On Saturday, February 3, Meremere Dragway will play host to some of the most impressive drag cars in the Southern Hemisphere — eight nitro funny cars, and two wheel-standers, from Australia’s Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Car (AONFC) Series. This is a meeting you won’t want to miss.
It’s a series where entertainment takes priority. It’s about nitro-burning funny cars, huge header flames, and chest-pumping 4000hp engines that truly take your breath away when they leave the start line. It’s about the kids and families having an evening out, watching an entertaining show. And following on from record crowds at venues all over Australia the series are geared up to hit Meremere Dragway.
A typical AONFC vehicle accelerates from 0–100kph in under a second, and 0–300kph in less than 3.5 seconds. With a finish-line speed of over 400kph, in around 5.6 seconds, these cars are incredible pieces of machinery.
Leading the visitors will be the famous ‘Nitro Express’ ’57 Chev driven by Rick Gauci. The DBS Motorsport team will be featuring heavily in the New Zealand tour with the team’s two nitro funny cars, ‘Bumblebee’ and ‘Avenger’, also making the trip. The two Donnelly brothers, Jake and Dan, are characters in their own right, and will be sure to put on a show for the crowd. Completing the list will be ‘The Bandit’, ‘L.A. Hooker’, ‘Dark Horse’, ‘Terminator’, and ‘One Bad Kiwi’ driven by Morice McMillin on his home turf.
In addition to the eight nitro funny cars, the ‘Rocket Ship’ and ‘Nitro Sheriff’ wheel-standers will also be bringing the show over here. A huge hit with the kids, these two cars will quickly become crowd favourites with the full quarter-mile wheel-stands at over 160kph!
“Both the Rocket Ship and the Nitro Sheriff are absolute hits with the young kids and families. They add an element of entertainment that the kids to relate to — they have character, they have flames and flashing lights. I’m sure the two drivers will be signing plenty of hero cards!” said series manager, Morice McMillin.
And what makes the series even more entertaining is the all-run format. Nobody wants to see their favourite car knocked out of competition, and the AONFC series fixes that with a simple points-based system that sees every car return for every round of racing. With eight very good cars in battle, expect there to be some tough racing.
Read on to find out more about the cars, and the drivers who will soon be putting on a show on our shores.
Quarter-mile ETs range from the 5.5–5.9-second zone on a good run, with trap speeds of well over 400kph. These nitro funny cars complete the 0–100kph sprint in under one second, and will hit 200kph from a standstill in about 2.1 seconds.
The AONFC series funny cars are powered by supercharged 413ci Hemi engines, with either TFX or Alan Johnson all-alloy blocks. The recipe is consistent throughout the series, with a Littlefield 6-71 supercharger, 34gpm fuel pump, MSD 44A magneto, and fuel mixture of 90–94-per-cent nitromethane to alcohol. The transmission is limited to either a Lenco or B&J two-speed planetary, with a Crower or AFT three-disc slider clutch.
With a nickname of ‘the Cowboy’, it seems fitting that Paul Messineo is the pilot of the Dark Horse. Having been a part of the series since its inception, Paul has done plenty of runs in the Ford Mustang–bodied funny car, and has run a best ET of 5.70s and fastest speed of 423kph. The car is tuned by Justin Walshe, and sponsored by Aeroflow Performance and Rocket Industries.
Name: Paul Messineo
Occupation: Construction manager
Favourite food: BBQ ribs
Favourite movie: Dumb and Dumber
Hobbies: Drag racing, old school cars and motorcycles
Advice for young racers: Chase your dreams and never give up chasing them
Dream car: 1932 Ford roadster
First car: Holden EH
First car down the strip: 351-powered Ford XA Falcon
Justin Walshe will be behind the wheel of the Terminator ’69 Camaro-bodied nitro funny car. Justin has raced in the AONFC series for over three years now, and he doesn’t only drive, as the tuner for both the Terminator and the Dark Horse. Before making his name in nitro funny cars, Justin was known for his record-holding supercharged Altereds.
In the Terminator, he has run a quickest ET of 5.70s, and a fastest speed of 401kph. The Terminator is sponsored by Aeroflow Performance, Rocket Industries, and Harts Paint Supplies.
Name: Justin Walshe
Occupation: Business owner
Favourite food: Anything my wife cooks
Favourite movie: The Shawshank Redemption
Hobbies: Drag racing, wakeboarding, motor sport, and socializing
Advice for young racers: Treat every pass like it’s a qualifying run, and no one is in the other lane
Dream car: Nitro altered
First car: Holden HQ
First car down the strip: A mate’s XY Falcon
Josh Leahy might be a spring chicken at 24 years of age, and may have only been racing these funny cars cars for a year, but he isn’t one to take for granted. Having driven three years driving the Nitro Sheriff wheel-stander, Josh was given the opportunity to drive The Bandit, and he took the opportunity with two hands, impressing everyone in his debut.
Josh has pedalled The Bandit to a best ET of 5.60s and a fastest speed of 422kph. The Bandit is tuned by Morice McMillin and sponsored by Aeroflow Performance and Rocket Industries.
Name: Joshua Leahy
Favourite food: Chicken wings and ribs
Favourite movie: Back to the Future
Hobbies: Drag racing, wakeboarding, snowboarding
Advice for young racers: Always make sure you’re having fun
Dream car: Nitro funny car
First car: Holden V6 ute — I thought I was so cool driving it to school!
First car down the strip: A Junior Dragster when I was 10. First car after that was a 10-second ’71 Camaro
The Bumblebee nitro funny car is many a young boy’s favourite. The Transformers-themed car, driven by Jake Donnelly, comes out of Queensland’s DBS Motorsport team. Jake’s car has been on a big run of form lately, so expect him to bring the challenge to New Zealand.
To date, he’s run a best ET of 5.70s and a fastest speed of 407kph. Bumblebee is tuned by Graeme Frawley and sponsored by Donnelly Blasting Services and Gulf Western Oil.
Name: Jake Donnelly
Occupation: Diesel fitter / driller
Favourite food: Mexican
Favourite movie: American Sniper
Hobbies: Low-riding, fishing, camping, and going fast!
Advice for young racers: Listen to as many people as you can, take advice, and go for it
Dream car: ’57 Chev convertible, or a Holden HK panelvan
First car: Holden Commodore SV6
First car down the strip: Junior Dragster
The Rocket Ship
One of the most popular cars that will be visiting New Zealand, and one that is sure to be a huge hit with the kids, will be the Rocket Ship wheel-stander. With its beautiful ’57 Chev body, the flame-throwing wheel-stander can do the entire quarter-mile on its rear wheels at over 160kph! The Rocket Ship is sponsored by DBS Motorsport.
Name: Aaron Burge
Occupation: Drill operator
Favourite food: My wife’s lasagne
Favourite movie: Super Troopers
Hobbies: Drag racing, hot rodding
Advice for young racers: Race what you can afford to race, and race for the right reasons
Dream car: Nitro altered
First car: 1985 Holden VK Commodore
First car down the strip: Injected big block dragster
Driving one of the most iconic funny cars in the Southern Hemisphere has its pressures, and when that car is owned and tuned by the guru of nitro, Graeme Cowin, there’s even more! For Rick Gauci, pilot of the Nitro Express, none of that matters when he is strapped in the black ’57 Chev — a best ET of 5.54s makes this one of the quickest AONFC cars, and its fastest speed of 425kph is right up there, too!
Nitro Express is sponsored by Aeroflow Performance, Rocket Industries, and City Finance.
Name: Rick Gauci
Age: Depends on the day
Favourite food: Chocolate
Favourite movie: Anything action
Hobbies: What’s that?
Advice for young racers: The hard yards in the garage produces the good results on the track
Dream car: ‘INFERNO’
First car: Holden Torana
First car down the strip: Supercharged Outlaw Holden HQ
Along with Bumblebee, the Avenger also comes from the DBS Motorsport stable, and is piloted by the eldest of the Donnelly brothers, Dan. Dan recently stepped up from the Rocket Ship wheel-stander, and is going to be a force to be reckoned with in the AONFC series.
He’s raced the Avenger to a best ET of 5.80s, and a fastest speed of 400kph. The Avenger is tuned by Luke Marsden and is sponsored by Donnelly Blasting Services and Gulf Western Oil.
Name: Dan Donnelly
Favourite food: Chocolate
Hobbies: Drag racing
Advice for young racers: Have fun and enjoy it!
Dream car: Nitro FED
First car: Junior Dragster
First car down the strip: Junior Dragster
The only West Australian in the field, Anthony Begley is a very popular figure in the AONFC field. With experience in doorslammers, alcohol funny cars, and many other classes, it was only natural that the guy they all call ‘Begs’ would find a new home in nitro funny cars. Now settled into the iconic L.A. Hooker, he will be looking for a big result in New Zealand — with a best ET of 5.69s and a fastest speed of 410kph, he’s got what it takes!
L.A. Hooker is tuned by Graeme Cowin and sponsored by Aeroflow Performance, 89 Industries, and Rocket Industries
Name: Anthony ‘Begs’ Begley
Occupation: Company director
Favourite food: Pasta
Favourite movie: Running on Empty
Hobbies: Drag racing, water skiing
Advice for young racers: Dream big!
Dream car: Ferrari
First car: Volvo
First car down the strip: Holden HX ute
The Nitro Sheriff wheel-stander is the law enforcement at any AONFC event. With its huge flames, police lights and sirens, and iconic livery, this Camaro is a huge hit with the kids! Covering the quarter-mile in 11 seconds at over 160kph, what’s not to like?!
Nitro Sheriff is sponsored by Aeroflow Performance, Harts Paint Supplies, and Chilli Bins
Name: Fred Westhoff
Occupation: Fitter and turner
Favourite food: Depends on what country I’m in
Favourite movie: Don’t have time for TV
Hobbies: Drag racing, surfing, bike riding, anything that gets me outside
Advice for young racers: Attention to detail is paramount. Always soak up quality advice from people you know are credible
Dream car: Holden HK wagon
First car: Holden HR
First car down the strip: Holden HR
One Bad Kiwi
Kiwi boy Morice McMillin will be looking for a big showing in the One Bad Kiwi nitro funny car. Morice is involved in the series on a full-time basis, based in Sydney, and will be looking forward to racing in front of a home crowd at Meremere Dragway. He’s pedalled to a quickest ET of 5.62s, and a fastest speed of 408kph.
One Bad Kiwi is sponsored by Aeroflow Performance and Rocket Industries.
Name: Morice McMillin
Favourite food: Chinese, pizza
Favourite movie: Martian
Hobbies: Drag racing, sprint cars, motor sport, hockey
Advice for young racers: Work hard, surround yourself with the right people
Dream car: Nitro funny car, nitro altered
First car: Ford Cortina Mk.4
First car down the strip: Junior Dragster when I was eight
The nitro funny car exhibition will start with an AONFC tradition with the salute to the crowd. In a pure sensory overload at 1pm, all 10 funny cars will start up on track at one time, and this part of the show is not to be missed! The nitro funny cars will be out at set times — 1pm, 2pm, 4pm, and 6pm — with normal comp classes worked around these exhibition times.
On Saturday, February 3, Meremere Dragway gates will be open from 8am. Adult entry is $35 per person, with under-12s free. Visit dragway.co.nz oroutlawnitrofunnycars.com.au for more information.