passes of the day and stayed high right through to the finals for Top Fuel, XPRO Nitro Funny Car, Top Doorslammer, Top Fuel Motorcycle, Pro Alcohol, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle, FuelTech Pro Mod and 12 Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship brackets.

The Top Fuel racers started the day in style, with only three rounds of racing left to decide if Damien Harris would claim the inaugural NDRC Top Fuel championship, or if his team-mate Wayne Newby would snatch it away.

With no team orders in play for the Rapisarda Autosport International teammates, the intensity was high throughout the event, but when both Harris and Newby found themselves in the A-Final, Harris was confirmed as the title winner, backing up his 2022/2023 championship.

The pair had everyone on their feet in the A-Final with a side-by-side drag race to the end which saw Newby snatch the Winternats honours with a blistering 3.779-second 520.75kph pass over Harris’ equally impressive 3.778-second 521.62kph run.

In the B-Final Xiberras laid down a flame-throwing 3.866-second 509.52kph solo run. Earlier in the day, Xiberras and Newby had got the crowd immediately on their feet with a pair of side-by-side 3-second 500kph+ runs, with Newby besting Xiberras by just .032s, before a red-lighting 3.863/515.81kph performance in round two against Harris.

Phil Read would have met Xiberras in the B-Final; however, it was a weekend to forget for the Jim Read Racing team. In the first round their air timer log blew out, ruining their run, and then a currently unknown issue put an end to their weekend when a fireball erupted as Read left the line in round two, with the Sydneysider putting in a fantastic drive job to keep all four wheels on the ground and away from the other lane. Unfortunately, the damage was too great to fix in time for round three.

“To go home with the Gold, the Silver, and the Stan Sainty Cup as a team is amazing and what we set out to do at the beginning of the year,” Harris said.

“We had the setback in Perth, but we bounced back and what a way to end the weekend for the team.

“I will always have the hunger, I will go home and cry shortly about not winning the event, but it is all right!

“I am disappointed for Wayne as I have been in that situation before, losing by only a couple of points. I can’t thank the Rapisarda family enough, Santo Snr, Wayne, Suzanne at Atlantic Oils, all my guys have worked amazing, let’s see what happens next!”

Winternats event winner Newby emotionally thanked his team and sponsors at the end of today’s racing and is already looking forward to next year.

“Congratulations to Damien, Santo and the team on the championship. Thank you to everyone, the Rapisarda family, Atlantic Oils, Santo’s Cranes, Wild Ink, I can’t thank everyone enough. It has been a killer year, and hopefully, next year can be that little bit better!” Newby said.

The XPRO Nitro Funny Car A-Final saw Queenslanders Justin Walshe and Brandon Gosbell line up for the final championship race of the weekend, confirming Walshe as not only the inaugural NDRC champion but also delivering the Harts Paints racer the Winternats event win on a holeshot with a 4.085-second 516.79kph run against Gosbell’s 4.080-second 516.79kph pass.

Walshe had earlier recorded two wins against newcomer Josh Leahy with a 4.151s/ 515.07kph performance in round one and a 4.073s/518.38kph effort in round two, to Leahy’s 4.091s/462.73kph and 4.131s/427.92kph runs. Gosbell meanwhile had taken a win from Murrihy in round one and Begley in round two, with the second race seeing him drop it into ‘the threes’ for the first time today (3.985s/504.43kph) over Begley’s 10.860-second 131.99kph run.

In the B-Final, Morice McMillin and Adam Murrihy lined up alongside each other for the second time today, with the previous pairing seeing Murrihy shattering McMillin’s A-Final and championship hopes in the second all-run round. This run, however, would go to McMillin with another three second performance – an impressive 3.945-second 511.32 kph pass over Murrihy’s 4.184-second 497.27kph run.

In the C-Final, Begley took the win with a 4.456-second 449.15kph pass over Leahy who was left on the tree before shutting it down to record an 8.666 second ET in a disappointing run given the earlier strong performances for the newcomer today.

“When you are the older bloke in the class and coming up against these young guys, all you can do is get there and give it everything you have got on the tree,” Walshe said.

“There are 20 guys and girls on this car and every run they are behind me and supporting me. And I am not religious, but I lost my old man a year and a half ago and he is there in the car talking to me on every run.

“This is all about the team, I have the easy job. We had five rounds of racing this year, went to five finals, had four wins and one runner-up – the Harts Paints team is just sensational, I love you guys!

“Thank you also to all the crowd coming out, every time you do a pass, every single person who is watching and who supports you is there in the car cheering you down the track and you just drive the pants off it like a mongrel!

“Thank you to every single person that has been here at Willowbank Raceway this weekend, all the Willowbank Raceway volunteers and officials, my Rocket team, and every damn person on this planet that breathes – thank you!”

The Top Doorslammer, Pro Alcohol, Pro Stock Motorcycle, Top Fuel Motorcycle, Pro Stock, and FuelTech Pro Mod NDRC brackets also jumped straight into racing Sunday morning, with these competitors all running the elimination racing format for today’s championship and event deciders.

In Top Doorslammer, rookie and Top Qualifier Russell ‘Ice Man’ Taylor claimed his first NDRC championship title in the semi-finals when fellow newcomer Ronnie Palumbo (5.750s/399.88kph) knocked out 11-time champ John Zappia (5.700s/407.75kph) on a holeshot in the second semi-final run.

Taylor would go on to set his quickest ET of the season in the final, where he also claimed the Winternats event win with a 5.592-second 416.51kph run over Palumbo (5.728s/400.46kph). Earlier in the day, Taylor took wins from Nasser Matta in round one and Neil Murphy in round two, while Palumbo preceded his win over Zappia with a round one victory over Peter Lovering.

“This is unbelievable, a dream come true, I am just speechless,” Taylor said.

“I have a lot of people to thank, all of my crew, Steve Ham and Stew Rowland – they are both drivers and have both done a lot in their careers of driving and tuning and without them I am lost. And all my crew, Al, Josh, Adam, young Jack and also Ian and Joe Ham, they have helped out all weekend, and also Royal Precision Lubricants, I couldn’t do it without all of them.”

In Pro Alcohol, Russell Mills was the inaugural NDRC champion elect coming into the Winternats weekend and also had his sights set on picking up an event Gold Christmas Tree. However, it would be local racer and championship runner-up, Daniel Reed, who would take the event honours.

‘Batmobile’ racer Mills made his way through the two elimination rounds against Chirs Hargrave in round one and Gary Phillips in round two to line up in the final against Top Qualifier Reed in the final.

Local racer Reed took the event win by laying down a new career-best run of 5.395-second 436.34kph over Mills (5.561s/401.80kph) after having earlier taken round victories over John Cannuli in round one and Luke Marsden in round two.

“It has been a big year; it is all volunteer labour to do this,” Mills said.

“Thank you to the Reed family for being such great competitors and to all the Pro Alcohol racers, and thank you to NDRC, IHRA and Willowbank Raceway.

“It has been good close racing this season, pretty much any car on the day could win; I am rapt to come away with the championship. That was the plan, and I would have loved to have gone to even more events, but what we did was great.

“Obviously I would have liked to have won the event today as well, and my car was on a pretty good run – everyone always says that though – but it didn’t do the run I was hoping for. Congratulations to Daniel and his great family on their win.”

For Reed, taking home the Winternats win today was a dream come true.

“The car was on rails all weekend, dad and the crew did a good job to give me a brilliant car which just went better and better every lap we did,” Reed said.

“The track was good and we knew it could handle it, so we just went after it for the final. To win the Winternationals, well it is the Bathurst of drag racing, it is the ultimate, the one everyone wants to win, so to win it today is just every drag racer’s dream.”

In Pro Stock Motorcycle, it was inaugural NDRC championship-winning racer Luke Crowley who would secure event honours, claiming a rare third consecutive Winternats win.

As the Top Qualifier, Crowley enjoyed a bye in round one, before a win over Tony Frost in round two. In the final, Crowley took the win with a 7.132-second 305.38kph run over Jason Lee’s 8.015-second 192.75kph effort. Lee earned his way to the final with victories over Paul Andrews and Daniel Rabnott.

“This is just fantastic,” Crowley said, on taking the championship and the Winternats win.

“To win this event three times in a row, well I didn’t think it would happen!

“The last three weeks have been an absolute thrash. The guy working the Motec for me has worked late nights for the last two weeks solid, we have been doing stuff the whole time, and it has been a struggle, but obviously, this makes it all worthwhile.”

In Top Fuel Motorcycle, Benny Stevens took out the championship Christmas Tree, while his Dananni Hotshots teammate Aaron Deery took the event win on ‘The Gorilla’ with a 7.182-second, 278.75kph pass over Corey Buttigieg – who had dispatched Stevens in round two following a win over Damian Martini in round one.

Deery got a fantastic launch off the start and was well down the track before Buttigieg crossed the line, taking out timing boxes along the way. He had found his way to the finals with a round one win over John Zahra before a broken drive belt and other mechanical issues struck Top Qualifier Damian Muscat in round two, leaving Deery to ride through for the win. In both wins, Deery was ecstatic with the performance of his bike.

“It has been a great year, we have had some really good wins, some really good races and really good times,” Stevens said.

“I am really happy with the outcome. It is a mission running two bikes, and at the end of the day, it is really rewarding. It is great to see the efforts paying off. And I was so happy to see Aaron get the win for the event, it means the world.”

Deery was equally happy with his result, feeling that they are in a good place as a team at the end of the season.

“Oh my god! I can’t even believe this is happening,” he said.

“We have such a strong team here; we just never give up. This bike has been a real pain since we put this new motor in, but we are really starting to get a handle on it now and I feel we are somewhat competitive. Lady Luck probably got us here, I don’t know, I just can’t believe it. I am speechless. This is a dream come true.”

In Pro Stock, Rob Dekert claimed his first NDRC championship win, decided in the nail-biting first elimination round of the weekend. With Rick Chilton knocked out in the first round by Omar Sedmak, all Dekert needed to do was claim victory over John Barbagallo to clinch the championship, which his 6.916-second 304.87kph round one pass more than enough to do.

Heading into the final run of the day, Dekert and Top Qualifier Tyronne Tremayne had been relatively evenly matched, with Dekert running lower ETs and Tremayne quicker on the tree in rounds one and two. Ultimately it would be Tremayne who would claim back-to-back Winternats event victories when both racers red lit on the line, with Dekert being the first to do so.

Earlier in the day, Tremayne had taken wins over Shane Tucker in round one and Sedmak, who red lit in round two.

“I am rapt, over the moon! To win a championship means so much to me, thank you to everyone involved including my crew and my wife Deanne and daughter Aleesha,” Dekert said.

“It was a challenging weekend; we didn’t qualify where we wanted to but we made some changes and today the car was like a bracket car. We would have loved to win the Winters as well, but the championship was our goal.”

Tremayne was absolutely pumped with his Winternats win.

“I am pretty stoked, that is four wins in a row for me now, the last four meetings I have gone to, have seen me win four times, including two Winternationals as I won here last year as well,” Tremayne said.

“In the final I knew I had to leave on him as his car was just as fast as mine, if not faster, so I was going to push the tree – but he pushed it way more than me! I am over the moon, this is very, very cool.”

In FuelTech Pro Mod, Top Qualifier Craig Burns went on to take home the first NDRC Pro Mod championship win, even though his Sunday running was cut short when he rolled the beams in round one due to a mechanical failure in his match-up against Daniel Camilleri, who would find himself in the final following this victory and a round two win over Paul Mouhayet.

Zoran Gajic would go on to claim the Winternats event honours with a round one win over Steve Smith and a round two victory over Frank Tarabay, taking the final race win over Camilleri with a 5.894-second 411.31kph run over Camilleri’s 6.242-second 347.94kph drive.

“We are rapt!” Burns said.

“It was a relief at first because we sucked at it today, with a mechanical failure in round one with the trans brake failing, but these things happen.

“We are pumped – we won two meetings out of four, top qualified three times out of the four, and the car has been super consistent.

“Racing against guys who have all the electronic gizmos and so on, to be able to come through with a little bit of an old school deal and run well, it certainly gives us the warm and fuzzy feelings!”

Gajic was happy to bounce back from a difficult Saturday to claim the Winternats victory.

“I am very happy with the win, it was hard work with yesterday being a bit of a disaster with everything breaking, but we got the job done today,” Gajic said.

“Thank you to the crew, without them it wouldn’t have been possible, and I would like to dedicate this win to my crew chief’s late father, Robert Boyd Mundey.

“I have been running at this event for a few years now, thank you to the track, it is absolutely brilliant, and also thank you to all the staff and to the NDRC.”

A full complement of Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship racers also wrapped up their Eastern Conference on Sunday. Racers in each of the 12 championship brackets on-track this weekend gave it their all across the four-day Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, leaving nothing on the table as they battled it out for event and conference glory, and an invitation to the National Aeroflow Sportsman Grand Final which will be held in October.

Taking out the Eastern Conference wins for their respective brackets were Dean Jamieson (Modified Bike, over Nick Thompson), Craig Collis (Real Street, over Kay Swenson), Zayne Condello (Junior Dragster, over Savanna Condello), Adam Jordan (Junior Drag Bike, over James Lowday), Luke ‘Tex’ Griffiths (Super Street, over Andrew Waight), Daniel Morris (Top Sportsman, over Tony Whyatt), Sean Maher (Super Sedan, over Daniel List), Cory Dyson (Modified, over Daniel Carranza), Leonard Azzopardi (Extreme Bike, over Brendan Miglionico), Edge Mallis (Performance Bike, over Ken Collin), Toby Austin (Supercharged Outlaws, over Davydd Estcourt), Mitchell Oxley (Competition, over Peter Pisalidis), and Darrin Gay (Super Stock, over Steve Norman).

Colin Griffin was also celebrated as the Super Gas Western Conference winner over Vince Panetta, although the bracket wasn’t contested at this event.

Joining them in being celebrated at the end-of-event presentations were the event winners and runners-up, with the following racers taking out the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals accolades: Brian Alvisio (Modified Bike, over Dale Marshall), Craig Collis (Real Street, Paul Neilsen), Carlos Harvey (Junior Dragster, over Vanz Peirano), Marcus McDonald (Junior Drag Bike, over Jaidyn Schofield), Josh Fletcher (Super Street, over Craig Warren), Paul Doeblien (Top Sportsman, over Neil Marshall), Victor Tsatlogianis (Super Sedan, over Patrick Barron), Lucas Holz (Modified, over Andrew Pinkstone), Nathan Neilson (Extreme Bike, over Dillan Lacey), Phillip Webster (Performance Bike, over Edge Mallis), Toby Austin (Supercharged Outlaws, over Davydd Estcourt), and Luke Cartledge (SuperComp, over Darrin Gay) – despite a post-finish roll-over for the winner, from which he quickly emerged unscathed. Also on-track today was non-championship bracket Factory Xtreme, with Collin Willshire taking the victory over Jason Payne.

Toby Austin was one of two racers to secure both a Winternationals win and an Eastern Conference win this weekend, taking out the honours for Supercharged Outlaws. Craig Collis meanwhile took the Real Street win for both the Conference and the event.

“I am very happy with how we went this weekend as a team, we support Peter Leahy Custom Imports and we did well for them,” Austin said.

“We came into the event up the top of the points, and going into eliminations we knew that Dave Estcourt would be fast and we might meet him in the finals.

“We did end up facing off in the finals and whoever won it, would win the Eastern Conference final as well.

“In the final we ran pretty much spot on the dial-in so that was good, and the car performed well and just as expected.

“We are excited to win both the event and the conference, it is very rewarding as a lot of work goes in back at the workshop to get the job done and to make the car consistent.”

Non-championship bracket, Factory Xtreme, was also on-track at the event, with Collin Willshire celebrated as the event winner over runner-up, Jason Payne.

Stay tuned across the coming week for further Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship reporting from the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals, including further interviews with Eastern Conference and Winternationals winners as well as bracket by bracket rundowns.

To learn more about the NDRC, please visit www.ndrc.tv

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