race reports

IHRA Nitro Thunder Top Fuel and other classes at Sydney, Australia

Ladies Lead the Way


Words and photos by Jon Van Daal

The recent IHRA Nitro Thunder event at Sydney Dragway saw a return to the good old days of the track when a massive crowd watched the full gamut of Professional and Sportsman racing. There were a few crashes and super close racing that culminated in the first ever all-female Australian IHRA Top Fuel final round (maybe the world).

Kelly Bettes

Rachalle Splatt


Coming off two straight round wins in the IHRA Australian Top Fuel Championship, rookie sensation Kelly Bettes outclassed a solid field of drivers to make it to her third straight final. She headed qualifying with a 3.845 from her Fuchs Oils-sponsored Lammatina Racing dragster and was the only driver to take two wins from the previous two rounds of Chicago Shootout racing.


In the final she faced fellow female shoe, Rachelle Splatt for the gold and, in a tractionless duel, Bettes was able to keep the candles lit long enough to defeat her opponent with a 4.801 to Splatt's tire smoking 5.927. Over the weekend Bettes reaction times averaged nearly two hundredths better than her nearest rival and she ran the quickest time of the weekend – 3.823 in the first round.

Wayne Newby

Ashley Sanford came from the U.S. to drive the Rapisarda dragster, seen here with Peter Xiberras.

Phil Read


Going into the Nitro Thunder race, Peter Xiberras was sitting third on the Top Fuel Championship ladder some 22 points behind leader Damien Harris and twenty points (or one round) behind Bettes. A best of 5.361 in qualifying only put him in fifth spot but he improved to a 3.992 in the first round of eliminations to take out Phil Read.

In the second round, however, he was see all hell break loose. After grabbing over a hundredth off the line against Wayne Newby, the car ran well until around the 100-foot mark when it went up in smoke. In a mere moment the car turned left and was careening on its two left wheels into Newby’s lane before hitting the opposite wall very hard – the dragster then followed the wall all the way to the finish-line where it came to a stop. Xiberras was taken to hospital and is currently recuperating from spinal surgery. For more see the video here.

Queenslander, Steve Reed, in his Chev Monte Carlo funny car, was the class of the alcohol field at the Nitro Thunder event. A 5.585 win over the front engine dragster of Geoff Blake in round one and a 5.618 against the wall banging similar Monte Carlo of Brett White set him up for a final round contest with Russell Mills’ “Funster” – a half dragster/half altered. Going into the race both had been in the winner’s circle at previous events but Reed (in the near lane) made no bones about it running a 5.518/262.18 to a struggling 6.882.


“Russell (Mills) is a tough competitor,” Reed told the assembled throng at the trophy presentations after the race. “We have been in some finals together but we won here tonight.”

Wayne Price

Geoff Blake

As can be seen here Tremayne (in the far lane) grabbed a .044 lead off the line (an excellent .010 to a reasonable .054) but the yellow Dodge managed to grab that back by the sixty-foot mark and solidly extended his lead to win with a 6.902 over a 6.957.


Daley later said, “Thanks must go to Aaron Tremayne for not only providing a very healthy Tremaniac Racing small block Hemi, but for his assistance with so many aspects of tuning the car.”

Jason Hedges

Rick Chilton


For regular DRO web surfers you may have seen my two-part Inner View story over the Xmas holidays with IHRA Australia CEO, Maurice Allen. (see here - Ed)


While Allen has done a brilliant job in that seat he ain’t half bad on the seat of his Suzuki Pro Stock Motorcycle either. He qualified third on his Vance and Hines powered TLR 1000 with a 7.203 behind Glen Wooster’s 7.12 and Cory Buttigieg’s 7.190 but had the chain come off near the finish line and cut up his fuel tank and tail piece very badly. Repairs were made over night and he made the call for eliminations.

After Wooster couldn’t return for the final this saw Buttigieg’s Harley Davidson face Allen for the gold. The Harley rider (near lane) received a riding lesson from the former Australian champ grabbing a .180 lead off the line. Despite this Buttigieg ended up running a quicker time – a 7.491, but Allen’s 7.617 was just enough to click the win light.


“We brought the bike here just to make up the numbers,” a stunned Allen admitted after the event, “now we have a good chance of taking out the championship!”

Phil “Bluey Maggot” Howard got into some bother in slowing down from his close first round loss to Andrew Babcock. As can be seen, just after the traps the front wheel starts grabbing with smoke pouring from the tyre. Half way down the braking area he fell and this sequence was the result. Howard’s pride seemed more hurt than his body and he quickly got up and checked -- the bike was OK.

Chris Matherson gets a bit close to the wall.

Adam Layton

Michael Dwinger

The Top Bike bracket could only tempt a four-motorcycle field with only three bikes making a qualifying pass on the cold Friday night track - it really impacted the high horsepower Nitro Sickles with Adam Layton’s Harley with a 10.085 being the best of the trio. Chris Matherson’s “Nitro Voodoo” later ran a 6.595 at only 146.5 that was good enough for top spot with Michael Dwinger’s Suzuki sitting in the middle with a 7.502. Chris Porter made a lap on Saturday morning but broke the chain and was out while the field got down to two bikes and ended up being run as an exhibition bracket instead. The IHRA did give 20 points to Matherson, Dwinger and Porter towards the championship.

Journeyman driver, Ben Gatt has been racing for over fifty years and at the Nitro Thunder event he suffered his biggest crash of his racing career. Just after the first photo was here the engine cried enough and oil poured out under the tyres and sent the Ford Falcon careening across the track. He hit the opposite wall at about third track and quickly came to a halt. Despite a small but consistent fire on the ground around him he was safely extricated from the car (seen here second from the right).

Top Sportsman winner, Michael Voase.  




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