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Zappia’s emotional east coast tour finished with Sydney Epic

When John Zappia left his home in Western Australia to drive across the Nullarbor and race at Australian Top Doorslammer Championship rounds at Willowbank Raceway and Sydney Dragway, he had little idea of the events that were to come.


The passing of fellow Top Doorslammer racer Sam Fenech at Willowbank was felt by all, but for the racers who knew him the most at the track, it was an especially emotional time.


When Zappia arrived at Willowbank Raceway for the New Year Nitro event, the main thing on his mind was getting the Dananni Hotshots/Fuchs Monaro to behave itself and stay in the groove.


“Being Queensland, we had the normal hot and humid weather, but we were able to start our weekend with a 5.76 which qualified us in second place,” Zappia said. “The car went a bit left on the pass, so we made some adjustments. We didn’t get much of a run in the second qualifying session, then in the first round of racing the car went right, and when I corrected, it shot to the left, and I was fighting to stay off the wall. I did have to lift but we still ran a 5.79 for the win.”


The second round of racing saw Zappia take a 5.89 win, but it was while he was waiting at the end of the braking area that tragedy struck.


“I was waiting for Kelvin Lyle and Sam Fenech to come down, and I heard a couple of bangs that sounded odd. Then only one car came down and it was Kelvin. I talked to him and he said he saw Sam go over the wall. It was just silence from then on, and it never got any better. All our thoughts were and are with Sam’s family and friends and with Maurice Fabietti and his team.”


With New Year Nitro called off at Willowbank Raceway, most racers’ thoughts were far away from when the next event would be, but eventually focus had to turn to Sydney Dragway’s Top Fuel Slam. Over preceding weeks, the event shifted gears to become a memorial for Sam, to provide a fitting tribute to a much loved Top Doorslammer racer.

It was Zappia’s first time back at Sydney Dragway in three years, and his first time on the venue’s new racing surface. Things did not start well as the Fuchs/Dananni Hotshots Monaro had to be pushed away with an electrical problem.


“We came out for the first qualifying session and the car wouldn’t start,” Zappia explained. “We found what we thought was the cause and replaced the part to get it to fire, but there was still a misfire at idle. So from there we changed just about every electrical component on the car because the second qualifying session would be the held-over A Final from Willowbank.”


The team did have some time to chase the issue, as Friday night’s racing was brought to an early close by rain. On Saturday Zappia finally took on Kelvin Lyle in a great side-by-side race, 5.77 to 5.77, with Lyle getting the ‘Willowbank round victory’ thanks to his better reaction time.


“We both had bad reaction times, his was a 0.230 and mine was a 0.430. With all the heat and humidity it’s tough on drivers and maybe I got distracted,” Zappia said. “Kelvin opened the gate for me but I wasn’t able to capitalise.”


While Zappia had to settle for runner-up, there was still another trophy available for the Sydney round – though a tough field stood in his way. Having found the cause of the electrical problem (a connector with loose terminals for the crank trigger), Zappia faced Matt Abel in the first round and took a 5.95 win.


“I launched hard but the car went to the centre line and I took too long to pedal,” Zappia said.

The next opponent would be Geoff Gradden, and this time a 5.75 would be good for the win light. With two other drivers also earning two wins (Daniel Gregorini and Kelvin Lyle), the decision on the finalists came down to ET points.


“It was a close race in the points, and if only I had been a hundredth of a second quicker in either race we would have made the A Final. But, that’s how racing goes, and we had to focus on picking up the points we could in the B Final.”


Zappia faced Emilio Spinozzi for his final race of the weekend. With all the problems cured, Zappia bolted to a 5.692 for low ET of the event and the B Final win.

“We knew the car was going straight again and so we were able to put in power. While the results didn’t quite fall our way in Sydney we got home safe and the motor is all in one piece – both of those things are important.”



Zappia has a busy month ahead, with his steel-body Zap’s Rat Monaro being prepared for Street Outlaws Australia, which will be followed by the next round of the Australian Top Doorslammer Championship at the Westernationals in March.

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