Unleashing the Thunder: Top Fuel’s Spectacular Return to the West

The Australian Top Fuel Championship heads to Perth next weekend for the MacTrack 53rd Westernationals, where racing teams and fans will once again enjoy the most powerful cars on the planet at the Motorplex!

Unleashing the Thunder: Top Fuel’s Spectacular Return to the West
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Words by Luke Nieuwhof
Pictures by Phil Blondel (Dragsmedia) and Phil Luyer (High Octane Photos) 


Top Fuel returns to Western Australia in all of its championship glory at the 53rd annual MacTrack Westernationals across March 2nd and 3rd at Perth Motorplex. It’s fair to say that Top Fuel has come a long way since its first championship appearance in Western Australia at the 1990 Nationals.


There it was Jim Read taking victory with a 5.67 quarter-mile run against local Joe D’Amato’s 5.76. The late Louie Rapisarda, Robin Kirby, Keith Agius and Rod Bradshaw completed a six-car field that wowed the spectators of Ravenswood International Raceway. The dragsters would return again several times through the early nineties, followed by a drought of Top Fuel championship racing in WA that lasted over a decade.


Louie Rapisarda after Qualifying at the 1990 Nationals at Ravenswood Raceway. Photo by Phil Blondel


There were occasional match races, with Robin Kirby visiting several times, as did Jim Read, Rachelle Splatt, Steve Read and Andrew Cowin. It wasn’t until 2005 at the new Perth Motorplex that a true points round would return, as Darren Morgan (driving for Lamattina Top Fuel Racing), Phil Read, Steve Read (driving for Santo Rapisarda), Terry Sainty and local John Buchanan turned on some terrific times in front of a capacity crowd.


Morgan top qualified with a 4.807/312mph run, but was almost upstaged by a 4.873/298mph from Terry Sainty — the quickest and fastest the all-Australian team had ever been. Steve Read also dipped into the fours with a 4.978/276mph. Once eliminations commenced, Morgan looked like the man to beat with a 4.905 in round one and a 4.804 in the semis, but was defeated by Phil Read’s 5.077 in the final.


Thankfully there has been many more Top Fuel championship rounds since. The last runs of the quarter-mile era were made in 2016, with Mark Sheehan earning himself a track record that will likely never be topped — 4.537 seconds. Since the move to 1000 feet racing, the racing in Top Fuel has moved ahead in leaps and bounds. Where the class had a reputation as ‘oilers’ through the nineties and early 2000s, the teams now compete with equipment and personnel at a world-class level. Links with US crew chiefs are commonplace, and performances have stepped up as a result. Damien Harris holds the current 1000 feet track record of 3.800 seconds.


Mark Sheehan during testing at Perth Motorplex. Photo by Phil Blondel


The first 3.7 at the Motorplex might only be worth bragging rights, but there are plenty of braggers in the Top Fuel pits. Now we are in the National Drag Racing Championship epoch and the Westernationals will see Damien Harris, Wayne Newby, Phil Lamattina, Phil Read and Kyle Putland on track, each with the hardware to win. That a country as small as Australia can produce so many Top Fuel teams is simply incredible, as is the journey they all undertake to be at Perth Motorplex each year.


Phil Read on his way to win the MacTrack 52nd Annual Westernationals at the Perth Motorplex. Photo by Phil Luyer, High Octane Photos.


Numbers aside, Top Fuel is a visceral experience that should be on every motorsport fan’s bucket list, and there’s no better place to witness 10,000hp dragsters under the lights than Perth Motorplex. We hope to see you there!