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John Zappia Victorious at Huge Riverbend Nationals

One of the greatest Top Doorslammer events of all time saw John Zappia defeat Russell Taylor in the final round of a record-filled Riverbend Nationals at The Bend Motorsport Park.

Near perfect weather conditions, a capacity crowd of spectators and tremendous racing from all four National Drag Racing Championship categories combined for an event many have declared one of the best ever seen in Australian drag racing.

John Zappia Tailem Bend
John Zappia Tailem Bend

Zappia approached qualifying with a conservative mindset before gradually powering up the Dananni Hotshots/Fuchs Lubricants Monaro Top Doorslammer to take advantage of near-sea level air. “We were looking at 600 feet of density altitude and 53 water grains in the air which are excellent numbers,” he explained. “We used a safe tune to start with, similar to what we used in Perth at the Westernationals, and we went 5.67 straight away.

We chose to skip the second qualifying session, which saw the competition close in, as Russell Taylor went 5.67 as well. “We put more of a tune-up in for the third qualifying session. Ahead of us we watched Daniel Gregorini go 5.65 to take the top spot, but then we came out and went 5.642! That held for number one qualifier and earned us $1000 thanks to the Crow Cams Top Qualifier Award.”

Conditions continued to improve for race day. With most of the field deep into the five second zone and personal bests falling in almost every race, Zappia Racing was fortunate to have a bye run in the first round to nail the setup.“Overnight we put some valve springs on the motor as they were a little low. The air was now down to 500 feet and 49 water grains, so pretty powerful. We watched Russell Taylor go 5.63 ahead of us. Our bye run left hard, then it went right so I had to drive it back to the groove but it corrected out to the left. We got to the end despite the not-so-straight run and then they told me I had just gone 5.606 at 256mph! That was motoring. The crowd was going wild as the numbers just kept tumbling with every pass they saw.”

Between rounds, the Zappia Racing team noticed one of the new valve springs was not performing as well as the others, which had caused a couple of valve train mishaps including a broken pushrod.

With time against them, Zappia decided to drop the shift point by 200rpm to reduce stress on the valve train.“We fixed it up as best we could with the time we had,” he said. “We had Adam Tassone in the second round. I lost my head on the tree and had a terrible reaction time — over half a second after the green. Adam was so far in front it looked as if we didn’t have a hope, but the Noonan horsepower in our Dananni Hotshots/Fuchs Lubricants Monaro got us there with a 5.601 to his 6.055, taking the stripe by just a few hundredths of a second in what I’m sure was an entertaining race for the fans. That was our quickest time ever at a national round.”

With time to now tackle the valve spring issue, once again the Zappia Racing team was under the pump.“We pulled a cylinder head off to change the springs properly and put all new intake springs on along with one exhaust spring. As we were torquing it up we were running out of time and one of the head studs pulled the thread out the block on cylinder one! I couldn’t get it to nip up at all and so we had to tighten the rest and hope for the best.”

Zappia would be taking on Taylor (who had just run a 5.598 pass to take the national record) in an important final round with big championship implications. “The issue with the head stud was weighing on me. I took a moment as I was suiting up to really observe where the fire extinguisher was, just in case the motor torched a head gasket. We added some fuel to that cylinder to be safe but it was still a potential issue. As the lights came on in the final Russell got out on me by seven hundredths and it was on. I saw him at first, but then I didn’t see him and we powered through for a 5.602 to his 5.707 for the win. It was an amazing race, an awesome way to top off one of the best events we have ever been to. It was like we had a bracket car. As we were throwing more at it, the track was getting better and better. They did an amazing job at prepping the track. The air stayed consistent through the weekend too, enabling us to really dial in the car. The Dananni Hotshots/Fuchs Lubricants Monaro was running on song all weekend.”

"A huge thank you to our sponsors who have stood by us all these years and the hundreds of supporters who came to the pits to say hello, buy merchandise and give us their support. We look forward to being back at Tailem Bend in October for the start of next season."

Zappia will return home to Perth Motorplex this weekend to take part in the Blown Alcohol Allstars class as part of the WA Grand Final.

Even though he has wrapped up the WA Top Doorslammer Championship, Zappia said he wants to be at the final event of the WA season to put on a show for sponsors, fans and the Perth Motorplex management and staff who support us throughout the year.“We’re going to race against guys like Craig Glassby and Nigel Johnson in their Top Alcohol cars which is pretty cool,” he said.

And as for that lost national record? Don’t be ruling out the Dananni Hotshots/Fuchs Lubricants Monaro just yet.“When someone else takes the record it just gives us the motivation to go after it once again. We’ve been five-fifties before and I’m sure we can get there again. I love the chase.”

Photography: Cackling Pipes


Facebook: Zappia Racing 

Joint Naming Rights Sponsors

Dananni Haulage (Hotshots)

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