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The 2022/23 Australian Top Doorslammer Championship will long be remembered as one of extreme highs and the lowest of lows. For John Zappia, that pattern firmly applied to Nitro Up North at Darwin’s Hidden Valley Drag Strip.

Qualifying was a mixed bag for the Dananni Hotshots/Fuchs Monaro, with the first session producing instant tyre spin, while the second yielded the quickest pass of the night. “We left the car with the same tune up as we had in Sydney for our first pass, figuring the weather would take out the power needed,” Zappia explained, “We blew the tyres off right at the hit.”

We weren’t the only ones though, with Kelvin Lyle the only racer to get down the track in that session. “We backed the car way down for the second qualifying session and this time the car left well with a 0.956 60 foot time. I feathered the throttle a little to get the front end down and carried on to a 5.72/248mph. That pass earned us the Crow Cams Top Qualifier Award for which we were very thankful.”

Race day beckoned and the Zappia Racing team decided that they would stay with much the same setup, with more heat in the air sapping the horsepower levels. Taking on local Matt Abel in the first round, Zappia led the race from the start, despite the return of a mystery electrical problem. “We thought we had that cutout issue solved, but sure enough it misfired four times and knocked our ET down to a 5.85. The good news was my reaction time, a 0.036, which was my best since changing to the auto.”

In round two, Zappia took a solo pass. The misfires went away as mysteriously as they reappeared, and a 5.72/249mph had the team confident for the final round against Kelvin Lyle. As delays affected the night’s racing, the track was covered in dew. The Top Doorslammer final was not on track until almost 11pm. The race would be one of the closest calls in Zappia’s drag racing career.

“Kelvin left on me, and I had some tyre shake that I needed to pedal through. Once again my car started misfiring, but even so I felt like I was catching him. Next second, and I see Kelvin is near the centre line, then he hits the wall. We were neck and neck through the finish so I couldn’t see him for a while, then his Mustang came across right in front of me, just missing the front right corner of my car. There’s sparks flying off his car as he hits the wall on my side of the track and then continues on at speed. Meanwhile, I was on the brakes and skidding sideways to slow down. I realised I was almost out of control myself because I had panicked and over-braked. I could see him taking off into the distance so I regained composure and was directed off the track.

“From that time on, all of us were concerned about Kelvin. He uses our ZR1 engine so our teams are very close. We just had to wait as the safety crews did their job. It was a very sombre time as we waited for news about him.”

Though Zappia had the win, it wasn’t a night for celebration. Combined with a crash earlier in the night from Lisa Gregorini, the whole Top Doorslammer field were simply hoping the worst news had passed. Kelvin’s partner Shaniah announced that Kelvin was awake, alert and in good spirits despite being in incredible pain. The Zappia Racing team wishes nothing but the best for Kelvin in his recovery.

As the off-season begins, Zappia Racing will begin preparing for the new National Drag Racing Championship, scheduled to begin at the brand-new facility at The Bend Motorsport Park in South Australia on the 21-22 October 2023. “Thanks to all of our sponsors for being a part of our campaign this season. Congratulations to Kelvin on winning the championship — something that can never be taken away from him. There were many successful events around the country, punctuated by some of the deepest lows we have known in this sport. Let’s hope that the 2023/24 season with the fresh National Drag Racing Championship will be one we can remember for all the right reasons.”

A huge thank you to our sponsors who make this all possible. Joint Naming Rights sponsors Dananni Hotshots and FUCHS Lubricants, Major sponsors Crow Cams, WA Bolts, Tony’s Auto Wreckers, WA Suspensions, Callies Cranks, Motec, Hoosier Racing Tire, Noonan Ultimate Race Engineering, Striker Crushing and Screening, B&J Transmissions and all the supporting sponsors Alky Pro, K-Craft Bullbars, Santhuff Shocks, B&J Racing Transmissions, Avtrac Maintenance Tracking, Taylor Tyres Pty Ltd, Kounis Metal Industries, Competition and Industrial Coatings, Reid Machine, Final Drive Engineering, Aurora Bearings, SDS Fuel Systems, Total Seal Piston Rings, Victory 1 Performance, and Applied Automotive Performance Engines.

Also a big thanks you to all the tracks, track staff, volunteers and especially all our fans and supporters.

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