It has big month for drag racing Down Under, and quite a historic one, too. The 55th Winternationals at Willowbank marked the end of an era, being the final event for the 400 Thunder series, and the very next weekend saw the final meeting for the short-lived Australian Drag Racing Championship at Nitro Up North in Darwin.
Both series will be replaced by the new National Drag Racing Championship, which will kick off at The Bend Dragway, 21-22 October – just a week after we wrap up Street Machine Drag Challenge 2023 at that new South Australian track.
At the Winters, Morice McMillin won the first Nitro Funny Car championship to be contested Down Under in decades. Morice ran a record-setting 4.702-second pass over the 1000ft to win both the event and the title for the Aeroflow team.
With the Pro Slammer championship already in the bag for Steve Ham, Paul Cannuli took out the class win at the Winters for the second year in a row, making his way through a small field to best Ben Bray in the final.
Other notable results included brothers Jaidyn and Caleb Seng finishing first and second respectively in Pro Radial.
The Winternationals was also the final meeting for Graeme Cooper’s famous EH Holden wagon, ‘The Bricklayer’ after a 45-year career. The pair were a formidable bracket racing combination, with many event wins, as well as taking out ANDRA Super Street Championships in 1985-’86, 1993 and 1995.
Up in Darwin, Nitro Up North was a drama-filled event, with Kelvin Lyle winning the Top Doorslammer championship over John Zappia just by qualifying. Lyle crashed his Mustang heavily in the final, seriously injuring himself and narrowly missing Zappia’s HQ in the deep end. Lyle was transferred to the ICU and was put into an induced coma, but he is now awake and in good spirits. His team gave an update via press release last night:
“Kelvin has miraculously escaped significant injuries with just four broken ribs, some bruising and abrasions but after several days in hospital he’s already alert and well enough to lament not having a car ready for The Bend for the new Championship opener.
“The Mustang struck the right side lane wall five seconds into the A-Final heavily sending the Busselton hard charger down the track with significant damage and seemingly no decrease in speed. The chutes did not deploy and Kelvin hurtled to the deep end where a further huge impact at the end brought the Mustang to a brutal stop.
“Kelv’s team are carefully analysing the crash footage and data from it as they look to understand what happened…Lyle is naturally grateful for the construction of the car but also for the outpouring of concern and well-wishers from the industry.
“It’s hoped that in the next 24 to 48 hours, Kelvin will be released from ICU and begin the build-up to leaving hospital and flying home to WA….Kelvin’s memory is starting to piece together many different moments from the day and night itself – something that has come as a relief to medical staff and friends alike.”
Damien Harris won the Top Fuel championship and the Stan Sainty Cup with a round-two victory, but was defeated in the final by Peter Xiberras. At this stage, Nitro Up North isn’t listed on the National Drag Racing Championship 2023-’24 calendar.
Other notable movements on the scene included the retirement of eight-time Top Bike champion Chris Matheson. Chris recorded the first five-second Top Bike pass in the southern hemisphere at the Nitro Champs at Sydney Dragway in May, to the tune of 5.92@232mph.
And while one champion bows out on top, another is making a comeback, with ‘Pommie’ Steve Read set to return to Top Fuel after a six-year break. Steve is teaming up with Nitro Funny Car driver Tim McCarthy and long-time friend Nick Packer to form RPM Top Fuel Racing, and the team is expected to front for the opening round of the NDRC series at The Bend Dragway on 21 October.
Elsewhere, Mark Drew and the ‘Crusty’ Torana team continued their winning ways (having won the 275 GOAT class at Holden Nats) at the King of the Street event at Heathcote in June, taking out the Open Class against fellow Drag Challenge veteran Brandon Zito. Drewy’s Torana was also the quickest car of the meet, with a best of 7.348@195mph.
And in the US, West Australian racer John Faraone returned to the States with his famous Charger to take on the Sick Summer drag-and-drive event. John got the chocolates in the Pro Street class, running sevens each day.
Honorary Aussie Fonzie Novelo finished second in the Sick Week Freaks class in his Barra-powered 1979 Fairmont, with a best of 8.94@151mph.