ITíS hard to describe the feeling of watching the 2017 Winternationals online instead of being there racing. Needless to say, it was slightly odd and hugely frustrating. I havenít missed a Winternationals going way back to the Surfers Paradise days, but on this occasion racing had to take a backseat to an urgent medical procedure.
I really want to thank the hundreds of people who have passed on their best wishes. Thank you all so much. I have been moved by your support and at the moment we need to see how my health plays out over the coming months.
I did get to watch the meeting online and it was shaping up as one of the best Winters weíve seen in the 50-year history of the event, until the rain came and wrecked everything. Ironically, they tell me it hasnít rained at Willowbank since!
Benny took over the reins of Team Bray in my absence, and did a fantastic job both on and off the track. For him to qualify second was a great effort, considering the additional pressure he was under, and the fact that he took until the last run in qualifying to secure a place in the field. From what Iíve been told, it got a bit emotional at the bottom end. Tears were shed, apparently!
There were several noteworthy performances at Willowbank prior to the washout, and I especially want to congratulate Maurice Fabietti and Mark Belleri in Pro Slammer along with Rapisarda Autosport in Top Fuel.
Maurice and Mark have developed into a topclass team and I was rapt to see them win their first ever Doorslammer title. Maurice is a great tuner, Mark is one hell of a racer, and Markís dad ĎLuckyí has been around the sport since the Wild Bunch days in the 90s. As young kids, Mark and Ben were the brats that used to run around the pits and annoy the piss out of us; now they have taken up the mantle. Maurice has always been a tough competitor and has also been able to make a living out of the sport, which is an achievement in itself.
To see two of Santo Rapisardaís cars make history by smashing through the 4.50-second barrier was a moment for the ages. Congrats to drivers Damien Harris and Wayne Newby, and their respective tuners Santo Rapisarda Jr and Santino Rapisarda. Those Rapisarda boys are at the cutting edge of Top Fuel and Iíve no doubt they are capable of running in the Top 10 in the NHRA.
I was watching the live stream of the event via OVO, and they did a great job. Like many people, I watch American drag racing online and the coverage of the Winternats was right up there. In fact, I think we do it better Ė the commentary, camera angles and presentation were all top-shelf.
While Iím dishing out all this praise, I also want to congratulate Kelly Bettes on becoming the first Aussie woman to run over 300mph in the country, which she did in the Lamattina Racing Top Fueller during licensing at Willowbank a few weeks ago.
The teamís original plan had been for Kelly to license at Sydney in May and then race at the Winternationals. That didnít happen. The Lamattinas knew that there was something wrong with the car in Sydney and decided to take a step back. Itís the mark of a professional team: They went home, worked out the problem, passed on running at the Winters, and then came back in stunning fashion, running back-toback passes at over 320mph. There was never any question in my mind they had the resources and the talent to make history. Iíve been to their carrot farm at Wemen, just south of Mildura, and let me tell you, you canít run an operation on that alsowant super-very, well organised.
Kelly, well, Iíve known her almost from the day she was born. Sheís grown up around the sport, starting in Junior Dragsters, then driving an Altered, and more recently a turbo Datsun ute for Col Willshire at Jett Racing. From what some people tell me, driving a short-wheelbase car can be almost as hard to drive as a Fuel car. I find that a bit hard to believe. Talking to Fuel drivers over the years, they tell me the thing about Fuel cars is that they pull so hard off the line and keep pulling hard all the way to the finish line.
For Kelly to get out of a turbo car and do what she achieved in the Fuel car is pretty impressive.
Benís Toyota is coming along nicely and looks like being on track to run at the Willowbank Jamboree in August. The plan was to run it at the Winternationals, but with my health dramas he had to concentrate on the Doorslammer scale without being super smart and very very corporate guests. Heís decided to run an auto transmission in the car and has found some good technology that we are running in the Doorslammer that will be of help. This yearís Jamboree is shaping up nicely.
The leading Aussies, including Rod Harvey, will be there, plus a bunch of five-second cars from Puerto Rico and some racers from New Zealand.
I think all followers of drag racing in Australia should get behind my old sparring partner John Zappia, who is off to race in America this month.
Zap plans to run the final three events on the PDRA calendar Ė at Tulsa, North Carolina and Virginia. Driving a Jerry Bickel-built Pro Mod for the Noonan Racing team, Zap will have the only clutch car in the Pro Extreme category.
Iím sure he will have the speed to run with the Americans and it will be fascinating to see how the clutch car goes against the autos. Good luck, John. s and looking after our corp