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Nothin’ like nitro: The Rock FM Nitro Shootout

12 January 2016

The Rock FM Nitro Shootout, held on Saturday, January 9, was everything it should have been — an event boasting a crowded pit and spectator areas, and one that would host a number of astonishing quarter-mile passes. The huge number of quick quarters would be topped by yet another record set by Anthony Marsh in the Marsh Motorsport / Mount Shop Top Fuel dragster. 

You wouldn’t have picked it by the strong spectator turnout, but the lead-up to the Nitro Shootout had a cloud of uncertainty hanging over it, as bad weather threatened to relegate the event to a later date. Fortunately, the weather on the day turned out to be nothing short of ideal, with an abundance of sunlight where just 24 hours earlier, rain could have been expected. 

The racing schedule was packed full to the brim, and there was no time to lose, getting straight into a full day’s worth of quarter-mile action. Despite the warm temperatures, the track itself was proving perfect for pulling PB after PB out of the bag. Barry Plumpton’s monster Monte Carlo was one such recipient, coming away with a PB of 6.678 at 199.46mph — numbers that are beginning to reflect the potential of his nitrous-assisted 823ci mountain motor. 

Christchurch’s Alsop family are also going places above and beyond where they could have hoped last season — their rapid Willys coupe has recently benefited from the addition of a PSI supercharger in place of the old 10-71, and has set an incredible new PB of 6.308 seconds at 215.89mph.

Paul ‘PJ’ Johnston was also bearing the favour of the gods of speed, no doubt the result of his relentless tinkering to get the Procharged and nitrous-equipped C10 truck to where it should be. A 7.307 at 193.4mph shows that he’s well on his way towards the six-second passes at over 200mph that the C10 is capable of — although he’s currently being held back by the Lenco transmission’s clutch. This is definitely one to keep an eye on, but don’t worry if you can’t — we’ll have a full feature in an upcoming issue. 

Ryan Sheldon’s new car, the impressively finished ‘Joker’, is another one to watch. Debuted at the NZDRA Summer Nationals at Taupo at the close of 2015, where they won ‘Best Presented’, Ryan managed to hustle the Camaro to an impressive 8.005 at 166.70mph. His consistency was astonishing, managing to run four 8.0-second passes on a dial-in of 7.96-seconds. He went on to take top honours in the C1 Top Comp class, after Michael Franklin advised out — an incredible achievement in what is essentially an all-new car. 

Of course, as far as incredible achievements go, you can’t really look past the obvious. This particular date will be remembered in New Zealand drag racing history, as not only did Anthony Marsh run the country’s quickest quarter-mile ET to date, at 4.789-seconds, but he was also the first to crack the 500kph barrier with a trap speed of 315.12mph (507kph). 

In the next lane, Reece Fish went on to get a 5.379 at 232.43mph — not quite the result many would have been hoping for, but an impressive pass nonetheless, and hopefully a stepping stone towards Fish Family Racing cracking the four-second and 300mph barriers.

The following Top Fuel showdown, a few hours later, was spectacle just as spectacular, albeit for different reasons — a huge explosion from the Marsh engine around half track saw much excitement amongst the crowds, and while the mechanical damage was sufficient enough to stop the team for the day, Anthony fortunately escaped without injury. Remember, this is all a part of the Top Fuel package, and the cars are designed to allow for the worst. 

Papakura Engine Specialists’ Murray Smith was not one to escape drama without injury, though. Lined up against Gary Benham’s beautiful Holden FX ute, the ’55 Murray was piloting blew the blower manifold, and a piece of debris smacked his hand, resulting in a fractured finger. Fortunately, he escaped otherwise unscathed, presumably requiring only a change of undies. 

Athol Williams would have earned the trophy for the biggest balls, had such a prize been present, given his amazing 6.576 at 223.73mph pass. That’s bloody quick by any standards, but on a Top Fuel drag bike, it’s something else altogether. This man really is one of the greats, and is always worth watching. 

In slower news, Simon Fowke inadvertently provided a bit of excitement as he finished a burnout and began to reverse his ’57 Chev funny car. A little stab of the throttle, and the car was pirouetting 180-degrees on its left-rear tyre, before landing completely backwards. Blink and you probably would have missed it, being left to wonder why he was suddenly driving towards the staging lanes, but it was one of the more comical — and fortunately harmless — track mishaps of the day. 

While by no means anywhere near the quickest car there, Graham Lye’s ’70 Road Runner was certainly no slouch, and was one of the most fun cars to watch down the track — a 426ci Hemi, A833 four-speed manual transmission, and a driver who is more than happy to slam it through the gears makes for awesome quarter-mile passes!

Fun in a totally different way was Brent Curran’s insane Mazda RX-2. Powered by a Curran Brothers Racing (CBR)–built quad rotor, with a completely unique quad-turbo set-up, the little Mazda is something else. He ran a 7.158 at 201.7mph, and the car has previously run as quick as 6.97 in quad-turbo guise — with further fine-tuning and familiarization to be done, this is going to be one hell of a drag car when Brent’s on top of things, and he’s already a long way there. 

The Greenlane Speed Shop (GSS) altered, piloted by Steve Milliken, is another wild little machine. The extended-wheelbase Topolino was owned by the former director of GSS, Peter Pinkney, and has made a welcome return to the strip after punching a hole in the block late last year. Steve’s 8.093 at 148.67mph is getting awfully close to the seven-second zone that the car belongs in, and is all the more impressive considering Steve is still getting used to piloting this kind of vehicle down the strip. 

And Bryan ‘Stormin’ Norman, all the way from Alexandra, blasted through the traps in 7.010 seconds, at 186.4mph — so close to the sixes! With Dwayne Garrett in the Torquing Heads dragster experiencing a very sideways, change-of-undies 7.053 at 133.9mph in the next lane, it must have been pretty tense in both cars for the duration of the second half of the track. 

Speaking of wild passes, how about that third round Nitro Shootout between Karl Boniface and Dave Gauld? Gauld’s wild ’34 altered launched hard, hopping in the way altereds do, but snaked sideways and crossed the centre line, coming dangerously close to Boniface in the right-hand lane. While Boniface would go on to run a 7.262 at 196.3mph, Gauld still took overall honours thanks to his two earlier wins. 

As Marsh advised out due to substantial damage resulting from the earlier engine explosion, the final Top Fuel run of the day would see only one side of the track in use. Unfortunately, this run would prove to be a healthy-looking launch followed by nothing much — the timing board displaying an uncharacteristic 15.19 at 55.99mph. It was a disappointing result, especially since we’re still hoping to see Fish Family Racing crack the four-second and 300mph barriers. 

By now, it was nearing 8.30pm in the evening, the sun was sinking, and even the most diehard of drag racing fans were trickling out of the gates. No one could have walked away feeling that they got anything less than they hoped for, though — it’s days like this that are what drag racing is all about.