A new look for a new season welcomed fans of John Zappia at the opening round of the 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series in Darwin last weekend – Nitro Up North.
Australia’s winningest doorslammer is now known as the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro with the WA-based trucking firm joining Fuchs Lubricants who been supporting Zappia Racing for over 10 years. The rear wing also reflected an upgraded partner, with Crow Cams stepping up as a major sponsor after many years of support.
The Zappia racing team were racing with a heavy heart over the weekend after the passing of John and Richard’s mother and a severe accident involving long time crew member Mal Wilhelm, who is fighting for life in intensive care.
Able to focus on the task at hand, it was the same Zappia in the hot seat as he hit a new track record in qualifying of 5.69 seconds to lead the field, just ahead of Gary Phillips’ 5.72.
“The first run left really well but then it started to shake from about 60 feet onward,” Zappia said. “I pedaled it to calm it down then muscled it back into the groove for a 5.81.”
“We looked at the data and with Gary having run his 5.72 in the left lane which we had for the second session, we went in with confidence.”
The second qualifying session proved unusual for Zappia, with a Christmas tree malfunction seeing him shut down after the burnout.
“I was nearly going to walk away from the run as the time went on and the tyres cooled down. But we came back again and it was worth making the pass as we netted a 5.69 at 254mph for the track record ET and speed.”
“We almost decided to sit out the last session, but we had enough time to turn around for the third one. Again it rattled to the right and I got it back in. We didn’t improve but we were staying pretty consistent running a 5.74 at 253mph.”
Overnight the team went about their routine maintenance, putting in a new set of CP-Carrillo rods ready for racing and onwards to Alice Springs. The first round saw Zappia facing Mark Chapman.
“For the first round we adjusted the suspension and the car went dead straight this time for a 5.72 against Mark,” he said. “We never take Mark lightly, they are innovators and their Plymouth Fury is definitely capable of some big numbers.”
The next round saw a crowd pleasing face off between Pro Slammer newcomer Paul Mouhayet and Zappia Racing. While he might be a rookie in the 400 Thunder series, Mouhayet and Moits Racing are far from rookies in drag racing.
“Moits Racing have the best of everything and we knew they would go for it against us,” Zappia said. “I needed to make sure I was on the ball with the lights. I got psyched up and left on them with a .048 to a 0.141 light, my best in a while, but as soon as the car launched it was vibrating.
“The Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro had dropped a cylinder because of a dead spark plug. The lack of power caused the car to shake and I punched second gear, but I was dead in the water.
“We still managed a 6.23, it might have gone a 6.0 if I hadn’t pedalled, but it wouldn’t have quite been enough regardless. We need these things to be running on eight cylinders, not seven.”
There were many positives for Zappia to take away from the event, with stablemate Kelvin Lyle running a personal best time of 5.81 seconds at 253mph to set him up as a genuine contender in the class.
“That Mustang is definitely a weapon and is starting to go down the track more and more,” Zappia said.
Zappia’s nephew Brodie Zappia scored a runner up in Junior Dragster which left the family with a smile on their face ahead of Alice Springs, where John will be exhibition racing against a bunch of other doorslammer drivers.
The pressure of Darwin didn’t surprise the veteran champion.
“There were a few people who didn’t qualify this meeting you would normally expect and some of those guys might struggle to get back to the top of the field this year with all these new guys coming up.
“Everyone is bringing Americans over to try and knock us off and it is getting more and more intense. People are throwing more money, more knowledge, more talent and more laps at it, but at the same time so are we, we never stop.
“We are off to America next month, racing with Noonan Race Engineering, to have a race in Pro Extreme and maybe I can learn something there to help me back here – plus it’s just one of those bucket list type things.
“As far as Alice Springs goes, I am looking forward to trying to get that track record. We will basically be going as fast as possible – we don’t want to slow the car down.
“If they can bring the condition of the track up a level then we won’t be surprised to see 5.7s there. The conditions are looking good, warmer than last year which felt like ice! I think this year we will see respectable times down the track and we are really looking forward to it.”
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.
Photos below courtesy Michelle Porobic from Bright Design