Having been an avid Nitro Sickle spectator since the early days of the bracket down under, one of the most exciting riders I’ve ever seen has been Harley stunt master, Damian Muscat. The Mackay rider was riding the wheels off his Hog, pulling the wheel up off the line and not putting it down until after the finish line. On his second pass he slapped the right hand wall in the braking area and then all but pulled up before the sand trap. His last pass saw him crash in the sand pit but qualified second best with a 6.416 at some 249.35 mph. The following day Muscat told the assembled Championship presentation crowd that he was selling the bike and assisting the new owner in learning how to race it. I for one will miss his wild antics.

In a five entry Pro Bike field, by the end of qualifying on Saturday night North Queensland’s Brad Lemberg took the top spot with a 7.121 on his VP Fuels Vance and Hines Suzuki-powered machine. Having won the previous three rounds of the championship and resetting the long-held ET record to a new 7.056, Lemberg had racked up an unbeatable 378 points to lead Glenn Wooster’s 261 for the title. At the following day’s Championship presentations he thanked his dad and crew for putting in so much time to ensure that the championship went back to Mackay.


Country Victorian Suzuki rider, Glenn Wooster was only one of three entries that had completed at all rounds of the championship over the past year and this saw him record a second best qualifying time of 7.198 going into eliminations. With race day being rained out Wooster’s 261 points earned at previous rounds put him second in the championship as well. While not winning a round, a solid performance at each one added up to an excellent finish for the nine bikes that took part.


Awesome Imports

Rod Harvey


Regular Australian visitor, Rod Harvey has always shown glimpses of brilliance and finally things were to pay off in qualifying at the Winternationals when he cranked out an awesome 5.909 pass in the second round of Factory Extreme qualifying. Catching up to the Kiwi pilot after the run he told me that it should have offered so much more but lost boost after the 1,000-foot mark.


“We put a new computer on that pass and unfortunately it didn’t run as it should”, Harvey told me. “We started losing boost from the 1,000-foot mark onwards and the car was seven miles per hour down on what it should have been. To put a good pass down in the Celica the first half of the track is critical. We have to bring it up on boost, make sure it is lined up straight and I have to ensure the first half of the run is perfect. That happened this time around but it was the top end that let us down on that pass – it should have been an eighty something,” he frustratedly added.

Nikki Hepburn


Still, he wasn’t the only import car proving to be a world class competitor as Nikki Hepburn’s Toyota GT86, powered by a destroked 1FZ 4L inline six cylinder mounted with a 98mm single turbo, was able to become the world’s first six-second radial tyred Sport Compact car with a 6.988 pass also in qualifying at the race.


Despite race day being rained out the event capped a most excellent year for the International Hot Rod Association (South) with solid crowds at most rounds. Watch this space next spring (your fall) for it to start all over again).


Westralian, John Zappia took top spot in his HQ Holden Monaro in the Pro Slammer bracket vying with fourteen other cars to get into the field. A 5.643 did the trick with seven other cars all getting under the incredible 5.902 bump spot. As you have exclusively read in DRO first, Zappia is looking at running in America this season and left after the race to make it happen.

Mark Belleri held a slim 38-point lead over Gary Phillips’ Studebaker going into the event and ended up as seventh qualifier with a 5.889. Belleri, driving the AC Delco-sponsored Holden Monaro (Pontiac GTO – Ed.) of Maurice Fabietti, had won the first two rounds of the championship. With race day washed out he jubilantly thanked his team at the presentation ceremony. “It was great to win the championship for AC Delco, for Maurice and our family,” he concluded.

Like Newby above, Aaron Tremayne had already locked up the title going into the event, however, having won the previous three championship rounds no one could foresee that the wily veteran wouldn’t even qualify for the event. His best of a 7.33 was only good enough for last or thirteenth place. At the Championship presentations he was shaking his head at his qualifying performance. “We were out here for the warm ups (the weekend before) and that engine ran a 6.8 but we just couldn’t take a trick with it this weekend,” he freely admitted.

In stark contrast to brother Aaron’s efforts, Tyronne Tremayne actually top qualified in the Pro Stock bracket with a 6.980 time. At the presentations for the Nitro Champs (the previous round) Tyronne was runner up and stated at the presentations that he wanted Aaron’s engine and, indeed, the bullet went from the white Tremaniac Pontiac to the black one and the 6.980 was the result. In the championship stakes Tyronne Tremayne finished second to Aaron 247 to 448.

It was no surprise to see Chris Matheson go to the top of the heap straight off the trailer with a 6.180 at only 196 mph in the Top Bike bracket. While the race was rained out, as far as the championship was concerned, Matheson went into the event with an unassailable lead over second placed Harley rider Chris Porter 412 to 346 points. At the Nitro Thunder event Matheson watched the prize slip from his grasp but stated at these presentations that he had come there to win and despite the rainout they had taken yet another championship.

This wasn’t the only 4.4 second pass to be run at the race as teammate Wayne Newby recorded a 4.481 qualifying time the following evening. After getting a 4.5-second handle on the cars at the Nitro Thunder event last month, one of the crew told me it was the first time that the team has had the traction to run their new Stage 7 Alan Johnson racing heads and that was the difference.

Wayne Newby (left) and Santino Rapasarda.


Newby had the IHRA Top Fuel championship title sewn up before he went into the Winternationals and emotionally told the crowd at the presentations, “I have always dreamed of driving a Top Fuel car and ultimately winning the Australian Top Fuel championship. This sport has always been about family - my family and the Rapisarda family. I have to thank Santo (Rapisarda) for giving me the chance to drive his car and win this trophy – every time we go down the track we do so in the memory of Louie Rapisarda” (who was tragically killed at Willowbank in – Ed). Thank you all.”

Gary Phillips


A stellar 5.401/260 mph blast by Gary Phillips straight off the trailer put the nineteen-time champ into top position. Despite the number, he actually shut the car off early.


“I had a slight wheelstand off the line and unloaded the wheelie bars but as I went down the track my helmet started to fog up,” he revealed. “I actually shut the car off 5.1 seconds into the run because I couldn’t see, so it was well on its way to a 5.3-second time.”

Maurice Allen, managing director of the IHRA in Australia, with racer Gary Phillips.


With a 31-point lead going into the final round of the championship and not a wheel being turned on race day, Phillips annexed his twentieth championship, despite admitting at the presentations that Lucas Oils will be pulling out of the Australian market.

race reports

50th Australian Winternationals


Words and photos by Jon Van Daal

It might be hard to believe but the Australian version of the first Winternationals was run only six years after the initial one at Pomona, California. In fact, Australia was the very first place on god’s earth that organized drag racing was reported – back in 1911. Obviously the sport has come a long way since then and many have described the Willowbank Winternationals as one of the best events outside America.


Some 550 entries were pre-entered for this race and as such the usual four-day qualifying and race format was run. This saw sportsman entries run Thursday and most of Friday with Group 3 eliminations starting on Friday evening. Group 1 qualifying started at 3.30 pm on Friday with most of Saturday also being the province of Group 1. While the first three days saw a combination of sunny and cloudy weather, both Friday and Saturday nights came to a quick end with rain stopping play.

Peter Xiberras warms the tyres in front of a packed grandstand.


Certainly this was one of the largest bunch of spectators that I have seen at this facility in quite some time (the 1999 Winfield one-day race comes to mind). Even one member of the American press was absolutely taken back by the wonderful atmosphere that washed over the track every time an awesome run was recorded. This was probably due to the fact that the massive left hand grandstand is some fifty feet closer than most tracks in America. The track was ably prepared prior to the event to a top notch level. This saw many and various crew chiefs apply their Traction Machines to the Willowbank Raceway start-line and record traction figures never seen before.

It was the shot heard around the world when Damien Harris, in the Rapisarda Autosport International dragster, ran a stellar 4.443/335.32 mph pass during Friday evening qualifying. Team owner Santo Rapisarda had recently undergone a hip replacement and was supposed to be sitting quietly in the stands but Australian drag racing’s biggest benefactor was seen wildly thrusting his walking sticks into the air. It was an amazing pass to watch by the massive crowd.

Damien Harris (right) receives the trophy from Santo Rapisarda Jr.




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