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One of the greatest eras of domination in Australian motorsport came to an end last Sunday at Queensland’s Willowbank Raceway, where 11 times national Pro Slammer champion John Zappia finished runner up in the 400 Thunder Professional Drag Racing Series.
It has been a remarkable decade and a half for the driver of the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro. When Zappia returned to the ANDRA Top Doorslammer Series in 2003, his competitors knew he was there to make an impression. In the first two seasons where Zappia chased all of the points rounds (2005-2007), he finished runner up in the championship. His breakthrough national championship happened in the 2007-2008 season and from there he would dominate ANDRA Top Doorslammer and 400 Thunder Pro Slammer racing for a decade.
Zappia led the points into the Winternationals, the final round of the 2017/18 400 Thunder Series, with Paul Mouhayet following close behind. Both cleared the first hurdle – qualifying into the record-quick field.
Zappia was the most consistent in qualifying, running 5.669 at 254.42mph off the trailer, followed by a 5.655 at 255.82 and a 5.672 at 255.82 in Q3. That placed the team third after Paul Mouhayet with a 5.653, and Steve Ham who top qualified with an impressive 5.652 in a field that had a bump spot of 5.80.
Zappia was matched up with fellow Western Australian Marty Dack for the first round and caught a lucky break when Dack red lit. That single lucky break had the potential to be a championship changer as shortly after launching, the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro broke an airline to the gearbox resulting in not being able to shift gears.
“The battle could have been over right then with a mechanical failure,” Zappia said. “But Marty’s bad luck was our blessing.”
The semi final would be an epic, as Zappia took on Mouhayet in a race that would decide the entire championship. As a result of the slow elapsed time from the first round, Zappia lost lane choice – a critical factor at Willowbank.
“We changed ratios in our gearbox and stepped up the tune a little bit to take on Paul – this was a winner takes all race. I managed to cut a light and it was game on. I was in front and pulling away, but the difference for us from Paul was that I had the front wheels still in the air. The right lane hadn’t been good to many people and we found we had more traction on our left tyre than the right so the car moved right. I was waiting for the nose to come down because I knew to lift would be to lose. I stayed with it as long as I could but the wall was getting closer and I had to feather the throttle. I thought I just got away with it but I scraped up the exhaust headers and then it was time to push the clutch in, pull the chutes and watch Paul earn his first Pro Slammer Championship. Congratulations to Paul, his tuner Billy Stocklin and their whole team on a well-deserved title.”
After the race it was an unusual feeling for Zappia, who has made the Winternationals his own over the years.
“Now I know what it feels like to make that drive back when you have come so close and just missed the championships. But we put on a thrilling race for the crowd and now there is a real rivalry everyone can look forward to next season.”
Zappia is a competitor through and through and while bitterly disappointed not to win the championship, he realised the scope of his achievements.
“We’ve won 11 championships and gone runner up in three more – a couple of those came down to the very last rounds. It has been an incredible ride – and it is not over yet.
“I never thought when I returned to Top Doorslammer racing that we would have this level of success. We’ve always pushed performance boundaries, but in the old days we would only have one engine and failures used to take their toll.
“A new champion will be good for the sport and the level of competition in Pro Slammer is now unbelievable. There are four cars in the 5.6s and several others in the very low 5.7s. The pace has stepped up and this is the most exciting bracket in Australian drag racing right now.”
The start of the next season is just weeks away, with Pro Slammer teams heading to Hidden Valley Drag Strip for Nitro Up North on July 13 and 14. As well as performing all the necessary maintenance before the haul to Darwin, Zappia will be putting the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Holden Monaro on display at the WA Hot Rod and Street Machine Spectacular at Claremont Showgrounds this weekend.
“We will be showing the car and we will also have our merchandise available including the new Biante models,” he said.
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