To rank the Top 10 Australian racers of all time is an exercise fraught with danger and also runs the risk of incurring the wrath of drag racing keyboard warriors who are currently in hibernation due to COVID-19.
The main issue is not the actual composition of the Top 10. Each driver on the list has earned his or her place as one of Australian drag racing greats. What will generate debate and controversy are the rankings within the ten.
For a sport where statistics are gospel, the easiest path would be to punch the names of the drivers and their achievements into a computer, let the algorithms take over and spit out the rankings.
However, assembling a Top 10 is not just about statistics or an opportunity to wallow in nostalgia and pine for the so-called “good old days.”
In 2001, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the NHRA, Don Garlits was named the number one driver of all time ahead of John Force. Tony Schumacher, only five seasons and five wins into his celebrated career was unranked.
In 2021, on the 70th anniversary, will “the Sarge” with eight NHRA Mello Yello world championships to his credit be able to squeeze into the Top 50?
Any rankings of the best drivers is also a work in progress. A snapshot of the sport at a particular time – in this case, May 2020. It also serves as an opportunity to acknowledge the heroes of the sport.
The ‘Aussie’ Top 10 is an eclectic group ranging across seven decades. Some are still racing and winning, others have retired or are in the twilight of their careers and sadly in one case recently passed away. There are several who have competed sparingly in their home country but have achieved success in the NHRA.
Australia has a rich and diverse drag racing culture beginning with the first Australian Drag Racing championship held under the auspices of the Victorian Hot Rod Association at Riverside Raceway, on the outskirts of Melbourne, October 2-3, 1966.
Jack ‘fizzball’ Collins was crowned the first Australian champion after defeating Eddie Thomas in the final of Top Eliminator.
Fast forward to 1973 and the Australian National Drag Racing Association was formed and became the overarching governing body for the sport until 2015.
A bitter fight between ANDRA, several race tracks and team owners over the future and direction of the sport lead to the creation of the 400 Thunder series for the Pro series in 2015 under the auspices of the American based IHRA. Consequently, ANDRA became the peak body for Sportsman racing in the country.
Missing a spot in the Top 10 are several distinguished, gifted and well-credentialed racers including Pro Stock star Aaron Tremayne, Top Fuel duo Rachelle Splatt and Darren Morgan and pioneers of the sport in Larry Ormsby, Ash Marshall and Graham Withers.
Queenslander Tremayne has dominated the naturally aspirated category amassing seven titles since 2008. Aaron and sibling, Tyrone are part of Tremaniac Racing, a major player in the category over the last decade.
Rachelle Splatt, after winning the 1993 Australian Nationals, was lured to America to race for the Luxor Casino team. On March 6 1994, she became the first woman in the world to run over 300 mph. Shortly after a clash with her team owners saw Splatt return to Australia. Since then she has made several comeback attempts, however, has struggled due to budget and sponsorship woes.
Darren Morgan began racing in the Pro ranks in 2005 with Lamattina Racing winning the Top Fuel title in his rookie season. Over the next decade, he went on to collect three more titles as a team owner/driver. But like several of his peers, has fallen victim to the ever-escalating cost of racing and lack of sponsor dollars.
Over the next ten days, starting on Wednesday evening (AUSTRALIAN EASTERN STANDARD TIME), we will list a top ten figure in Aussie drag racing history.