Unless you have been totally off the grid then you may know that Australia has been severely affected by wildfires since early October, and as I write this nearly five months later, they are still burning. With some 12 million acres and over a billion animals lost, you can say it is one of the worst natural disasters of the 21st century. After virtually no rain in Sydney since September last year, drought-breaking rain decided to turn up on the very weekend that Sydney Dragway was to host the IHRA Santo’s Summer Thunder event. The day before the event, the decision was made to delay the race by a week because of the expected deluge.
The original date of the race (January 17th) saw some 2-inches of rain with more precipitation on the following two days. While the rain was very much needed, it also made the postponement of the event a wise decision. That said, the following Friday also saw the event not run to script as nuisance rain plagued the morning, but at the skies cleared, it was dry from then on.
The delay of a week meant that some racers could not return for the new date with around 20 entries not returning, alas it also had an effect on the crowd numbers, too. Fortunately, all the pro racers, with the exception of Kelvin Lyle in his Mustang Pro Slammer, made it back for new date. Only six fuel cars could be coaxed out for the event, with three of those being owned by Santo Rapisarda’s Rapisarda Autosport International (RAI) sporting their black livery. Australian drag racing owes a huge debt to Santo as he is sponsoring two IHRA events, with the second being at Willowbank on Good Friday.
What Top Fuel lacked in quantity it certainly made up in quality, especially on raceday, where the all-run format saw every pass in the second and third rounds of racing being super-close, with all cars in the 3.80-3.90 range. One of the drivers on the Rapisarda roster was former Kalitta Motorsports driver Richie Crampton, who recently lost his seat with the American team but was dead keen to drive the RAI fuel dragster.
A check-out pass on Friday saw the transplanted Aussie run a respectable 3.99 that was fifth best in the field. The shakedown session times were led by Phil Read, who cranked out a 3.902-second pass in his car’s new yellow Hydraulink Hoses and Fittings livery. RAI driver Damien Harris was next with a 3.854-second, 322 mph pass that was top speed for Friday. The field was rounded out by Peter Xiberass on a 3.854, Wayne Newby on a 3.912, while Phil Lamattina was returning to the seat and did some exploratory laps with a best of 11.84.
As can be seen here, raceday opened with Read taking on Harris, with the former getting all sorts of crossed up in the banana-colored dragster. Harris’ 3.902 was too good for an out-of-shape 5.292. Next up, Phil Lamattina finally found his feet when opponent, Xiberass, had a hole out off the line and went into tiresmoke about the 200-foot mark. His 4.924 was never going to catch a 3.974 from the carrot farmer. The last pairing saw Newby face Crampton, with the latter pulling a slight holeshot off the line, however, he struck the tires straight away and had to watch Newby take a 3.864-second win.
The second frame opened with Lamattina’s 3.884 nailing the 3.915 of Xiberras, Harris used a 3.890 to turn back Read’s 3.984. Crampton took the lead off the line, however, the 3.903 against Newby’s 3.880 meant that Crampton lost by mere thousandths.
The final round (all cars run three times) opened with Read taking on Crampton, with the latter grabbing a hundredth off the tree. As the cars went down track Crampton was heading toward the centerline while Read was powering away – the result, Read won with a 3.803 to a 4.00. “As I went down track, I was passed by Read, who streaked away. I was heading towards the centerline so I shut it off,” Crampton added.
The next pairing put together the PremiAir Hire dragster of Xiberras ,who faced Harris in his RAI digger. On the green Xiberras pulled a .025-second holeshot on his opponent, however, as he went past the tree a fuel fitting was loose and was spraying raw fuel into the air. Still it didn’t affect the pass and his holeshot ensured that a slower 3.872 was too good for Harris’ quicker 3.857.
The final pairing was also the final for the bracket where Newby faced Lamattina. Copious burnouts brought the small crowd to its feet. After they staged, Newby took a two-hundredths advantage on the tree and when paired with a 3.824 to a 3.902, it was Newby all the way. “We have just got the best crew”, Newby told the crowd at the presentation. “I have to thank Santo (Rapisarda) and my girlfriend, Allie (Dykes) for their continued support,” he went on to say.
Backing up the Kings of the Sport was a depleted field of Pro Slammers. John Zappia, in his HQ Holden Monaro, was the class of the Slammer field, top-qualifying with a 5.692 ahead of six others. He ran low e.t. of each round with a 5.681 and a 5.719 to face Steven Ham’s ’68 Camaro in the money round. Ham had qualified in second spot with a 5.712 and ran 5.991 and 5.739 to go for the gold. On an almost equal leave, Ham stumbled when his car broke traction and he had to pedal it, while Zappia streaked away to a 5.690-second, 254.14 win.
Zappia’s win wasn’t as easy as it looked when the Monaro had all sorts of problems trying to pull up. “We got out well and just pulled away from there for win, he said. As I went through the top end, the bumps unsettled the car and I was just holding onto the steering wheel praying it wasn’t going to hit the wall. I managed to pull it up and turn before the sand trap — that was a pretty scary ride in the braking area, but at least there was relief with the win, he went on to say.” (For the record, Sydney Dragway is scheduled to have corrective trackwork completed over their off season – Author’s note)
Backing up the two Pro categories were eleven sedan and bike eliminators that provided a plethora of excellent racing. Heading these was a new category that was announced just prior to this event: Pro Mod. No, not the American version, but an Aussie one. The new bracket was open to all types of sedans, whether they be blown, turbocharged, Pro-charged or nitrous powered. A heads-up, pro tree start system saw race teams running against a target e.t. of 5.85. Zoran Gajic, in his 486 Hemi-powered Mustang, was the first winner in a nine-car field. His winning 5.855-second time overcame fellow Mustang driver, Greg Tsakiridis and his 5.901.
Pro Radial has gained a solid following over the past four years and while the were ten entries slated for the original date, when the first round came around only six came out to play. Like the brackets above, it was an all-run format, with five entries returning in the second and third rounds. The final featured the quickest cars on the property — both Mustangs. Craig Burns, in his BAE 521-powered car took on Joe Gauci’s 540 cube AJP entry. The race was decided on the starting line when Gauci took over a tenth of a second out of the gate and his 4.143 at 193.77 turned back a quicker 4.118 at 181.54.
Group 2 brackets saw a combination of Comp and Super Stock being run as Super Comp. The final saw two Super Stockers duke it out ,when Fred Nicastri, in his Pontiac GTO, hole-shot opponent Adrian Vella in his Chevrolet-powered Cobalt. A 8.878 (on a 9.04 index) won over an 8.412 (on an 8.70 index) There was only one downer over the weekend, and that concerned Con Soldatos’ new Cobalt that crashed on its second pass when the differential locked up in the braking area. He was A-okay, but the car was in bad shape.
The Performance Bike category saw a six-bike field, with only one Kawasaki in a basically Suzuki Hayabusa bracket. The final saw Wally Hosta’s A/S out-react and out run Ken Collin’s A/AB – an 8.694 (on an 8.99 index) did it to an 8.114 (on an 8.16 index). Talking of bikes, the Extreme Bike bracket saw another all-Suzuki Hayabusa field with some awesome runs that included Leonard Azzopardi running 6.80s at 212-plus mph. The final saw Brandon Gosbell’s 7.366 out-do a second-best 8.056 from Darren Foley.
For the original date the Modified bracket had 21 entries, but in the first round of racing only twelve entries faced the starter. In the money round, Daniel Flack, in a 427 Chevrolet-powered Bantam, out-reacted Paul Linnet in a small-block 434 Chevrolet-powered T bucket — Flack’s 8.465 (on an 8.43 dial-in) putting it to a 7.706 (on a 7.67 dial-in).
Top Sportsman eliminator had eleven starters in the first frame (down from the eighteen entries for the original meeting). The final featured the 585 cube big-block Chevrolet-powered Holden Torana of Frank Oliveri crossing swords with the 400-cube Holden Commodore of David Whitmore. Whitmore went cherry-picking with a -.303 red light that handed the win to Oliveri, who recorded a 8.402 (on an 8.30 dial-in) winning run.
Super Sedan had fourteen starters but after three rounds of racing this was reduced to the final pair: the 427 Windsor-powered Ford Capri of Michael Milasiewicz facing the 572 big-block Chevrolet-powered Chevrolet Beretta of Patrick Barron. While Barron took nearly a hundredth off the line, it was the consistency of Milasiewicz that won the gold, as his .003-seconds over 8.870 headed the .0046 over 9.896 from the Beretta.
Super Gas was a small but heady bracket with six cars leaving the pits for the first round. At the end of the day a double breakout occurred in the money round as the 565 Chevrolet-powered Holden Torana of Greg South won with a slightly better 0.014 under 9.886 to opponent Andrew McGrotty, who went 0.020 under with a 9.880 from his Chevrolet 422-powered Holden Commodore.
To round out the results Super Street saw Ray Ross in his 360 Chrysler Charger red-light to Australian No. 1, Peter Hamilton, in his Holden Ute. Modified Bike was again a Suzuki-fest when Robert Simmonds was asleep on the line, allowing Tammy Goldthorpe through for the gold. Lastly, Ross Lamattina (son of Top Fuel driver, Phil) went one better than his dad in Junior Dragster when he won over James Lowday.