The 2002 Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway in Queensland provided one of the great runs in Australian drag racing history – Andrew Cowin’s 4.75 @ 314.46mph in Top Fuel, an incredible run that blew away the previous Australian bests of 4.81 and 301.40 mph.
What made the run even better was that it was against Jim Read’s 4.90 @ 296, making it the first side by side four second pass ever in Australia, as well as the quickest outside North America. It was Cowin who won the meeting as well, running four second passes in every elimination round. Read put up a mighty fight, running three fours during the weekend. He was top qualifer on Friday night, running a 4.94 @ 296, remaining consistent with that 4.90 against Cowin of course. He also ran a 4.91 against Steve Read’s 5.2 in the semi finals.
One of the biggest shocks in Top Fuel came when Robin Kirby, who had attended every Top Fuel round for near on ten years, except for one meeting when his car got caught up coming back from Japan, announced his retirement from the sport. Kirby was no stranger to WA. Putting a rod out in the semis after running a 5.32 might have helped him make up his mind.
In Top Alchohol, Paul Shackleton ran a top qualifying and best for the category 5.64 on the Friday night, however a crash in the first round saw him not able to back it up. Wayne Newby meanwhile was lurking in the shadows, and pounced in the semis with an excellent 5.61 @ 249 to defeat Shackleton’s two day old mark for the dragsters.
Pro Stock put on a class show, with the final coming down to Jay Watson and Denis Whiting. It was a race that epitomised all Pro Stock is about, close racing and awesome times, with a 7.42 for Watson beating Whiting’s 7.43. It was the quickest side by side race for the eliminator.
Top Doorslammer featured the first of the West Aussies with Robin Judd and Grant O’Rourke both making the trip over. Judd seemed to be a certainty for the field with a 6.61 getting him in at the time. With the last session rained out though, it would be left to the morning to decide. Meanwhile, O’Rourke could not start his motor in either of the two sessions and it looked as though he would be out. But the morning came, and the problem was found, a coil rubbing on the bonnet. With the doorslammers getting a morning qualifying session due to the rain, all came out to consolidate their positions in the field. Judd burnt up another motor on his way to a high six, and had to watch O’Rourke run a pedalling 6.50 @ 222 mph to bump Judd from the field. In the first round, O’Rourke faced the toughest opposition in the world in the form of Peter Kapiris. The Monaro couldn’t match the Studebaker’s form, a 6.08 from Kapiris more than enough to handle O’Rourke’s out of shape run. Kapiris made the final, however the burst plate popped in the burnout, meaning Brett Stevens was free to take the win. The interesting part of this race though was that Stevens had only intended to stage as an oil leak was found just prior to the final, with no time to repair. As Kapiris couldn’t stage, Stevens was able to take the win with a 22 second pass!
Top Bike held a big West Aussie gathering with Jay Upton, Ian Ashelford, Mark Ashelford and Brett Jonas all making the field. Upton’s Friday night qualifying pass was an on and off the throttle 7.7, whilst Mark managed to qualify second with a 7.5 @ 188 mph in the Sunday morning session. Upton fell in the first round after leaving before the tree even started, letting Ian Ashelford through. Mark and Brett also got through. Mark continued his consistent form, taking out Jonas, whilst Ian went 7.17 @ 193 for low ET and top speed honours against Englishman Ben Beneke. In the final, it was the two brothers fighting it out. Ian looked to have it wrapped up with a massive lead by quarter track until he threw a belt, letting Mark come storming by for an untidy 8 second win. Ian however took the national championship by a slim margin, his second in a row.
In Competition, there were four West Australians in the form of Wayne Keys, Rob Pannizza, Ian Johns and Malcolm Bulley. Keys was the big mover and shaker in the bracket, recording a phenomonal 6.28 in AA/AP trim, to go three tenths under his index. The ET would have top qualified in Top Doorslammer! Ian Johns second qualified with a 7.16, Pannizza recorded a 7.88 and Bulley a 7.4. All got through the first round, with the exception of Keys, a shock loser as he got out of shape off the line and had to abort the pass. Bulley and Johns both fell in the second stanza, Johns being taken out by fellow West Aussie Pannizza! Unfortunately, as Pannizza went to the line for his semi final run, he only staged and sadly it wasn’t enough for the win. It was Anthony Selva’s C/D taking out the bracket and the championship.
Shane Wynd was another shock first round loser in Super Sedan, a .333 red light putting him out (these being the days of the .4 tree). Dale Prior went to the third round of Modified Bike, Reece Shelley made it to the second round. Matthew Johnson in the “Mozzie” Junior Dragster was another to redlight himself out of contention in the first round, while Debbie O’Rourke in the Monaro made it to the second round of the tough Supercharged Outlaws field, recording some low seven second passes.
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