• 2015 Nitro Shootout: 10th January 2015

A Quarter Mile-stone: Fish wins Nitro Shootout, Marsh runs New Zealand's first 4 second pass

It was a bright and shiny Saturday November 10th, 2012 when the modest Reece Fish and Fish Family Racing debuted their Australian bought Uyehara Top Fuel Dragster at Meremere Dragway. The drag racing fraternity and fans present that day will remember it for the close and personal affair that it turned out to be; almost as if it was our own private viewing. Lucky indeed.

A few months later at the Meremere Dragway Competition Meeting 2, the Marsh Motorsport team who at the time were campaigning the Tom Conway built A Fueler and Reece Fish agreed to line up together in a best of three match race. And so the Nitro Shootout was born.

Meremere Dragway's pit side grandstand gets spectators closer to racing than anywhere else in the world. Photographers and videographers behind the spectator barrier speak of being pushed back by the force at launch leaving us with some great shots of either the sky or people's jandaled feet. But to be so close to the firebreather that weekend back in 2012 awoke something in New Zealand drag racing that culminated in the events of Saturday 10th January 2015 which saw Reece Fish take out his second Nitro Shootout meeting - a match race spectacle - and Anthony Marsh recorded New Zealand's first four second pass. Both drivers motors exploded before the finish line. Anthony recorded a 4.985 at 288.27, but the race went to Reece's 5.044 at 143.68 by virtue of his superior reaction time, .071 to .170.

Athol Williams returned from his hiatus on the Big Boy Top Fuel bike at the 2014 Nitro Shootout where he match raced Ian Wilkins on Afterburner II. This year, the two were at it again with Williams running a 6.443 @ 227.61mph (366.30kmh) to become New Zealand's quickest and fastest man on two wheels. Aside from Australian racer Jay Upton who ran a 6.629 @ 204.94mph (329.82kmh) here at Meremere in 2006, no other New Zealand drag bike racer has run a 6 second quarter mile.

Dave Gauld is an unassuming man. He sometimes comes to the drag strip, goes through all the administration required to race only to never come out and see the green, or black as it is in our case. His love affair with short wheel based Altereds is apparent. Gauld campaigned the short wheel based nitro altered 1934 Ford Coupe to a record breaking 7.565 @ 178.90mph (287.91 kmh) at The ROCK FM 2015 Nitro Shootout. And not just any record. The Top Fuel Altered record has stood in the record books for 37 years and a few weeks as set by Peter Lodge in February 1977 on this same track. Peter Lodge was back on Meremere soil to see the nitro torch pass on to Gauld.

Last but not least of the nitro entertainment is none other than Willy White in his White Trucks Nitro Funny Car. White's been one of the very few torch bearers for nitro until now. Along with crew man Karim Koorey, he has a busy schedule what with work and flying across the ditch to race in the Aeroflow Outlaw Nitro Funny Car series run by Graham Cowin (who incidentally ran Australia's first 4 second pass at Calder Park), it's a wonder they managed to get another race car ready for the shootout. But they did. And although the last pass garnered no official times, it was quick, strong and fast with blazing flames from start line to finish line. And we're not the only ones excited, White is reportedly organizing the crew for the 2015 NZ Nationals.

Les Herst was plagued with issues and didn't make it past the first round, but he, along with the missing Karl Boniface, is a testament to what is shaping to be a revival of nitro action in the land of the long white cloud.

The rest is history they say. And here is that history:
First 4 second pass in New Zealand: Anthony Marsh of The Mount Shop Marsh Motorsport - 4.985 @ 288.27mph (463.92kmh).
Quickest Side by Side Pass in New Zealand: Reece Fish 5.044 @ 243.68mph (392.16kmh) and Anthony Marsh (see above)
Quickest and Fastest NZ Drag Bike: Athol Williams 6.443 @ 227.61mph (366.30kmh)
Top Fuel Altered Record: Dave Gauld 7.565 @ 178.90mph (287.91kmh) backed up with a 7.490 @ 176.56mph

Bracket Results

The always-popular Top Doorslammer class saw Robert "Bobby" Owens in his Falcon Futura break the BB/TS record with a stellar 7.341 @ 188.73mph backed up by a 7.380 in earlier qualifying to take the record from Craig Brown. The finals match-up was fought between Wayne Yearbury's wild Studebaker Coupe against Mark Bardsley's 1968 Camaro, with Yearbury taking the win at 7.087 seconds at 182.03 mph (292.94 kph).

The Auckland Harley Davidson-sponsored Competition Bike class saw Whitford's Bill Hamilton on his Suzuki Hayabusa taking victory from Greg Pratt on his Harley V-Rod Destroyer. Hamilton also reset his own AA/AB record to an 8.174 @ 166.50mph. (While both competitors red-lighted the start of the race, Pratt lost on having done so first. Hamilton's winning time was a rapid 8.348 seconds at 164.59 mph (265.47 kmh).

Rounding up the records tally was Jodey Irving, in his fire-breathing 1988 Camaro. Irving smashed his own record for the SS/AA class, turning in a time of 7.719 seconds at 179.83 mph (289.40 kmh).

The NZ Hot Rod Magazine-sponsored Pro Nostalgia class brought out a wide range of old-style and historic Altered and F/E Dragsters. Ultimately, it was Putaruru's Cameron Paterson's Fontana-powered front engine dragster that won against the 350 Chevy-urged rear engine dragster of Glenfield-based Dave Mason. Paterson's short wheelbase rail turned a respectable 9.727 seconds elapsed time at 134.16 mph (216.39 kph).

An all South Island final was the feature in Franklin Long Roofing Top Comp with Christchurch's Johnny Alsop piloting his wild 1941 Willys coupe to win the class against fellow Cantabrian, Simon Fowke in his rare 1957 Chevy Funny Car. Alsop achieved a number of personal bests over the meeting and won his class, with a 6.855 second pass at 196.16 mph (315.68 kmh).

In VHT Pro Comp competition, Gavin Green, drove his immaculate HK Holden Monaro to victory in a heads-up match against the 1988 Chevy Corvette of Rex Duckett from Otaki. The Featherston farmer took the win at 7.998 seconds at 170.95 mph (275.73 kmh).

The final round of Super Comp saw two veteran drag racers lining up in their four cylinder dragsters. Ultimately it was Trevor Watson in his supercharged Peugeot-powered machine who took the honours against Phil Hirst in his injected Fontana speedway engine rail; Watson running 9.163 seconds against Hirst's slower 11.168.

Breakages and other problems with his competition meant that Pukekohe's Gary Bogaart had Meremere Dragway all to himself for the final round of the NZ Hot Rod Magazine Comp class. He took his street legal 1975 Ford Falcon Coupe down the famous quarter-mile course in 10.292 seconds at 133.66 mph (215.10 kmh).

Lee Sherwin, driving the historic Quarter Master Escort took home the trophy in Outback 4x4 Super Sedan, beating Steve Wall's thundering 66 Chevelle Malibu, the Ford clocking a 9.516 elapsed time versus Wall's 10.221. It is the third meeting that Lee Sherwin has attended and claimed top honours, the remaining Super Sedan racers have a ways to go to claw back his lead.

In Segedin Auto Parts Super Street, veteran racer, Te Rapa's Roger Murray, driving his Ford F150 SVT pick up jumped the start in the final against Paul Berridge in his 1973 Camaro, his red light disqualification giving the win to the Chevrolet owner from Otahuhu.

Scrap Palace brings us the Modified Bike division of racing - always hotly contested, this time around it was Alan Thoresen of Hamilton riding away with the win on his Kawasaki running a 9.980 @ 140.78mph (226.56 kmh) over Jan Malcolm who went the rounds on her new Kawasaki ER6 650cc only to give it away with a red light.

Lester Pullenger took top honours in Screaming Eagles when he beat the class sponsor, Ray Pratt from Auckland Harley Davidson. The Cambridge rider took his thumping 2012 Harley through the lights at 12.574 at 102.7 mph (165.65 kph).

As always, the NZ-created Fun time Foods Junior Dragster division had a large field of competitors battling it out on the shorter, eighth-mile course. In the final, 15 year-old Kees Wijdeven took home the honours against the West-Stevens' entry, with the Pukekohe driver running an elapsed time of 9.659 seconds against the West-Stevens machine's 9.735 clocking.

And so we look to the next few months of drag racing in Godzone with much anticipation. Fish and Marsh are seeking the 300mph milestone. Willy White wants his low 5 second timeslip. We want Athol Williams running a 6.2 and Yearbury on a 6.0 march. Ian Hilder and Ian Wilkins are after a side by side 7 second pass and so on. Our wish list is a long one and we hope to tick each off slowly so get to a track near you to see it all unfold.

By Peter S. Cooper & Nisa Solipo