4000HP Funny Cars put on a spectacular show at Meremere
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The spectacle of 4000-horsepower cars accelerating to beyond 400km/h in just 400 metres wasn’t the only highlight of yesterday’s Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Car meet at Meremere Dragway.
There was also confirmation that motorsport events catering to families and allowing close-up access to the stars and spectacular cars can attract a strong fan turnout.
The full stands and fans on their feet when the nitro cars were running at Meremere yesterday couldn’t be a more marked contrast to other racing series that keep garage doors closed and reserve the fan interaction for a few VIP guests.
A big crowd rolled into Meremere for the rain-delayed Kiwi debut of the funny car series created by Aussie drag racing legend Graeme Cowin.
Eight cars were shipped from Australia with Invercargill racer Karl Boniface joining the field in his Castrol-backed Nitro Flashback Chev Vega.
It was worth the wait. After filling the pits for the pre-race Pit Party, the cars took the track with the first pair of Josh Leahy (Bandit) and Anthony Begley (LA Hooker) running side-by-side 5.72s passes at just a tick above 400km/h.
You could tell from the crowd reaction that many in attendance were nitro racing virgins. During the day the nitro cars ran 14 passes in the 5secs range and 10 at more than 400km/h.
The first two rounds of racing set up a final between Rick Gauci driving Nitro Express - which has been the most successful combination in the series – and series manager and also former New Zealand Top Alcohol champ Morice McMillin at the wheel of One Bad Kiwi.
Morice McMillin clocked the quickest elapsed time, top speed and took the Meremere victory in the One Bad Kiwi Pontiac Transam
Gauci had posted a 5.674secs run in the first round but smoked the tyres to win a round two pedal-fest against Brandon Gosbell in King Kong.
McMillin’s 5.619s second round was low ET of the meet and in the final he delivered a strong 5.661s run and top speed of the day at 419.18km/h to secure his first AONFC victory.
Another star of the event was Emma Begley in the Let’s Boogie Ford Mustang. The nursing student made it into the third-place match-up against Paul Messineo having earlier taken a hole-shot second round win over her father Anthony.
In the closest race of the third round Messineo was just three-thousandths quicker down the track to edge Begley for the podium spot.
Nigel Dixon was on form in his Ford Falcon Top Doorslammer with a 6.165secs pass
Begley’s 5.795s run was the quickest ET by a female racer on a New Zealand track, edging out a new mark of 5.896s set by Tauranga’s Karen Hay in a twin turbo rear-engine dragster just a week earlier at Masterton.
McMillin said the Meremere event was a success on two levels.
"Personally it was a fairy tale to take the first win on home soil, said McMillin.
"And to have this many people turn up on a rain day is pretty awesome. It shows a lot of support for what we tried to achieve over here and I think we put on a good show for the crowd.
Vintage Gassers entertained the crowd with wheelstanding launches
"The New Zealand fans were so supportive. It shows drag racing is well and truly alive in this country and there are high calibre cars here.
"We’re proud to show what we do and we thank the people who came to make the event. Without them it’s just a drag race."
The Australian series was supported by some strong performances by local teams ahead of the 52nd New Zealand Nationals at Meremere over the March 7-8 weekend.
There was strong pace from several Top Doorslammer teams with reigning national champ Barry Plumpton (Auckland) clocking a 6.138secs pass in his nitrous-injected 15.7-litre `68 Camaro and Hamilton’s Nigel Dixon also on form with a 6.165secs run in his BA Ford Falcon.
The Aeroflow Series races the second fixture on its New Zealand tour at Masterton Motorplex on March 22 alongside the final round of the New Zealand Drag Racing Series.