The 2013 Nitro Champs saw three first time professional winners in racing that ranged from the record breaking to the bizarre.
Lee Bektash in Pro Stock, Russell Mills in Top Alcohol and Graeme Morell in Top Bike all scored their first pro victories on a day where the saying “to finish first, first you must finish” was more important than ever.
Bektash defeated Scott Porter in the final of Pro Stock to finally break through for his first win in the category since he stepped up in 2008.
Ideal atmospheric conditions saw Bektash’s pre-event prediction of many teams stepping into the six second zone come true and he himself clocked a personal best 6.99 time in the first round.
The Mopar team’s achievements were all the more impressive given Bektash landed the new Dodge Avenger from the USA just weeks ago in what has proven to be a valuable move.
“This win has been a long time coming,” he said. “Thank you to Chrysler Australia and Mopar because they set up being able to buy this great car.
“This was as good as Pro Stock gets today. To top qualify, run our first six second pass and win the Nitro Champs makes this almost the perfect weekend.”
Top Alcohol saw the unheralded Russell Mills come from sixth qualifying position to take the victory in unusual circumstances.
Mills looked down for the count after his retro Ford Crown Victoria-bodied Funny Car got loose off the starting line until opponent Adam Marchant crossed the centre line, an infraction that handed the trophy to Mills.
The Sydneysider credited good luck more than good times in winning his first ever event, the first time he has ever advanced through the first round.
“It feels very odd, it’s an unusual way to win,” he said. “I was so happy to qualify for the field and I didn’t expect to get past the first round. I just do this as a hobby locally.
“I do feel bad for the Marchants, they beat me on the track but just touched the centre line and that puts an end to that.”
Graeme Morell earned the breakthrough win in Top Bike through supreme consistency aboard his small-capacity Nitro Harley, but also on a dramatic note with Chris Matheson not making the final after one of the most high speed motorcycle accidents in Australian drag racing.
Matheson had just finished a 371kmh pass when he came off the nitro-fuelled motorcycle and slid down the Sydney Dragway braking area. Medical teams were on the scene immediately and fortunately Matheson was responsive and taken to hospital to be checked out.
Taking far from his first win in Top Fuel was Darren Morgan, who defeated Damien Harris in the final and extended his points lead over Phil Lamattina.
With top qualifying honours plus low time and top speed bonus points, Morgan could not have had a more successful Nitro Champs, giving full points to crew chief Ben Patterson.
“Benny’s doing a marvellous job, I would hate to race against him,” he said. “The car has been perfect, we haven’t put a drop of oil on the race track, a blower belt is the only part I know of that we have hurt.
“I’m very fussy about how things are done and so is Benny and that’s why it works. We’re looking forward to the Winternationals now where the track and conditions are going to be bad ass.”
Mark Belleri meanwhile scored his second win in Top Doorslammer under some of the strangest circumstances seen.
Belleri had a solo run, but with engine damage from the semi finals was forced to just idle the car into the staging beams and shut down.
His opponent was to be either John Zappia or Murray O’Connor, but when both of those drivers failed to accept the start in their semi final due to staging dramas the bizarre final became a single team affair.
“It’s not a great way to win, but a win’s a win,” Belleri said. “It feels good to win regardless of how you do it, I’m not going to lie. This was our first win in Sydney and to do this for my dad after many years of racing this car was great.”
The next round for all ANDRA categories including the Aeroflow Sportsman Drag Racing Championship is the Fuchs Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway, June 7-10.