The Australian Nationals is one of the longest running drag racing events in the country. This year marked the 51st running of this event and featured ANDRA Championship Racing and Rd 7 of the Summit Racing Equipment Sportsman Series.
Whilst this iconic event has been held in most states; including Queensland, Western Australia, and New South Wales, its spiritual home has always been Melbourne's Calder Park Raceway.
The Nationals Calder Park stretch started in 1992 when ANDRA worked with Bob Jane to secure the event on a permanent basis. This helped the event grow in spectacular fashion with the '94 and '95 events peaking with 350 plus entries, and more than 50,000 spectators over the two-day event.
The final Nationals to be held at Calder was the ANDRA promoted "Racer's Nationals" in 2001.
In 2016 the Nationals returned to Calder Park for the first time in 15 years thanks to Peter Pisalidis from Calder Park Drag Racing. Pisalidis said, "The Nationals are still highly regarded by many racers as the pinnacle event, and the one they want to win! Traditionally it has always provided the best competition, and to the racers, that's a Big Deal!"
Top Fuel returned to Melbourne for the second year in a row. This year the show was highlighted with three dragsters from the Rapisarda Autosport International stable including American Don Lagana, Damien Harris and Wayne Newby. Joining the trio was 4-Time Top Fuel Champ Darren Morgan. The format was one qualifier on Saturday then three-rounds on Sunday running over a 1000 ft distance.
Straight after Reece Mastin belted out the National Anthem we heard the tunes of two 8000 horsepower Top Fuel engines come to life. This was the seeding round to establish who would go into the A and B finals later on.
First pairing out saw Darren Morgan take on Damien Harris. The AEG dragster stopped the clocks in 4.19 seconds while the Louie Rapisarda tribute fueller was quicker with a 4.18 ET. Who won? That was decided by a .099 reaction from Morgan to a .117 from Harris.
The second pairing saw Rapisarda Autosport International team mates American Dom Lagana face Wayne Newby. On the green Lagana was out first with a .096 reaction and took the win with a 4.08 ET at 282 mph to a 4.23 from Newbs.
For the B-Final Newby took the win light with a 4.22/268.71 defeating Harris' 4.23 ET.
The A-Final was between Morgan and Lagana in a great USA vs Australia battle. On the green the Rapisarda Autosport International dragster was out first and took the win with bracket like performance clocking a 4.084 to a 4.24 at 275 from Morgan's AEG entry.
It was a new race car built in a week by the team and friends that propelled Queensland's John Cannuli into the winners' circle. The current ANDRA Top Alcohol champ went 5.76 in the first qualifying session, however improved with a 4.82 at 210 mph in the final qualifier.
The first round saw Brian Lockman '32 Bantam Altered defeat Craig Russo in a 5.55 to a 5.79 decider. Jason Maggs in the Speedflow dragster then defeated the nostalgic Plymouth Funny Car in a 5.43 to a 5.57 race. Closing out the round Cannuli took a 5.09 win over Cameron Ambesi's dragster.
Round two saw Cannuli pick up the bye and clicked off a 5.07 at 202 mph while Lockman defeated Maggs to move into the final.
Lockman knew he had to go hard on the tree against Cannuli but his -.038 reaction saw red handing Cannuli the automatic victory, stopping the clocks with a Low ET 4.801 and Top Speed of 229.90 mph in the Nova Led Funny Car.
Nine-time Australian Top Doorslammer champion John Zappia was in dominating form, having lead all three qualifying sessions. In the first round we had a matchup between the two legends of Doorslammer racing, Zappia verses Victor Bray.
It was great to see Team Bray back at Calder for the Nationals in their new Gulf Western Oil livery and the crowd certainly flocked to their pit area over the weekend.
On the green Bray Snr was out the gate first but Zappia's Fuchs Monaro took the win with a 4.89 ET to a 5.40 from the 57' Chev.
Ben Bray defeated Sam Fenech with a 5.09 ET in the Gulf Western Oil Corvette and Paul Cannuli went 5.07 for a win over Mark Belleri in the AC Delco Holden Monaro.
For the semifinals Zappia picks up the bye and runs 4.91 seconds at 223.69 mph. Ben Bray drops a holeshot on Paul Cannuli, but his 5.34 fell short to a 5.16 from the PC Cranes Plymouth Duster.
Into the final Zappia pushed his Noonan-powered Monaro hard after Paul Cannuli grabbed a holeshot at the tree. At the stripe it was Zappia taking Nationals victory for the second time with a 4.90 at 225 mph pass against a 5.11 from Cannuli.
It was a small field in Pro Stock but when you have 2015 ANDRA Champ Lee Bektash in the house, you know it's going to be BIG.
The Mopar Dodge Avenger was the leader of the pack with a 5.98 qualifier. His speed of 177 mph was over the 1000ft minimum of 175 mph. Chris Soldatos filled second place in his beautiful Pontiac GTO in 6.01 seconds while the two Ford Escort entries of Bill Perdikaris and "Smokin' Joe" Polito rounded out the field.
In the first round Bektash put away Perdikaris with a 6.00 at 174. The second pairing saw Polito go ..086 at the tree against a .364 from Soldatos, however as he neared the finish line his Ford Escort started moving around from side-to-side to the point that Polito went up and over, tagging the left hand wall and also the back of Soldatos' GTO. Thankfully both drivers were okay. Polito actually won the race, however he wasn't coming back for the final.
Bektash, who announced that this would be his final season in Pro Stock took a solo victory in 5.95 seconds at 175.69 mph and reset the 1000 ft speed record.
Summit Racing Equipment Sportsman Series
Round 7 of the Summit Racing Equipment Series certainly delivered with some record setting racing at the 51st Australian Nationals.
Super Comp - Jamie Chaisty
By the time we moved into the semifinals, number two qualifier Jamie Chaisty had already defeated Kim Fardella and Tom Dimitropoulos on the way. Here the young West Aussie faced Michael Caroscio and took the win in a tight race with a .168 under 7.872 to a .15 under 8.29 from the Firebird. In the other pairing it was No. 7 qualifier Darren Parker taking on Les Heintz. Parker picked up the better reaction on the tree and then finished off the AC Delco GTO of Heintz with a .185 under 6.235.
For the final Chaisty outreacted Parker's Pontiac at the tree and went on to win his first gold ANDRA tree with a .197 under 7.843 to a .158 under 6.252 for Parker.
South Australian Darren Saliba is certainly one of the nice guys in our sport. His Pontiac GTO put away Stuart McBain in the first round before facing the always-tough Matt Forbes in Round 2. Saliba nailed the tree with a .001 reaction to a .040 from Forbes but it was to no avail despite the Lucas Oil Camaro going .05 under his dial-in. Saliba picked up the win light and was going through to the semifinals.
Darren Nichele had defeated Julian Carafa and Bruno Romeo in earlier rounds. In the semis he went on to defeat Michael Braggs' Cavalier while Saliba walked into the final after the Datsun Ute of Glenn Henley went red at the tree.
In the final Nichele, Pontiac left first on the tree but slowed allowing Saliba to take a very emotional victory in front of his family and crew.
While it appeared that Northern Territory racer Adam Murrihy was unstoppable in his 32 Bantam Altered, a red light in the semifinals saw the attention move to Ryan Van Dyk and Justin Russell for the final.
The dragster of Van Dyk nabbed the advantage on his green but the Camaro went on to take the win with a 0.08 over 5.86 to a 0.34 over 5.92.
Simon Barlow top qualified in the 17-car field in his dragster but was defeated in Round 3 by Derek Wills' Altered. In the semifinals number 12 qualifier Craig Baker picked up a bye into the final, while Wills put away Matthew Stone.
The final saw Wills go red with a -.002 reaction handing Baker the automatic win.
It was a huge 39 car field for Super Sedan with Tassie driver Scott Cohen sitting on top with an 8.62 ET in his Ford Fairmont.
By the time the finals came around it was between the 57 Chev of Ned Karanovic and the 400 Chev-powered Gemini of Pat Caruso. At the tree Caruso took the automatic win when the big Chev of Karanovic went red.
Not much needs to be said for Graeme Cooper other than he's one of the legends in the sport, and genuine nice guys to boot.
Cooper's Bricklayer wagon was still around by the time the finals came around. His opponent was Chris Naughton in his Cortina. Both left clean at the tree, but it was Cooper who took the win with a 10.511 on a 10.50 dial-in. Naughton finished as runner-up with an 11.017 on a 10.99! After 38 years of racing this was Coopers first Nationals victory!
West Aussie racer Gordon Crawford had been on the road for quite some time heading into the Nationals.
Crawford got past number one qualifier Rob Cassar in Rd 1, solo'd in the next round before taking out Gavin Dohnt in the semis.
For the final it was Brendan Sanders in the opposite lane however he red lighted and handed Crawford a well-deserved Nationals victory.
The Juniors were out in force at the Nationals with big field. Andrew Shirley was the No.1 qualifier but went red in Rd 2.
In the final Jake Berias pulled a red light handing Jasmine Slamar a Nationals win.
Adrian McGrotty top qualified and made it through to the finals where he faced Darryl Stephen from NSW.
In the final McGrotty grabbed a slight advantage at the tree but Stephen took the win with a 9.915 to a 9.93 from the Holden Commodore.