The Australian Nationals represents the most prestigious event on the national drag racing calendar, after a few years in the wilderness the event is finding its roots again at Sydney Dragway and regaining that sense of history and achievement it is to win a Australian Nationals Gold Christmas Tree.
Crowds were reasonable, traditionally the biggest drawing day Saturday was plagued by several intermittent showers which would have had an impact on the numbers. Schedule delays were minimal with several classes pushed back into the Sunday program, this was not helped either by some mechanical destruction and a major accident.
Sydney Dragway also continued to provide a more festive atmosphere, with loads of kids rides, face painting and amusements. The bigger kids had the XXXX Gold Retreat featuring the XXXX Angels to visit and relax in as well as a rock band to close out Saturday night qualifying.
Except for Top Fuel this would be the first round of the extensive 2012/2013 Pro Series and Aeroflow Sportsman Drag Racing Championship.
Top Fuel was boosted by a couple of late entries to seven, qualifying on the rainy and overcast Saturday introduced tight track conditions that most teams struggled to overcome. Steve “Pommie” Read again showed up the bigger budget teams with a last shot 4.69 to take pole. Phil Lamattina in the chrome bullet rattled off a 4.74 for #2 but ended the night with one of the most violent engine explosions recorded on the Richter scale, shaking Sydney Dragways foundations.
Qualifying order STEVE READ 4.693, PHILLIP LAMATTINA 4.743, ALLAN DOBSON 4.782, DARREN MORGAN 5.149, TERRY SAINTY 5.370, MARTIN STAMATIS 5.528, LUKE SHEPHERD 5.716.
Pom had damaged some parts in qualifying and were down to their last bullet, so reluctantly just accepted the green in round one. Defending champion Darren Morgan without any major sponsor signage accounted for a valiant Sainty 4.90 to 5.25, the next matchup saw Lamattina and Luke Shepherd both with engine drama’s, Shepherd banging the blower off the line allowed the Fuch’s dragster to struggle to the stripe. Final pairing featured a returning after 2 years out of the seat Martin Stamatis nipping Dobson 6.10 to 6.15 in another troubled pairing.
Morgan moved to another final with a identical ET as his last round pass when Read struck the tyres and had the dragster all kinds of sideways, Stamatis double stepped the fueler when moving into stage throwing a cherry and gifting Lamattina into the final.
The final saw more fire from Lamattina as the chrome car’s 5.00 fell well short of Morgan’s clean 4.78. Lamattina was positive though in defeat despite a ever growing pile of scrap aluminum in the teams pit over the weekend, a finals berth they hope is step towards shaking off their Sydney Dragway hoodoo. Morgan has had the perfect start to the season proving again they are currently the class act in Top Fuel.
The eleven car Top Alcohol field was dominated by funny cars with only two dragsters on the list. Gary Phillips rocked up with all brand new latest and greatest running gear and made it work cranking out a 5.49 261MPH blast to top qualify. Steve Ham looking to follow on from a successful last season was a wheel length behind with a 5.50 gapping nearest rival Steve Reed who was third with a 5.67.
Qualifying order GARY PHILLIPS 5.497, STEVEN HAM 5.509, STEVEN REED 5.674, JON STING 5.678, RUSSELL MILLS 5.739, JOHN CANNULI 5.760, WAYNE NEWBY 5.804, WAYNE PRICE 5.932, Non Qualifiers – RICK GAUCI 5.947, GARY BUSCH 5.984, BRETT WHITE 6.898.
Qualifying meant nothing though for Phillips as the Lucas Oils funny car struck the tyres in round one as Wayne Price laid down a 5.81 in the other lane. Ham’s 5.84 took care of Newby and Reed despite a horrible .516 RT went 5.69 for low ET of round one to drive around Cannuli’s troubled run. Russell Mill after making the field on his Top Alcohol debut with the stunning Crown Victoria bodied flopper could not fire in his pairing against Jon Sting.
The semi finals became non events when Price red lit against Sting and Ham was shut down with a leak against Reed who still produced a stout 5.68.
The final was a classic Top Alcohol race, dragster versus funny car, coming into the event Sting was looking for better performance following ripping ET’s last season and Steve Reed had been deadly consistent. Very little separated the cars at the green, another bracket like 5.66 from Reed claimed the gold ahead of the dragsters 5.79.
Top Doorslammer was a little down on numbers as debate over whether staying with a eight car field is hurting the class rages. Qualifying was as drama filed as it gets, Peter Kapiris after posting a 5.86 in the first qualifier had all hell break loose in the next session. The clutch in the Saratoga exploded at half track filling the car with fire, fumes and debris, with a stunned and blind Kapiris at the wheel the Saratoga drifted into the other lane collecting Victor Bray causing minor damaging before bouncing off the wall. Kapiris was transported to hospital for treatment but vowed to be on track for eliminations.
The stories continued to evolve in qualifying with Stuart Bishop emerging as a dark horse in this years championship following his 5.87 to secure second and Brett Gillespie cracking the five second barrier with a 5.98 in the old Edwin Archbold Mustang. The shock though was John Zappia’s 6.02 ET would mean the champion was a spectator on Sunday, the Monaro would not hook up all through qualifying and this time there was no hail mary last run from the multiple champion.
Qualifying also did not end well for the categories newest car, Charlie Micali’s gorgeous new Duster made its Top Doorslammer competition debut with at 6.22, but in the final qualifier the Duster rattled and spun the tyres out of the groove sending the car hard into the right hand wall and back even harder into the left wall. Micali was unhurt but there looks to be little chance to rebuild the Andy McCoy masterpiece.
Qualifying Order – PETER KAPIRIS 5.860, STUART BISHOP 5.875, GARY PHILLIPS 5.926, ANDREW SUTTON 5.943, BEN BRAY 5.959, BRETT GILLESPIE 5.987, JOHN CANNULI 6.011, MARK BELLERI 6.012, Non Qualifiers – JOHN ZAPPIA 6.025, VICTOR BRAY 6.059, GRANT O’ROURKE 6.069, MAURICE FABIETTI 6.071, CHARLIE MICALI 6.227, JEFF WILSON 7.197, PAUL CANNULI 7.620.
Gillespie could not make the call in round one against Phillips, Gillespie did return later on in the day for a exhibition pass suffering a enormous engine explosion and fire spinning the car out in the braking area, with the fire crew on to the incident quickly Gillespie was unhurt. Stu Bishop spun the tyres on the hit and exploded the blower as Cannuli powered on to a 6.08 in the next pairing. Kapiris returned to cheers and snuck by Belleri 5.97 to a 5.99 and Ben Bray’s 6.00 won against Sutton’s untidy pass.
Cannuli went cherry picking against Phillips in the first semi and Kapiris was on a march going 5.90 easily accounting for Bray’s 6.15.
So the final would be emotion charged, both Kapiris and the Saratoga were battled scarred from qualifying and this would possibly be the last outing for the Phillips war torn Stude. With Kapiris the emotional favourite following a night at the hospital but Phillips determined to give the old girl one more win to make way for a new car, the slight jump went to the Batmobile off the line and Kapiris would not be caught clocking a 5.98 to Phillips 6.01, the win capping a event from hospital bed to winners circle.
Numbers were also down in Pro Stock, several teams are upgrading cars that were not quite ready in time for the event. Qualifying was typical Pro Stock style, tight and fast, Jason Grima recruited Brandon Huhtala in the off season and it has paid immediate dividends, the PC Group Mustang was never headed in qualifying and rammed home the advantage in the final session stopping the clocks with a record setting 6.98. Kirsten Tucker was looking like the unlucky non qualifier following two wild passes, the first causing the Monaro to spin out tagging the wall, the cause was found to be leaking gasket dropping fluid under the tyres. Kirsten was offered a reprieve though following the withdrawal of Lee Bektash when the Mopar took a rock into the engine.
Qualifying order – JASON GRIMA 6.982, JOHN BARBAGALLO 7.022, AARON TREMAYNE 7.027, BRUNO CAVALLO 7.042, SHANE TUCKER 7.052, MICHAEL ALI 7.054, TYRONNE TREMAYNE 7.058, WAYNE DALEY 7.060, CHRIS SOLDATOS 7.060, DAVE NEWCOMBE 7.064, NINO CAVALLO 7.070, NICK XERAKIAS 7.073, BRUCE LEAKE 7.130, BILL PERDIKARIS 7.130, KIRSTEN CANNULI 7.361.
The field was reseeded after Nirta and Perdikaris withdrew as well and eliminations opened with Tyronne Tremayne going red against Daley, the national champion Michael Ali took on Soldatos 7.09 to a 7.15, Barbagallo’s 7.08 had a comfortable win over Leake’s 7.17, Kirsten Tucker also red lit against Grima but unlikely she would have had a answer to the Mustangs 7.00 and Aaron Tremayne moved through to the next round 7.04 to Xerakias’ 7.07. The Cavallo family matched up in round one, Bruno qualified strongly with a 7.04, but it would be Nino winning the family duel 7.09 to 7.14, Shane Tucker racked up the win in the final pairing 7.04 to Newcombe’s 7.08.
Daley took the honours in round two against Barbagallo 7.12 to a 7.25 and Grima soloed to a 7.03. Tremayne put the champion on the trailer with a holeshot 7.09 to Ali’s 7.07, and Tucker moved to the semi finals as well defeating Cavallo 7.09 to 7.13.
The semi finals were decided on the startline, Tremayne bulbing against Daley and Tucker took a shot at the tree against Grima.
Grima had been on another echelon all event and as it turned out the only person to could beat him was himself, a -.080 light in the final threw away a 7.02 handing the title to the Dodge team of Daley. Grima was happy to walk away with the national record while a emotional Daley earned his first Christmas Tree and the Greg Flaherty Memorial trophy.
Moving to the two wheel classes, Top Bike resumed where it left off with Matheson decimating the field in qualifying with a 6.09, he Harley of Chris Porter was the only one to offer any resistance with a tidy 6.87.
Qualifying order – CHRIS MATHESON 6.092, CHRIS PORTER 6.870, GAVIN SPANN 7.164, GRAEME MORELL 8.333, PHIL PARKER 9.783
Matheson had the bye in round one and did not waste the run going 6.28, Porter defeated Parker with no trouble and Morrell ran 8.44 after Spann broke on the line.
Morrell would be no match for Matheson in the semi with a 6.29 blitzing the old school Harley’s 8.84. Porter had the bye into the final.
As expected the top two bikes faced off in the final, Porter gave it his best shot with a 6.83, but Matheson stomped that with a 6.23 to add to his crop of Christmas Trees.
Pro Bike featured a full field lead by Luke Crowley after qualifying with a impressive 7.29.
LUKE CROWLEY 7.299, MAURICE ALLEN 7.458, MARK HANCOCK 7.630, CHRIS MANERA 7.633, GLENN WOOSTER 7.771, PETER COCHRANE 7.819, LACHLAN IRELAND 7.874, SCOTT WHITE 8.790.
Newcomer and ex Lamborgini SCO racer Chris Manera had a solo in the first pairing when Wooster could not stage, champion Locky Ireland strapped a holeshot on Maurice Allen 7.51 to a 7.49 to start off his championship defense. Crowley went quicker than qualifying with a 7.25 against a red lighting Scott White and Peter Cochrane took the easy win against Hancock who broke on the line.
Cochrane shut down against Ireland who had his own problems with the tree and elected just to stage and back out. Crowley’s 7.32 was too good for Manera’s 7.62.
Crowley’s form continued in the final a 7.33 defeating Ireland’s 7.48 leaving the rest of the field to find a few ponies if they plan to contend against the Nationals winner.
Pro Series finals and incidents
Super slo-mo highlights
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