Australia has crowned its first female professional drag racing champion with 33 year old Queensland woman Kelly Bettes taking out the 2017/18 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship.
Bettes secured the title by virtue of winning the semi final round of the 2018 Gulf Western Oil Winternationals against reigning champion Wayne Newby, driving the Fuchs/Lamattina Top Fuel dragster to a narrow 3.801 to 3.842 win.
Bettes took on her chief rival Damien Harris in the final round, but tyre shake early in the pass ended her chances of doubling up with an event win on top of her new championship. Bettes finished just two points ahead of Harris, who ran a nearly perfect event by top qualifying, setting new Australian drag racing records for time and speed and taking the event victory for Rapisarda Autosport International.
An emotional Bettes was overwhelmed by the 400 Thunder championship win in what was her rookie season.
“I don't even know what to say. To Fuchs, all the team, I'm blown away, we're just all stoked,” she said.
“Those guys (Rapisarda Autosport International) had an awesome event. Unfortunately we went into some pretty serious tyre shake in the final and I tried to give it a pedal, but Damien was just gone. But we are stoked with our results.”
The championship was the first for team owner Phil Lamattina since his own 2014 national title win. The Victorian carrot farmer said the 400 Thunder trophy was the reward for taking a chance on Bettes, a former Australian Modified and Junior Dragster champion.
“We took a chance on a young lady and she has paid us back in spades,” he said. “She has taught me so much this year. The Rapisarda team pushed us to the limit and that is what it is all about.”
Despite the narrow championship loss, Harris was left impressed by the performances of his dragster, which recorded a 3.777 second pass at 525.40kmh (326.48mph) in the final round – the quickest and fastest run ever seen in Australian drag racing.
“Thanks to everyone in the Rapisarda pits for everything they have done this weekend, all three teams,” he said. “It is a nice way to finish the championship. It would have been nice for a little bit more but this is a great result.
“The car has shown its potential this weekend. A few little gremlins this season have crept up on us and cost us the number one plate. We will regroup and come back and have another crack.”
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Bettes was not the only rookie to taste championship success as New South Wales' Paul Mouhayet defeated 11 times national Pro Slammer champion John Zappia in a thrilling semi final round to take home the 400 Thunder title.
Mouhayet and Zappia met in a 'winner takes all' race which saw Mouhayet streak to a 5.65 second win as Zappia rubbed against the safety wall and aborted his run. Mouhayet would then go on to the event victory in the Moits Racing/Mack/Komatsu Ford Mustang, defeating veteran Gary Phillips with another 5.65 second pass.
“We had a great season. Everybody who makes this happen, you know who you are, thanks very much,” Mouhayet said. “I'd like to thank Moits for allowing me to do this, Mack Trucks and Komatsu.
“It's our rookie season but we came out here with the best. I have the best crew chief around, Billy Stocklin, I've got the best crew, a great car, Proline engine power - to all the guys that make this possible, I really thank you.”
The news wasn't all bad for Phillips however, as he also made the final round in Pro Alcohol, where he would be the one to take victory – defeating Russell Mills with a 5.459 to a 5.598.
“There is no such thing as a bad win. It was a great final with Russell and a pretty good run,” Phillips said. “To have two cars in final rounds, as tough as this event was, boy we are happy.”
The 400 Thunder Pro Alcohol Championship went the way of Queensland's Steve Reed, who last earned a national title almost a quarter of a century ago.
“1994 was the last time we won this, we've had a few seconds thrown in along the way, but this is great,” he said.
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400 Thunder Pro Stock has been all about one family this season – the Tremaynes. The pattern did not change at the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals where brothers Aaron and Tyronne met in the final round. Aaron took the win with a 6.926 to a 7.000 on a day where he also won the 400 Thunder Pro Stock Championship, while Tyronne racked up enough points to overtake Jason Hedges for second.
“It has been a big effort for the whole Mega Racing team,” Aaron said. “My brother's car is back online, one-two in the championship and we couldn't be any happier. He has been driving unreal today.”
Pro Bike saw a stunning conclusion to the 400 Thunder Championship as Victoria's Maurice Allen clinched an unlikely victory. Points leader Corey Buttigieg lost to Allen in the first round, which opened the door for Allen to take the title should he win the event. That was exactly what he did, defeating a red lighting Glenn Wooster in the final round with a 7.265.
“I came to do a few rounds this season with the lads and it turned out we were having a bit of fun,” Allen explained. “Corey has become a mate and our rivalry has been nothing short of fantastic. The poor bugger has been in suspense for the last three rounds today. There is no way I ever thought in the classiest Pro Bike field we have ever seen I could do this and hold the trophy.”
Chris Matheson claimed the 400 Thunder Top Bike Championship and the Gulf Western Oil Winternationals victory aboard his 'Nitro Voodoo' machine. Matheson ran one of the quickest passes of his career, a 6.082, in the final round as he earned the day's trophy.
“We cherish championships, eight years we have been doing this,” he said. “We now have five championships and we've had some big 'offs' but I have survived. You need to be pretty calculated in what you do, this can be a dangerous sport.”
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