It was looking a little hairy there with Cyclone Pam brewing off the coast, but the decision was made on Thursday, March 12 that the IHRA NZ Nationals would indeed go ahead over the weekend of March 14–15 as planned. It was a brave call but turned out to be the right one to make as, despite the showers looming come Sunday, the event went off without a hitch.
The Meremere Dragway crew had poured hours upon hours into track prep leading up to the event, and it showed, with Saturday’s qualifying day seeing a host of PBs.
Included in this were three from the Top Doorslammer class alone. Mark Bardsley’s Rislone-sponsored Camaro dipped into the 6.4s, with an impressive 6.44 at 223.10mph. This put him into the number-one qualifying spot, bumping Trevor Smith’s Statesman, which had run a PB of 6.50 at 216.41mph earlier in the day, into second. Hot on Trevor’s heels was Wellingtonian Rod Benjes, in the DB Racecars’ Chev Beretta, who ran a best of 6.51 at 218.83mph.
Over in Super Sedan, the racing was as fierce as ever, with Jodey Irving bumping his own national record in SS/AA in his nitrous-snorting Camaro to an impressive 7.52 at 180.57mph.
In Top Street, Heath Mahon was the elected driver out of the two Mahon brothers, being that he’s some 20kg less than brother Jarrod. This looked like a good call, as the boys had the car flying, bumping their PB by the end of the weekend into the sevens, with a 7.96 at 176.24mph.
The competitor who had travelled the longest distance, Roger Binnema from Balclutha, wasn’t so lucky, ending up back on the trailer early and heading back home. He didn’t travel in vain at least, scoring himself a new PB of 7.367
What everyone had been waiting to see was the return of the two Top Fuel Dragsters of Reece Fish and the Marsh Family. Fish came out first for a solo pass to test out the all-new engine combination, the decision being made to step up to the current gear, as opposed to the older style he was previously campaigning. His half-track pass resulted in a 6.601s at a lazy 131.1mph. Not a bad way to debut a new combo.
Later in the day, spectators would get what they came to see, with both fuellers running side by side, and the Marsh Motorsport / Mount Shop team breaking the 300mph barrier for the first time with a ground shaking 4.87 at 307.72mph.
We’re not sure, but perhaps the car’s extra performance was something to do with driver Anthony Marsh’s new hairdo. Somehow, we don’t think Reece Fish will be resorting to such desperate measures though.
While most thought the two drivers had balls as big as they came, Athol Williams soon proved them wrong, bringing out his Nitro bike and running a casual 6.56 seconds at 212.43mph. Stop and think about that for a moment. No cage, no seatbelt, just testicles the size of your head!
PBs aside, the reality is that Saturday was all about qualifying for the following day, as it takes more than PBs to win championships.
While the well-publicized cyclone stayed away (maybe Pam’s a drag fan?) there was no shortage of thunder. Some of it from Michael Franklin’s Pissed Goat Pontiac GTO. The methanol-fuelled machine is not really much more than a tough street car with a monster motor in it, and as such, offers no shortage of wild rides. You can imagine the crew and crowd’s reactions when it ran uncharacteristically straight to card an 8.06 at 169mph. Not only was it a PB, it was good enough to see him end up in the Supercharged Outlaws finals.
That final would be against Motueka’s Craig Griffith, and it’d be an easy one for him when the GTO died on the start line, allowing him to coast straight on through to the number-one spot.
Also taking the easy win was the Pro Drill Ford Escort driven by Lee Sherwin, who took home the C10 Super Sedan trophy win when the Toy Shop–sponsored Mk1 Escort in the other lane red-lit on the line. Is there a car or team that has won more championships than these guys? We doubt it.
Another to bag the national championship, and a few new PBs on the way, was Tauranga’s Karen Hay, aka New Zealand’s fastest female. Over the weekend, she dropped her PB from a 6.59 at 213mph to an arrow-straight 6.41 at 214mph.
Speaking of new PBs, there wasn’t a man at the track happier than Robbie Ward. He’s been chasing the unofficial title of fastest Nissan Skyline in the world for some time now, coming agonizingly close over the last few meets. Finally, he made it there, blasting past the existing 7.41 record set by Reece McGregor a decade ago, with a 7.32 at 191.95mph.
In Top Alcohol, there were two teams out to prove that they should be crowned the champion. However, it was the Lodge Family that took the glory on Saturday with a new PB (for class and car) of 5.51 at 252.95mph over Chris Johnson's 5.68 at 251. The two would face off in the finals the following day, with the victory going Johnson's way with a 5.63PB.
While there was a distinct lack of Pro Import and Sport Mods competing, that didn't mean the racing wasn't good. Taranaki's Matt Buttimore is still getting a handle on his new car but wowed the crowd and himself with a blistering 7.74 during qualifying. Looks like he'll be one to watch in the future.
While it was hard to see Ian Wilkins’ smile through his helmet, his eyes said it all when he ran a 7.2-second pass at 182mph in Comp Bike — a run with the front wheels in the air for the majority of it.
The Top Doorslammer final came down to a battle of Wellington versus Auckland. Wellington’s Rod Benjes, who’d run 6.51 the previous day, against Auckland’s Ross Taylor, who’d run a best of 6.50 that morning. A wild ride by Taylor saw Benjes take the win with a 6.63 at 207mph, against Taylor's 6.65 at 215mph. If that’s not close racing, we don’t know what is.
The day of highs was topped off with the jet-engined Funny Car of Steve Zahorodny coming out for a play, and warming the crowd in the process. While it didn’t necessarily run any record-breaking numbers, it sure turned plenty of heads, and that’s what it’s all about.
With prize-giving done and dusted, and the stands empty, Reece Fish and his team came out for one more shot at running a four-second pass before the season ended. Again, they got agonizingly close, with another 5.01-second pass. We can only imagine the frustration this causes. But the good thing is, it means we have no doubt that he’ll be back to try it all over again next season.
For full results and plenty more pics, check out the next issue of NZV8 magazine, on sale from April 6. Our apologies to anyone who feels left out of this article — we know there were plenty more PBs, and a lot more action than you see here. We’re currently flat-out processing the thousands of photos we captured over the weekend, and will do our best to update the article as we find the images.