John Zappia enters Street Machine Drag Challenge

Legendary drag racer and 11 times national Doorslammer champion John Zappia will be one of the contenders at Drag Challenge in his LS-powered VP ute

Photographers: Phil Luyer

THERE’S been a lot of chatter about entries for Street Machine Drag Challenge 2021, most of it around who didn’t snag one of the 250 spots for the sold-out event. One person who did get his entry in on time is legendary drag racer and 11 times national Doorslammer champion, John Zappia! Yep, that John Zappia. But don’t worry, he won’t be strapping a set of plates to Zap’s Rat and heading over to Calder. While he might get away with that at Drag Week, it probably wouldn’t go down too well here in Oz.

Photos: Phil Luyer

While he will be bringing the race car across to take in some east coast events after DC, the car he’ll be racing is a VP ute that he’s owned for some 20 years. “It started off as a hot 308 with a 6-speed manual, and then we put an LS in it,” John said. “It ran a 10.99 the first time I ever drove it down the drags, then we put a Turbo 400 and an Allfast converter in it and it went 10.79 on some old drag radials, then we put some slicks on it and it went 10.47@131mph. We didn’t do much with it for a while, then I thought I’d get it going for my fiancée, Rae Lockwood.”

With some more advice from Simon at Allfast, a set of double adjustable struts went in the front, and the rear was set up to be ride-height adjustable and configured to suit radials. “It started to put the power down, and with the radials Rae went 10.36@131mph. Since then we’ve done a heap of work to the motor, a bigger Crow Cam, fitted better extractors and exhaust system, a MoTeC M130 ECU and MoTeC C127 dash, and hope to get it into the nines,” says John.

One thing you can guarantee John will bring to the event is his years of experience and wealth of knowledge about how to get a car to go down the quarter mile. Even for him though, it’s a big learning curve going from a massive slick-shod car to a measly 235 drag radial, but it’s the little things and attention to detail that makes all the difference. After all, you don’t win 11 national championships with dumb luck.

An example of that was when he was checking the ute’s launch on video: “I saw that the shocks were topping out, but I didn’t pick it up on my phone; it was when I put it on my 75in telly I could see what was happening. I put extensions on the top of the shocks and straight away I could launch it harder and it wasn’t spinning the wheels anymore.”

You can bet Zap won’t be dragging his whole show across the country just to go for a nice drive. He’s entered in Kool Wrap 235 Aspirated, but he’s also got a Vortech blower laying around that might find its way into the engine bay. No doubt he’ll be in it to win it, but it will also give a whole bunch of other people the chance to say: “I raced John Zappia,” and who knows, maybe even beat him!