REPORT: 2022 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals

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The racing Gods delivered pristine racing conditions for the 54th running of the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway with a cracking four days of action. With COVID interference now behind the sport, it has been three years since the Winternationals could run without constraints, the 400 Thunder racers stepped up, eager to put on a show, and make up for the past two years of virtual racing isolation, and spectators turned up in great numbers.

It was a new look Winternationals in classes and format, Top Fuel Funny Car debuted as the headline bracket in the professional classes, and we also saw the first running of Junior Drag Bike and Real Street at the event, bolstering the options for sportsman racers to join the 400 Thunder series. Traditional elimination racing was forgone in some classes in favour for more fan-friendly All Run Format (ARF), with Pro Slammer and Pro Alcohol involved a ARF cash shootout on the Saturday that spiced up qualifying day, and Sunday saw Pro Slammer and Pro Stock decided using the ARF.

A bucket load of records fell with the sensational air conditions, 23 provisional Track Records and a 15 National Records were reset pending official confirmation to keep the IHRA officials busy, we also saw several world records amongst those.

During the event it was announced Aeroflow Performance had signed a multi-year deal as naming rights sponsor for 400 Thunder, and an official release will be out in the coming week.

The Morice McMillin driven Aeroflow Performance Top Fuel Funny Car starred across the event, dropping some spectacular five second runs in the fledgling return of the crowd favourite class to the track. Running as exhibition at this event was also Anthony Begley, Adam Murrihy and Tim McCarthy, unfortunately for McCarthy though he was spectacular for a whole other reason. Still licensing his fuel coupe, McCarthy launched on Saturday night to about 100ft before the engine erupted, blowing his Valvoline Monte Carlo body high into the night sky, fortunately McCarthy climbed out fine and gave the John Force salute to the crowd. During the event it was also announced Justin Walshe would be stepping away from his Pro Alcohol altered to pilot a third Aeroflow Performance Nitro Funny Car later in the year, joining Brandon Gosbell as the confirmed driver for a second car.

Walshe made what is likely is last appearance in Pro Alcohol a memorable one, resetting his own world record for an alky altered repeatedly across the event to a best of 5.545 at 252MPH. But despite his and the other racers best efforts, they could not stop the tear Steven Reed was on in the Allstar Batteries funny car. With the biggest PRO category field of the Winternationals, Pro Alcohol had a race within a race for a cash payout, with three rounds of qualifying on Saturday, run on the ARF. Reed had the track many others were struggling with dialled in, cranking a 5.49 and a 5.45 to meet in Jake Donnelly’s DBS funny car in the final qualifying session, and ARF final. In a session where no other Pro Alcohol car could stick the tyres, Reed went 5.42 for the win and lock up the top qualifying position. Gary Phillips would overcome early run jitters to be there in the end with a 5.46 for second, and Donnelly sat in third with a 5.48, then came, Justin Walshe (5.54), Wayne Price (5.63), Chris Hargrave (5.71), Cameron Ambesi (5.73), and Caan Childs (5.74). The fight for the bump was incredibly close, both Brett White and Mark Rowland sat on the outside looking in with identical 5.762s, followed by John Cannuli (8.09) who’s event was going horribly.

Following what looked to be a quick run that was not given an ET when Cannuli left before the tree, the night ended with a big engine backfire, and Tim Clifton (10.06) closed out the field unable to keep the dragster’s front wheels on the deck.

Sunday’s racing for Pro Alcohol was the standard elimination kind with Steve Reed continuing his dominance to reach the final. Walshe put it to Reed in the semi final with the ‘race of the weekend’ after a .004 holeshot reaction from the altered driver, Reed needed every bit of horsepower his funny car would give to drive around Walshe at the stripe with a 5.484 to 5.567. Phillips had a big backfire on the top end in his semi final win over Hargrave, with no being able to diagnose what caused the engine issue, Phillips elected not to run the final and potentially risk more engine damage. This left Reed a free shot in the final for a record run, but the track was too cold, overstepping and zinging the tyres hard.

Pro Slammer was on a different racing format again, they would have an ARF double header. The sighting round on Friday started of disastrously, Victorian Rob Taylor suffered one of the worst doorslammer fires ever seen, while Taylor was able to climb out and walk with medical staff, he remains in hospital being treated for some burns, and we wish him all the best on his recovery. Paul Cannuli closed out the session on top with a 5.75 in the ex-Moits championship winning Mustang.

Saturday’s racing was using the ARF for a large cash prize, Cannuli the pre-event favourite had a day of racing he would like to forget, and finished the event on low points. John Zappia however showed his usual class, despite switching to an automatic transmission dropped a 5.72 low ET run in the first round, his second only run with the auto.

Round two was full of drama and emotion, Rob Harrington had fulfilled his dream to race in Pro Slammer with his ‘Bad Influence II” Monaro following a massive thrash just to get to the event, then had to rectify more problems in the warm up. Harrington picked up his first race win the class the round before and faced Ben Bray in round two. Despite nailing Bray to the tree, the Corvette came around for the win with a 5.78, however with a 5.88 on the timing boards for Harrington, his first five brought a wave of emotion in the braking area.

Craig Burns had quite a wheelstand in the sighting pass the night before, but that was nothing in the next pairing when a broken wheelie bar sent the freshly rebuilt ACDelco Monaro into an even bigger monstrous power wheelstand, that ended up scraping the wall. If anyone noticed Steven Ham went 5.722 for the win in the other lane, low ET of the round. Sam Fenech in the second of the ACDelco machines had grabbed a 5.74 win over Bray in round one, and was solid again with a 5.75 against a red lighting Russell Pavey. Zappia finished off the round with a 5.76 defeat of Michelle Davies, but that would be quick enough to reach the final.

Not in the final, Zappia unleashed the ride of the weekend, and sent one in the third ARF round. The Zap’s Rat Monaro carried the front wheels several feet off the ground to halftrack in a crazy display of car control for a 5.73! In the A-Final for Saturday, Ham was way out of shape at 300ft, Fenech raced away to a 5.713 but had clipped the 1000ft timing reflectors, and the cash would go to Ham.

On Sunday Pro Slammer would use the ARF again to decide who would take home the Gold Christmas Tree on offer. Zappia surprisingly missed the set up and hit the tyres hard against Fenech in round one, the ACDelco Monaro would have been a tough beat any way clocking a 5.716. Ham dumped low ET of the event with a 5.698 on a solo after Peter Lovering no-showed in the Shoebox 55 Chev, and the Cannuli Mustang redeemed itself punching out a 5.696, snatching low ET points against a red-lighting Pavey.

Bray and new comer Sam Afchal in the former Cannuli Duster also lit up their win light. Afchal started off round two with an ugly win over Pavey, Bray went 5.89 against Davies leaving both racers sitting on two wins – ET points will likely decide the finalists. Fenech was shut down against Zappia in a rematch of round one, Zappia sent it for a 5.74 low ET of the round. Ham had a lucky escape against a tyre spinning Burns, with his Camaro wildly out of shape before gathering it up, but a 7.05 would not see him through to the final. Cannuli ended the round and made light work of Lovering with a 5.77, booking a final date against Bray.   

The final roar for the Craig Burns driven ACDelco Holden ended in the burnout with the Monaro shut down at the start of the final round of racing, capping off a rough, yet spectacular weekend for the last appearance of the team’s Monaro body before moving to a Camaro. Peter Lovering drove on for a round with with a 6.58 in the 55 Chev Shoebox. Michelle Davies finally muscled the Mustang through the shake zone that had been plaguing the team all weekend, this time for a nice 5.77, and the win over a red lighting Russell Pavey. Sam Fenech fronted John Zappia again, and this would be the last pass for the ACDelco Monaro body Maurice Fabietti has been running for nearly two decades, and it would take the Monaro out a winner with Zappia red lighting away a 5.71. The Afchal Duster was shut down after the burnout leaving Ham on a pedalling solo win before the Pro Slammer A-Final. Cannuli who has had a complete reversal of fortune from yesterday, was against Bray. The Corvette of Bray chopped the tree and was out on the Cannuli Mustang, but at the top end Cannuli had the Mustang’s nose in front and even dropping the laundry early for a 5.726 defeating a 5.899.

Pro Stock had 4 qualifying sessions across two days, before running an ARF on the Sunday for the event title, the field took a hit with the withdrawal of Tyronne Tremayne who seriously injuring his shoulder in a workplace accident the weekend before. Robert Dekert carried on his form from the Nitro Champs top qualifying with a 6.907 ahead of Aaron Tremayne’s 6.916. We weren’t seeing the ETs we come to expect for the condition, the track conditions were proving tricky with a very narrow groove, Chris Soldatos slotted into third with a 6.940, followed by Nino Cavallo (6.946), John Barbagallo (6.957) who returned to the track after a 3-year break, Wayne Daley 6.995, Scott Porter (6.996), Omar Sedmak (7.080), Mario Polito (7.088), Clint George (7.093) and Brian Pursell (7.093).

Daley grabbed two wins in the Dart going into the final round, but with a second round ET of 7.01, the team would require some luck if he was to make the final. The luck didn’t come the Diamond T Custom Toolboxes team’s way, Tremayne defeated Polito and Barbagallo with a 6.93 and 6.95 respectively, and Cavallo got lucky in an ugly tyreshaking race against Porter, before storming to a 6.92 win against George locking the Dodge into the final. For number one qualifier Dekert his chances for a final went out with a red light in round one against George, also throwing away 6.89 low ET of the event.

Tremayne was dialled in hard to the tree, his reaction times averaging out to just 9 thousandths going into the final against Cavallo. However, it was Cavallo who pulled out the holeshot, but that’s where the good ended, the Dodge moved out of the groove and turns hard left, flipping over, hitting the wall hard, before sliding to a stop on its side. Fortunately, Cavallo climbed out seemingly unharmed and waved to the crowd, inconsequently it seemed at the time, Tremayne recorded the event win with a 6.93 and took home another Gold Christmas Tree.

Top Bike was down on numbers, the Ben Stevens team withdrew pre-event unable to get parts in time, thanks to the critical world-wide parts shortage, this just left three bikes. Chris Matheson again came so close to the fives with a 6.02 to top qualify ahead of Mark Drew’s Harley and John Zahra who has been have a torturous time aboard his nitro four-cylinder bike. Zahra ended up not attempting the ARF on Sunday, this left Matheson and Drew to essentially match race. Drew took the first round win with a 6.54, as the Nitro Voodoo Bike had eyes for the wall, round two just featured Matheson who zinged the tyres on the hit when the Drew couldn’t fire. In the event final, Matheson cooked the tyres on the hit and gets back on it for a 6.69, but Mark Drew was on a strong pass standing the Harley hard up on the back wheel, unfortunately just clipping the finish line reflector, giving the win back to Matheson.

In the other two-wheeled PRO class, Pro Bike, was solid for numbers, the six-second man Luke Crowley was looking to drop back into that zone again in qualifying. Crowley missed the first day’s qualifying with data logger problems and didn’t want to risk the engine without it. However the Suzuki rider found his groove quickly smashing out a 7.001 at 183MPH to head the pack at the close of qualifying. In his wake was Scott White who was improving on every pass with a 7.369, Andrew Badcock (7.399), debutant Tony Frost with a 7.51, Daniel Rabnott (7.585), Mark Hancock (7.870) and Locky Ireland who had been struggling to tame his bucking Suzuki rounding out the field with a 7.97.

Crowley smashed a 7.09 on a single to start of eliminations and never looked back, the Crowley Suzuki knocked out a 7.03 against a valiant Frost – who ran a 7.41 PB in the first round against Ireland – to see him through to the final against White. The White Suzuki was the underdog, but still stepping up each run, a 7.34 against Ireland round one, improved to a 7.25 win against Badcock in the semi, unfortunately problems with releasing the clutch on the launch saw White drop a terrible reaction, and with Crowley racing off to the stripe with a 7.160, White’s still strong 7.266 didn’t stand a chance.

10 cars in IHRA Pro Mod and the field was punctuated by Collin Willshire’s 5.895 at the top with his twin turbo Mustang. IHRA Pro Mod is run on a 5.85 index, and seven of the 10 cars were in the five second zone by the end of qualifying. Come race day the contenders were reduced by a few; Peter Gratz took a trip into the sand with his Barracuda causing some significant body damage after a 6.01 PB, but what kept him out was engine damaged discovered during maintenance. Stew Walsh was also a no-show for round one, picking up engine damage with his twin turbo powerplant that he didn’t pick up in time to fix, Mick Mahoney also was forced to miss round one, after struggling with engine and transmission problems over the event.

Willshire would stay on his good form defeating Tony Wedlock with a 5.97 in round one, and Jeremy Callaghan in the semi via a 5.95 to see himself through to the final. Racing off in the final would be another twin turbo Mustang, that of Greg Tsakiridis. ‘Mauler’ as he is more affectionally known was the third placed qualifier with a 5.90, and they really have to pull the reigns back on a car that can go 5.40s on a good day. Tsakiridis had a gift in round one when Neil Murphy went red by a bunch, his semi final battle with rival Zoran Gajic was a classic. The GAS Racing Mustang stopped the clocks with a 5.88, but left to much time at the tree and Tsakiridis took the holeshot win with a 5.91. In the final Willshire had a problem and never left the beams, Tsakiridis drives it through the top end without going too quick, taking the event win with a safe 5.96.

Factory Xtreme took a hit with competitors as the event transpired over the weekend, Frank Tarabay in the GAS Racing Scion was in control though. Tarabay top qualified with a 6.29 in the 2J powered machine, went 6.007 in round one on a solo, on his way to the final against Collin Willshire’s four-cylinder Eclipse – racing in his second Winternationals final for the day. Tarabay dropped a 6.14 in the final against Willshire’s 6.30 for the win, but what didn’t drop was the Scion’s chutes in the braking area, and Tarabay headed into the sand, just nosing the car into the net.

For Super Comp, it really came down to race in two after qualifying, Adrian Vella in his tough launching E/MPA Cobalt was an enormous -.729 under the 8.96 record with an 8.23. Chomping at his fender was Tony Bellert, the competition debut of his Barra powered dragster in the brand new FB98/DA class, stormed to a 6.280 on a 6.95 record – the quickest pass from a Barra equipped vehicle in the world. Keeping them honest was Jai Schluter with his new Cavalier, after Schluter tamed the wheelstands, he slid into third with an 8.75 on the 9.13 F/MPA record.

As expected though, Vella and Bellert would find themselves in the final, Vella was on the game with a .005 at the tree, Bellert chased but with a slack reaction gave up the run to help protect the record stopping the timers with a 6.439 (6.95IN) to Vella’s winning 8.245 (8.96IN).

Luke Crowley doing double driving duties jumped to the top of Performance Bike with a 7.378 on Edge Mallis’ DD/CB Kawasaki, an eternity under the 8.55 record, and the rest of the field weren’t even in same time zone. Crowley though, couldn’t put it together when he needed it on race day, losing out to Ken Collin in the semi finals. Coming from the fourth qualifying spot on his A/AB Hayabusa, Collin went on to defeat second seed Nathan Ward in the final. With both riders on the 8.11 A/AB index, Colling hit the stripe first in the heads up race with a 7.75 to 7.81.  

There were four bikes fighting it out in the heads up Extreme Bike class featuring three Hayabusas, and a lone Suzuki. Ace Edwards sat on point after qualifying with a 7.29, heading into the ARF. Jason Ellem threatened with a round one 7.12 win against Shaun Soboll that would hold up for low ET of the event, and a win against Russell Lacey slotted him into the event final with Edwards who also remained undefeated. Unfortunately, the final was a bit of a mess, Ellem rolled the beams when he hit the two step, causing confusion from Edwards, who just ended up launching and collecting the win.

Pro Radial brought its usual shenanigans with crazy wheelstands and the like, racing over the 1/8th, the pack was chasing Tim Cross’ twin turbo Cortina after qualifying who went into the racing rounds with a 4.536 best.

The top two qualifiers Cross and young gun Jaidyn Seng would meet up in the final as scripted. Cross pulled the Cortina out of the beams first in heads up final, and would not be surpassed to the stripe with a 4.55 to the Seng Commodore’s 4.76.

A violent accident marred round one of Supercharged Outlaws, Bill Fletcher’s got loose on the top end and hit the wall shearing a rear wheel, sending his dragster back across the track head on into the opposite wall, narrowly missing his opponent Brett Stirling, before going into a series of barrel rolls. Bill climbed out and walked assisted to the ambulance, before heading off to hospital, where he was given the all clear and released the following day.

Stirling was fortunate to come away unscathed after being caught up in the Fletcher accident, and found himself in his first Winternationals final with his blown Camaro. Conversely, Graeme Frawley, sitting on the other side of the tree was is in his sixth. It was too much for Stirling, whom red lit and Frawley collected another Golden Tree.

There was plenty of experience in the Top Sportsman final as well, Steve Fowler racing for his umpteenth event win had Garry Hunt’s Commodore to deal with in the final. Hunt left with the wheels up on a .017 light, Fowler was on it as well with a .011 in the chase, nonetheless Hunt had to lift to bring the wheelstand under control and that was all Fowler needed, taking the win with a 6.92 (6.86DI) to Hunt’s 8.67 (8.47DI).

Simon Barlow made the long trip from South Australia worth it, taking the top qualifiers medallion, and the event win in Modified with his hard launching dragster. Barlow went 6.78 on a 6.74 dial, in the final to defeat Gavin List’s 7.54 on a 7.52 with the holeshot.

It was an interstate heavy hitter battle in Super Sedan, Ben Phillips has been on a tear with final rounds over the year with his very neat HK wagon, against local Paul Doeblien who certainly knows how to win events. Sadly, for Phillips, the HK launched 8 thou too early, picking a cherry off the tree, gifting Doeblien a Winternationals win.

Defending 400 Thunder Modified Bike champion Brian Alvisio out a win in style aboard his ‘Joker’ themed Kawasaki, with a holeshot against Matt Walker’s Hayabusa. With a .082 to .165 leave at the tree, Alvisio could afford some throttle off safety at the stripe with a 9.000 on a 8.90 to Walker’s 8.601 on a 8.57.

Super Street is always hard fought at the Winters with strong fields. New South Welshman Craig Warren nailed his dial in the final with a 10.303 on a 10.30, but the Torana left to much on the tree, and could not run down and stop Brett Kelly’s high stepping Falcon from taking the win with a 10.422 on a 10.41.

Making its first appearance at the Winternationals was Real Street, the final came down to a classic Holden versus Ford duel between Hannes Uys and Cooper Leahy. Uys who also competes in Modified survived a holeshot to hang on for the win with a 12.64 on 12.58 against Leahy’s fast closing 12.09 on 12.01.

There were happy and sad tears after the Junior Dragster final. In a battle of third generation racers, Ryan Pettiford won over Dakoda Bray with an 8.477 (8.46DI) to 8.906 (8.87DI) in an emotional final. Ryan is the Grandson of Evelyn White – wife of long time Modified racer Alan White, and mother of Pro Alcohol racer Brett White – a popular NSW drag racing personality for many, many, years, whom sadly passed away just a few weeks ago.

James Lowday is the 400 Thunder Junior Dragster champion for 2021/2022, the decision was made for the class, that the current season would not be extended into the Super Season because of the number or racers coming of age and unable to continue competing.

There were a few tears shed following the inaugural Junior Drag Bike final as well – the class was also making its debut at the Winternationals after many years of hard work.  Running as an exhibition class for the moment, Bobbie Schluter would be the first Winternationals winner of the class, she defeated Christian White in the final with a 9.446 (9.34DI) to a 9.666 (9.45DI). The publicity should see the class blossom with racers to be as popular as its Junior Dragster cousin.

Check out our play by play event notebook for more results:

2022 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals event notebook Day 1
2022 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals event notebook Day 2
2022 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals event notebook Day 3
2022 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals event notebook final day

Check out our daily galleries

GALLERY: 2022 Winternationals Day 1
GALLERY: 2022 Winternationals Day 2
GALLERY: 2022 Winternationals Day 3
GALLERY: 2022 Winternationals Finals Day

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