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One of the most intense championship battles of the NDRC season to date has been the one unfolding in Top Doorslammer, with 11-time champ John Zappia and breakthrough rookie Russell Taylor trading wins and the lead throughout.

Now, as the championship heads to its hotly anticipated finale – the Gulf Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway across June 6-9 – Taylor leads the way on 659 points from Zappia’s 635, with another rookie, Ronnie Palumbo, in third (543 points).

Bumping up the intensity even further is the fact that this event will run with the traditional knock-out eliminations format instead of the ‘all run’ format that has been employed at all other rounds (for everyone except Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Car) – meaning the Top Doorslammer racers must qualify for an eight car field, with the winner of each race pairing to proceed to the next round while the loser is left to pack up their trailer and go home.

As the countdown to the finale continues, both Taylor and Zappia were circumspect when it came to sharing how they were feeling.

“It is okay to be in the lead heading to the final round, but I am not bothered about the points – yes I am excited about it, but it is not the be all and end all focus for us, we concentrate more on going fast and going faster than we have been,” Taylor said.

“It really is a credit to the whole team that we are where we are. Now we will go out to Willowbank and do the same thing we have done all year and concentrate on racing ourselves and racing the clock, and not worry about who is in the other lane.”

Taylor has already had a sneak peek of the track upgrades.

“I have never raced at Willowbank Raceway before, but we drove the truck up on Monday (after the Nitro Champs) and got to Brisbane on the Tuesday and Ian Ham took us out and gave me a bit of a run through,” Taylor said.

“It has a really good vibe. I think it is going to be a good meeting and a good track from what we saw – it is really flat, I am told it is going to be possibly one of the flattest, and from what I saw it is looking pretty good!”

While Zappia is second in the points, anything could happen at the Winternationals – especially with the eliminations format in place – and with 11 championships to his name, ‘Zap’ certainly knows how to win a title.

“It is going to be do or die – if you go out, you are done,” Zappia said.

“If you make a mistake, you will be out, and the other person continues on, so it certainly opens up the possibilities for our finale. There is absolutely no room for error in this system.

“We are going to do the best we can to get to take the Dananni Hot Shots/Fuchs Lubricants Holden Monaro to the final and put the pressure on – we have to run our own race and whatever happens, happens.

“Everyone is heading to Willowbank Raceway with no experience on the new surface as well which is another aspect to the whole picture. I think they will get it done really well; I think it will surprise everyone with how well it comes up.

“It is exciting having the points so close heading to the final event, but also stressful. Everyone has been stepping up their performance lately and we just have to do our best and try and keep the performance at a premium level so that it puts pressure on everyone else. As we all know, anything can happen in drag racing!”

Both Taylor and Zappia experienced first-hand the fickle nature of the sport at the last round, Sydney Dragway’s Gulf Western Oil Nitro Champs.

Zappia top qualified to take out the Crow Cams Top Qualifier award with his final pass of the first day, but that was after a blower belt let go on the startline of the first qualifier and a pulled wire damaged his A-motor in the second. Come race day, he had a solo win in the first round before in the second round a slower reaction time saw him bested by Jeremy Callaghan despite a 5.660 ET. His C-final appearance was then thwarted when he was pushed back from the line with an oil leak.

“You can have everything prepared and have everything spot on and then little stuff can happen which is so disappointing, but that is racing and if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!” Zappia said.

“It is tough on the crew and tough on the driver; there is a lot of pressure on the driver’s shoulders, and especially mine, to perform – it just goes to show how easily things can go wrong.

“We did have a lot of positives to take away from Sydney though, taking out the Crow Cams Top Qualifier and strong performance on the B-motor with more left in it, here’s hoping we can bring it all together at the Winters,” he concluded, while thanking Dananni Hot Shots, Fuchs Lubricants, Crow Cams and all his other sponsors and his crew for all their support.

For Taylor, after setting the best Top Doorslammer ET of the meeting in round one and then bettering that in round two, a 10 cent part saw him hit a timing block in the A-Final and hand the event win to Daniel Gregorini.

“I love the Sydney track, it is my favourite, and I learnt a lot there with the lock up and the auto side of it with pedalling,” Taylor said. “I also learnt that a 10 cent zip tie can cost you a race!

“I got a lot out of it as a driver, and it was a great environment – the crowd was great, the officials were great, it was a really good meeting, a real credit to the NDRC and the officials, and also to Justin Simpson for his great track prep at all the Sydney NDRC rounds so far,” he said, while thanking Royal Precision Lubricants, Welsh Pool Welding, EAD Industries, Steve Ham, Stu Rowland and his crew – ‘Al 1,’ ‘Al 2,’ Josh, Adam, Jack and ‘little Mick’ as well as all of their families – for their support.

The NDRC title chase heads to Willowbank Raceway across 6 to 9 June for the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals for the final round of their 2023/2024 season.

With Top Fuel, XPRO Nitro Funny Car, Top Doorslammer, Top Fuel Motorcycle, Pro Alcohol, Pro Stock, Pro Stock Motorcycle and FuelTech Pro Mod all in the one place for four huge days, plus the Eastern Conference final for the Aeroflow National Sportsman Championship at this event, there will be everything to play for at ‘The Winters’.

For event info and tickets, go to

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