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Zappia reflects on first USA experience

John Zappia has developed a reputation as one of the most experienced Doorslammer team owner and drivers’ in Australia, but his first race in the USA has seen him coming to grips with a very different experience.

Earlier in the year Noonan Race Engineering purchased a new state of the art facility in Spartanburg, South Carolina USA.  Shortly after, and in order to support their 4.9 borespace engine program, Noonan Racing announced that 10-times Australian Top Doorslammer champion John Zappia would drive the Noonan-owned ’69 Camaro, Jerry Bickel Pro Mod.

The car is the newest of the three Jerry Bickel ’69 Camaro Pro Mods in existence, and Zappia will compete in the last three races of the PDRA for Noonan Racing using the all-new Noonan 4.9 borespace engine. The car and team will be fully serviced and maintained from the Noonan stable, with Noonan CEO, tuner and engine builder Jamie Noonan stating it was an exciting time for the company.

For the 55 year old legend of the sport Zappia, racing in the United States has been a long held dream, one that was realised as he rolled through the waterbox of Tulsa Raceway Park in Oklahoma.

A few things were a little different for the champion. Like most Australian tourists, Zappia had to adapt from right hand to left hand drive – only he had to do it in Noonan Racing’s 3500 horsepower 1969 Pro Mod Camaro.

“There was a lot going through my head at the time,” he said. “I was sitting on the other side of the car, the brake was on the other side, it had a transbrake, and an auto transmission – there was too much going through my head.

“I also couldn’t see that well while staging, so running in the left lane on solo passes for the first few was hard. The tree was coming down and I wasn’t even ready.”

The Noonan team worked on wheel alignment and steering on the Pro Extreme Camaro, working closely to perfect the combination. They were able to finish testing with a 3.69 (eighth mile) run at 204mph, before heading into qualifying for the PDRA event the next day.

“We came out for our first qualifying pass and as I hit the throttle in the burnout, it banged the burst panel, so unfortunately we lost that run. The next run I went a bit easier in the burnout and it hooked up, so the tires were colder than they should be.

“Finally we got after it and it pulled another 3.69 ET to qualify third in the final session. Of course, it being early days, the tune was on the softer side but we had to make it go down the track. Then unfortunately the rain came in and killed the event.”

The team returned back to the Noonan headquarters disappointed with not being able to finish the event, but ready to regroup for the next round of the PDRA series at Galot Motorsport Park in Benson, North Carolina in September.

“The car ran with the 4.8 Noonan engine and we were happy with it and the performance of a brand new team. Now though, we are going to put the new 4.9 borespace engine in the racecar and get ready for the next two PDRA events at Galot and Virginia.

“We will also be putting a B&J three speed transmission in with a Boninfante lock up clutch, getting the car a lot closer to what the (Zappia) team runs in Australia.

“Once I got used to the auto it was okay, but we think there is potential to do as good if not better with the manual and clutch. It’s just something we know and have a lot of data for. We would like to eventually run the quarter mile at some stage and this combination (run at Tulsa) was only geared for eighth mile.

“We have had a massive response to our social media and live coverage of the event and we’re excited to offer advertising and branding opportunities to companies and individuals who want to live the ‘dream’ with us, supporting the dream to potentially expand our program further. Our digital presence will be further ‘turned’ up for fans in both countries, so stay tuned.

“Big thanks to Fuchs Lubricants and Dananni Hotshots for their never-ending support for Zappia Racing.”

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Zappia crowned king of the desert

HQ Monaros and the Australian outback make for an iconic combination and John Zappia only further spread the legend with a dominating performance at the Desert Nationals in Alice Springs on the weekend.

The Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro set a new track elapsed time record of 5.79 seconds, a new track speed record of 249mph and won the event over runner up Matt Abel.

The week leading up to the Desert Nationals was a busy one, with John and brother Richard returning to Perth to attend their mother’s funeral after the previous weekend’s Nitro Up North event. Back to Darwin on Wednesday, the Zappias hotfooted to Alice Springs Inland Dragway to set up at what could be regarded as Australia’s only high altitude race track.

“Alice Springs has very similar conditions to Las Vegas, very dry air at a high altitude, or at least high by Australian standards,” John said.

“We checked out the track and it was pretty good, we knew the concrete launch pad would have a lot of grip and then we would just have to control the transition to the asphalt.”

The Top Doorslammers in attendance included not just Zappia, but also fellow Western Australians Kelvin Lyle, Pino Priolo and Mark Chapman, Queenslander Grant O’Rourke, Victorian Rob Taylor and the Northern Territory’s own Matt Abel. The field would get two qualifying sessions on Saturday before a shootout-style race on Sunday.

“Our first pass rattled a bit and still went 5.97 with a pedal, the first ‘five’ by any vehicle in Alice Springs,” Zappia said.

It was Saturday’s second pass that would bring the house down.

“For the second run we knew the track had heaps of bite early so we threw more at it (the startline) than we probably have anywhere else in the country. I punched second gear and it held, going through full throttle for a 5.79 and almost cracking 250mph.”

Expectations were high for Sunday’s racing and the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots team expected the quality of the track surface to get even better.

“We hit the tune up even harder again and it rattled the tyres and went a bit to the left, so it required a bigger pedal to straighten the car up and resulted in a 6.06 in the first round solo,” Zappia said.

“We tried the left lane for the second round and the car went out a bit straighter, we got through for a 5.94/245 which would be enough for us to make the final round.”

Keen to set another track record for the passionate Alice Springs drag racing fans, Zappia backed down the clutch a little and found the sweet spot for the launch with a .988 60 foot time, but the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro had other ideas and made a move to the right, requiring a big correction by Zappia. With opponent Matt Abel having problems and Zappia having eyes only for the finish line, the team was surprised to hear the familiar pop of a supercharger burst panel.

“It looks like the fuel shut off rattled partly closed, enough to lean out the motor and bang the burst panel,” Zappia said. “That’s not the ideal way to end a run but a win is a win.

“The track came up in leaps and bounds this year compared to last year by using the special tyre machine to prepare the surface and a few racers donated some tyres so they could make it happen.

“The Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro now owns another track record, so we have every ET track record in Australia where we have raced.”

The northern swing was a memorable tour for Zappia and team, as they enjoyed the best of the local cultures and plenty of great support. Special thanks went to Chris Kershaw from Northern Van Repairs for his hospitality in Darwin and the 30 dozen oysters he organised for the team in Alice Springs.

“The weather was perfect and I can see both the Desert Nationals and Nitro Up North as growing events. Hopefully next year it is a full on points round again in Alice Springs; I am sure the track will step up to the next level and we will see some really good numbers.

“A huge thanks to my crew for their tireless efforts in maintaining the race car and getting the transporter repaired in my absence.”

Zappia Racing’s next event will be at ACDelco East Coast Thunder at Sydney Dragway on November 3-4, 2017.

Zappia Racing wishes to thank co-naming rights sponsors, Fuchs and Dananni Hotshots, major sponsors Striker Crushing and Screening, Speedmaster 79, Southside Engine Centre, Noonan Race Engineering, Hoosier, Appealing Signs, and Crow Cams as well as supporting sponsors PPG, K Craft Bullbars, Santhuff, B & J Racing Transmissions, Engel, Avtrac Maintenance Tracking, SDS Billet, Legend Boatbuilders, Advantage Tyres, Kounis Metal Industries, Bravo Resources, CIC High Performance Coatings, Reid Machine, Final Drive, Motec, CP Carillo, Speed Flow, Biante, Aurora Bearings and Aeromotive.

Photo credits: Drag News

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