“Cyclone Nationals Conquered” screamed one of the social media updates in the aftermath of the 2015 NZ Nationals held 14th and 15th March 2015 at Meremere Dragway.
In a repeat of the lead up to the 2014 NZ Nationals, the papers and forecasts had only bad news when it came to the weather for the weekend of the NZ IHRA National Track series grand final round. The Board at Meremere Dragway were not perturbed and made the early decision to continue as planned. Surely lightning wouldn’t strike twice in the same place? It’s just as well. Thirteen records, history and a string of personal bests and some amazing racing would have gone begging.
It’s hard to know where to start with performances, so we’ll start at the top. Per capita (if we can apply such a thing to drag racing), the BurgerFuel® Top Alcohol class would have to have been the best performing class with both Shane Lodge and Chris Johnston running under the national record twice…each. Chris Johnston posted a 5.632 @ 254.90mph and a 5.653 @ 250.23mph in eliminations on his way to claiming his ninth, yes ninth NZ Nationals title. Johnston had to settle for claiming just the MPH record as Shane Lodge thundered through with some impressive power wheelstands just past the 60” mark to post a 5.516 @ 252.95 in qualifying. Lodge backed up Saturday’s performance with a 5.537 @ 249.63mph in eliminations racing on Sunday to take runner up position and the Top Alcohol E.T. record.
The battle of the P&I Pascoes Ltd Top Doorslammers has never failed to impress and this year would be no different. Trevor Smith in his Holden Statesmen continued his march deep into the sixes running a personal best time of 6.509 @ 216.51mph to qualify second behind Mark Bardsley in his 1968 Camaro with a 6.441 @ 223.10mph. But it was qualifier number 3 and 4 – Rod Benjes in his Chev Beretta and Ross Taylor in his Chev Sports Coupe – that battled out the final come Sunday afternoon. Rod Benjes took the finals win by 0.013 seconds running a 6.638 @ 207.53mph over Ross Taylor’s scenic route 6.651 @ 215.17mph. Consolation for Ross Taylor – rumoured to be stepping out of driving duties to make room for current crew chief and son Jason Taylor – is he tied up the IHRA NZ National Series with that finals appearance. Nigel Dixon in his 1968 Camaro also took consolation with a well earned 7.136 @ 193.02mph personal best and Gary Benham taking his personal best deep into the sevens with a 7.675 @ 169.30mph.
Bill Hamilton on his Hayabusa sewed up his fourth Auckland Harley Davidson Competition Bike meeting win in a row coming from 5th qualifying position to snatch the Nationals from Ian Hilder on his aptly named “Rice Rocket II” Suzuki GSAX. Both men claimed national records (Hamilton AA/AB E.T. record 8.090 and Ian Hilder A/DB E.T. record 7.810) on their trek to the finals alongside Ian Wilkins who despite dropping out in round 1 did enough to reset the AA/DB MPH record to 182.35mph.
Requiring no introduction is Karen Hay in the Evil II Roadster who took top honours in NZ Hot Rod Magazine Competition but also reset the AA/A record to a 6.418 @ 214.45mph on her way to claiming the Nationals title. It seems that claiming the title of New Zealand’s fastest woman in 2013 wasn’t enough and Hay continues to terrorise the men in Competition. Kane Douche fancied himself a chance against Hay having come all the way from Perth to race and post his personal best of 7.578 but he’ll have to wait to race another day as he popped a cherry for a first round exit. Cameron Paterson would not get past the experienced Phil Hirst. Russell Christoffersen of Gubb Racing piloted the Gubb Racing Dragster into the semi-finals where he succumbed to Evil II but in doing so claimed the National Points Series title and Phil Hirst who put up a strong battle in the final described the now twinturbocharged altered as the “Silent Assassin” by virtue of never being able to hear her approaching until she’d crossed the line…ahead of him.
Franklin Long Roofing Supercharged Outlaws is our melting pot of racers from all around New Zealand. It hosted the Hartley’s from Lower Hutt, Christison from Wellington, Richard McCarthy from New Plymouth, the Minchingtons from Christchurch and eventual winner Craig Griffiths from Motueka with a smattering of local Auckland/Waikato based racers Aaron Lelean, Dave Mason, Darren Hays and Michael Franklin. The Minchingtons were leading the points score series coming in to this event but issues with the transmission at the end of qualifying put paid to their third straight championship chase. Those honours now belong to Graham Christison despite losing the semi-final to relative newbie Michael Franklin in his immaculately prepared Pontiac GTO. Aaron Lelean of AI Exhausts Racing was knocked out in the quarterfinals but couldn’t stop grinning after posting another 6second pass for a PB of 6.924.
VHT Top Street and V Energy Drinks Sport Compact divisions gave us four national records despite a high attrition rate in V Energy Sport Compact. Roger Binnema from Balclutha gave us a 7.367 @ 193.06mph CC/TS record as well as the record for most distance travelled at 1,441.4km according to Google. Mahon Brothers Racing added the A/MS record of 7.968 @ 283.63mph, Gary Bogaart contributed with an 8.688 ET record for EE/MS and Ben Cox reset the S/M E.T. record to 8.173. Robbie Ward could have raced in Super Sedan but chose to campaign the car in Sport Compact instead and while there, he and his RIPS MGAWOT III Skyline were not content with just taking the SS/BB record to 7.417 @ 191.95mph but is now arguably the quickest Skyline in the world with a 7.327 run during Exhibition.
Ben Cox and Paul Dowdall have spent the summer resetting the S/M record but it was Matthew Buttimore who threatened those numbers the most during qualifying running a 7.743. Jason Horn in his 1988 Mitsubishi Lancer took Sport Compact honours and running a PB of 8.954 in the process. Over in Top Street, Adam Prestney took his luck from the semi-finals when the consistent McGregor’s pushed back off the start line and converted it to a Top Street Nationals title beating Mahon Brother’s Racing in the final and claiming best prepared car and crew on their way.
It was déjà vu over in Outback 4x4 Super Sedan county as Lee Sherwin in his MK I Escort took round after round and walked out with the Nationals title in an all Escort final with Gregg Holmes. That win was more than enough to hand Sherwin the National Points Score series championship. Meanwhile, Jodey Irving was going rounds and once again reset the SS/AA record for the third time in one season - this now sits at 7.349 @ 188.31mph. One of the biggest classes at most Competition Meetings, Outback 4x4 Super Sedan is quite possibly the hardest class to win which makes racing in this class one of the more exciting ones to watch.
First season racer Boms “Bomber” Jamieson from Cambridge won his first meeting in the Segedins Auto Spares Modified division when it counted in taking out the Nationals title with a 9.481 @ 133.49mph. The road to the finals was littered with some experienced racers in the form of current Modified points leader Neville Smith followed by a final against veteran and regular podium visitor Trevor Watson in his Peugeot dragster but Bomber was on song for his first competition win.
Scrap Palace brings us the Modified Bike division of racing and the hair raising antics of the bikers who have been out all season in competition for the national title. This includes the class Sponsor himself Brett “Scrappy” Goodwin on his S&S Harley who went through to the semi-finals of racing to consolidate his position as Runner Up in the national series. But it was travelling Mark “Shurk” Shuker all the way from Christchurch on his Triumph Rocket that took the National meeting win with a 13.311 on a 12.20 dial in when Ross Donaldson who normally runs high 9s popped a red light in the final. Not to be outdone, veteran racer Tony Gray campaigned two bikes in the qualifying rounds and claimed the C/MB record on one of them – a 396cc Honda – with a 14.212 @ 99.44mph.
Auckland Harley Davidson is responsible for the resurgence of the Screamin’ Eagle class which saw an all Buell final between Geoff Bond and Jim Wells. Geoff Bond took victory this time round with a 10.990 on an 11.00 dial in over Jim “Flea” Wells who broke out running an 11.930 on a 12.00 dial in. That’s the beauty of finals racing.
Brian Roberts Towing Super Street were poignant as they rolled out to kick of Eliminations and a minutes silence to their fallen combatant and previous champion Dean Logan. In true style, Logan was honoured with some hard and fast street machine racing that saw rookie David Wigg steal his first ever Nationals win with a 13.370 on a 13.20 dial-in over James Prujean’s 12.606 on a 12.46 dial-in. Good thing brother Adam Wigg couldn’t get the Skyline ready for competition or David would have never had the opportunity. We just hope Adam Wigg hasn’t lost his crew chief.
Over in Funtime Foods Junior Dragster division, young Alyvea Lawson beat the rest of the fresh faced youngsters to the finish line after five rounds of racing to become Nationals champion. But there was another race being fought bravely between Jack Wenzlick and Kees Wijdeven for National Series Champion. Both lads came into the meeting a mere two points apart in the standings. Wijdeven handed the Series over to Wenzlick when he broke out in the semi-finals running a 9.053 on a 9.20 dial-in to Wenzlicks 8.643 on an 8.55 dial-in.
The final word will go to our Nitro racers. Two months earlier they were sizzling in their record breaking form at the Nitro Shootout. They were just as electrifying this time around. Anthony Marsh laid another history making pass on Saturday evening with a 4.872 @ 307.72mph, Reece Fish was the grand finale on Sunday and ran a PB of 5.012 in his quest for a 4second pass (it’s getting closer). Fish brought us some Australian drag racing royalty as well; Santo and Santino Rapisarda along with American Scott Gaddy graced us all with their presence as they worked to get Fish and team into that magic territory. Athol Williams was superb with a 6.562 @ 212.43mph pass on two wheels and Willy White is chipping away to get back to form with a 7.196 but slowing towards to the finish line. Les Herst rounded up the nitro action dipping into the 7s as he works to sort the Phoenix for a 6 second flight.
The Meremere Dragway track crew that prepped in the face of another cyclone and worked tirelessly to pump the racing through before the forecasted Sunday afternoon rain claim the meeting alone was record breaking on another front…no oil downs. We’ll clink to that.
Report by Nisa
Images by SE Photography - https://www.facebook.com/SiggyEichholzPhotography?fref=ts