LOCAL HERO JUSTIN WALSHE CLAIMS AUSSIE FUNNY CAR VICTORY OVER AMERICAN TOMMY JOHNSON JR.
Tommy Johnson Jnr’s plan to become the first ever to win in Top Fuel and Nitro Funny Car in both America and Australia came unstuck at the hands of Aussie Justin Walshe in the A-FINAL of the Sydney Nationals on October 27-28.
Walshe, is best known as the world record holder for Altered raced an ex-DSR Dodge Charger previously driven by Ron Capps.
Johnson, one of the most popular American imports to race down under was making his eighth visit to Australia, seven times to race and once to honeymoon in W.A. His record includes a win in Top Fuel with Rapisarda Autosport International.
Adam Murrihy took the win in the B-FINAL when fellow privateer Anthony Begley broke.
Aeroflow Team Principal Morice McMillin defeated teammate Brandon Gosbell who cut a red light in the C-FINAL.
The first appearance of Funny Car on the NDRC series attracted six entries.
The scheduled two rounds of qualifying became a single run due to persist rain on day one.
Gosbell, who scored his breakout win at this event in 2022 topped qualifying with a 4.81 at 265 mph. “The run went well,” said Gosbell, a former X-Treme bike racer. “We were only trying to go from A to B and get a baseline for the weekend. We hurt a couple of pistons around 1000 feet. We'll tune it up for tomorrow and get after it.”
Adam Murrihy steered his ex-Del Worsham car that won the event last year in the hands of Gosbell into second place.
Johnson, who last drove a Nitro Funny Car at Reading in 2021, qualified third with a 5.14/233 mph. “The car felt a bit lazy when I left,” according to Johnson. “I thought maybe we had a hole out, then a little later I decided to shut it off.”
Seven days earlier Western Australian Rory Taylor was tuning Kyle Putland’s Top Fueller at the opening round of the Australian championship then he answered a call from Aeroflow team owner Graeme Cowin to come to Sydney and tune the Tommy Johnson entrant.
According to Taylor. “A Funny Car is slightly less predictable. They both make similar amounts of power and it comes down to how you apply the power. We need to be less aggressive with the Funny Car on the first part of the run.”
Justin Walshe opened his account with a 5.49/188 mph for fourth place ahead of
Western Australian Anthony Begley who threw a belt around the 250 feet into the run.
Aeroflow team boss Morice McMillin shook the tires followed by an early shut off to round out the field in sixth.
Tim McCarthy’s quest to license in Funny Cars came up short.
McCarthy drives an ex-Don Prudhomme car raced by Tommy Johnson and imported by team owner Santo Rapisarda,
Gosbell was forced to shut off early against Walshe after damaging #1 piston but took the win.
Walshe cut a red light then experienced a massive blower explosion. The intensity caused severe damage to the bodywork. The team were forced to rush back to their nearby workshop for a replacement body. They returned, fitted the matte black body and amazingly were able to make it out for Q2.
Johnson had start line dramas against Begley and had to swap battery packs. He led all the way and stopped the timers with a superb lap of 4.74/308 mph while Begley got into shake from 150 to 300 feet and was forced to shut off.
Aeroflow head honcho McMillin drove around Murrihy then scuffed a piston around the three-second mark. His opponent rolled in deep then dropped a cylinder, tossed a belt and coasted to the finish.
The upsets came thick and fast.
The Gosbell versus Begley duel was bizarre. Just off the start line Gosbell dropped a fistful of cylinders, turned right and went into Begley’s Lane. Begley was forced to call upon his 25 years of racing experience to avert a massive collision.
“I already had my hands full with my own car,” Begley recounted.
“I saw out of the corner of my eye that Brandon was coming across. That got my attention. I had to get off the power and on the brakes heavily. Two cars in the one lane are not what you want to see very often.”
Walshe took an upset with over Johnson after TJ cut a stunning .008 light, put two holes out, moved perilously close to the wall and wisely decided to shut off.
McMillin and Murrihy met for the second time on the day, this time it was Murrihy who led all the way to take a comfortable win.
The seedings for the A, B and C Finals were based on the number of wins and bonus points for speed and time.
Walshe was up against Johnson in the A-FINAL. Murrihy seeded against Begley in the B-FINAL and McMillin versus Gosbell in the C-FINAL.
The A-FINAL was a thriller with Walshe leading all the way to claim victory at 5.22/232 mph to Johnson with a 5.59/184 mph. But all interest focused on whether Walshe had crossed the centre line near half-track.
Walshe's win was confirmed after race officials decided the headers on his car had not hit the center line blocks and instead it was fumes coming from the exhaust.
“Each round threw us a massive curveball,” said Walshe. “Damaging the body and having to rush back to the workshop to get a replacement was a real test. Even in the final we were up against it. We warmed the car up and found there was a problem with the clutch that needed to be replaced. Without my amazing crew we would never have been able to get on the track, let alone take the win.”
“You can’t win them all,” said Johnson. “We got to go to the final and had low E.T of the meeting, so you can't be too unhappy. The fans were great, very friendly and love their Funny Cars. Whenever you come to Australia you know you're going to have a good time.”
“I'd love to have the opportunity to come back to Australia and race again.”
Murrihy was handed the easiest of wins in the B-FINAL when the luckless Begley missed firing up the car in the pits and then was unable to select a gear on the start line. Murrihy took the green then had a coil lead came off.
McMillin took out the C-FINAL when Gosbell ran a red light.
“We got the C-Final but overall didn’t do well,” said McMillin “For Justin to win the meet is so cool. He’s been working so hard and deserves the victory.”
It was a poignant moment when Daniel ‘Boon’ Reed made his debut in Top Alcohol. The third-generation racer is the youngest member of Aussie drag racing royalty that includes his father three-time Australian champion Steve and Grandfather Jim who passed away recently.
“I’m not ready to retire yet,” said Steve Reed who last raced at the 2023 Winternationals. “We’ll see what happens and maybe I’ll make a celebrity return in the future.”
Reed overcame an early shutoff to claim the number one spot in qualifying.
“To top qualify in my first event and make it to the final is pretty amazing,” said Reed. “The car was good, the driver has got a bit more to learn and hopefully will get better with more experience.”
Cult favorite 71-year-old Russell Mills and his 27-foot-long front engine dragster set a new national speed record of 268 mph and was handed the win in the final after Reed cut a red light in the final.
“We tested on the Wednesday before the meeting and knew we had a really good car,” said Mills. “We didn't qualify well but today we came out and did three really top runs. I know the Reed family very well and felt for Daniel when he ran the red light. The young man has a huge future in this sport.”
21-time Alky champion Gary Phillips return to racing for the first time since November 2022 ended in dramatic fashion. Phillips who recently celebrated his 70th birthday crashed heavily and walked away with minor burns to his hands.
Craig Burns, best known as a Doorslammer racer, dominated. Top qualifying, then taking three wins, including the final against Robet Campisi who red lit.
“This is awesome,” said Burns. “There was no Doorslammer racing this weekend, so I thought let’s do this. We ran as fast as a 5.857 and as slow as a 5.871. It’s just amazing.”
Rookie Daniel Camilleri’s weekend ended after a double disaster. A red-light during qualifying meant his time didn’t count. When the team returned to the pits, they discovered a damaged engine that couldn’t be repaired.
“I rolled the beams, took off, broke a rod and damaged the engine. That was the end for the weekend,” said Camilleri.
Victorian Rob Deckert’s decision to travel 540 miles to race at Sydney paid dividends when he defeated Rick Chilton who broke in the final of Pro Stock.
Deckert, with engine building guru Peter Ridgway in his corner, top qualified then breezed through two rounds of racing to make the final.
“I am wrapped, absolutely over the moon,” said Deckert. “I couldn't have done it without my team. A win sure makes the drive back to Melbourne a lot easier. “
THE FINAL WORD
Johnson was accompanied on his visit by his mother. “I’ve never been to Australia before. The people here have been so warm and friendly. The only problem is that Australia is so far away. It took me about 26 hours to get there from home.”