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Sixty-five points is all that separates the top three contenders for the 2022/2023 Burson Auto Parts Australian Top Fuel Championship, which will hold its exciting finale at the Hidden Valley Drag Strip’s Nitro Up North on June 16 and 17.

2015 champion Damien Harris leads the way on 515 points, while tied for second place are three-time title winner Phil Read and two-time and reigning champion, Peter Xiberras, with 450 points each.

With so few points and so much championship-winning know how between these highly respected competitors, combined with the ‘anything can happen’ nature of drag racing, any one of them could take out the highly coveted Stan Sainty Cup next weekend.

“I am feeling confident. The guys at Rapisarda Autosport International are working hard to do all the prep that is required, and we will see what Darwin brings,” Harris said.

“It would be great to have a win for the Rapisarda family and thank them for all of their support.

“Darwin will be a tricky place, but I think I am in the box seat with the best team out there."

Read is hopeful of claiming his fourth Top Fuel title for Hydraulink Jim Read Racing, and his first since 2008.

“We are definitely feeling confident that we can win the race,” Read said.

“When it comes to the championship, we will need the cards to fall in our favour which would mean Damien not going so well, which of course you don’t want to wish on anyone. And then you also have to factor in ‘the Champ’ factor with reigning champ Pete tied with us on the points standings heading to Darwin.

“You can rest assured we will be doing all we can to put ourselves in the best possible position for the title.

“Darwin is a great place to race with a great crowd. Nitro Up North is a great event and hopefully we can come away with a win and then see if things fall our way.”

If Xiberras can claim the title, it will be his third straight national Top Fuel championship in the PremiAir Racing Top Fuel Dragster.

“With a third championship on the line and 65 points between the top three, there’s a lot to play for in Darwin,” Xiberras said.

“We will have to have luck on our side, but this is drag racing, and absolutely anything can happen – we have seen that time and time again.

“We won’t be giving up; we will be fighting right until the end – you can count on that.”

The journey to the final round has been action-packed, with not one competitor prepared to give away any points lightly.

The season began in July 2022 at Alice Springs Inland Dragway, with the opening round held as part of the popular Red CentreNATS.

While bitterly cold conditions forced the postponement of the finals to the Perth Motorplex’s Goldenstates event in November, it was not before the 11,000+ horsepower Top Fuel dragsters delighted a packed-out crowd with Harris top qualifying and going on to lock down an A-Final berth against Read (A Final) while Xiberras and Wayne Newby (B Final) and Phil Lamattina and Shane Olive (C Final) all put on one heck of a show up North. Harris would also set a new track record, with a 4.000 second pass at 494.16kph in the first round of racing.

Adding extra intrigue was the fact Xiberras’s qualifying time disqualified due to contact with the wall (from which he would bounce back in time for racing), while Read and Lamattina were affected by timing issues in both the first and second rounds of their racing.

The Perth Motorplex’s Goldenstates was next up, given the hold on planned racing at Heathcote Park Raceway as track upgrades continued.

In the West, Harris ensured his championship hopes were launched in the best way possible by making Burson Auto Parts Australian Top Fuel championship history, taking out two event wins on back to back days by winning both the postponed Alice Springs A-Final over Read on day one and then the Goldenstates A-Final win over Lamattina on day two. Harris’ Alice Springs A-Final winning performance also established a new track record (3.77).

In the Alice Springs B and C Finals, Newby won against Xiberras and Lamattina took the win over Olive, while in the B and C Goldenstates finals, Xiberras and Read took the wins over Newby and series debutant, Kyle Putland, respectively. Many of the competitors dedicated their results to the late Grant Foster over the weekend, with Foster – the truck driver for Jim Read Racing – unfortunately passing away unexpectedly enroute to the event.

Willowbank Raceway was next on the list, with its New Year Nitro event scheduled for January 6 and 7. Newby claimed the Top Qualifier honours for the event on the Friday, however the event was abandoned on Saturday when tragedy struck with the passing of highly-respected Top Doorslammer racer Sam Fenech.

While Australian drag racing struggled under a cloud of immense grief, the community came together to use the Top Fuel Slam to unite and race their cars in remembrance of the incredible life Fenech lived.

Racer entries quickly maxed out for the event at which spectator entry was heavily discounted, with Top Fuel headlining a very special and emotional celebration, remembering Sam in a way that would make him smile – at the track, racing with friends.

Amongst the incredible pool of drag racing talent lining up for this event was US drag racing star, Larry Dixon, who drove the third Rapisarda Autosport International Top Fuel Dragster.

While wet weather dampened qualifying on Friday, with Read decided as the Top Qualifier based on Q1, Saturday’s race day was the picture of perfection as more than 200 race teams came together to race in front of a capacity crowd in honour of Sam Fenech and the sport he loved.

A long list of tributes ensured this incredible man was never far from anyone’s thoughts, including a Missing Man formation from the Top Doorslammers, speeches, and the unveiling of Adam Brand and Matt Cornell’s incredible song, ‘Our Church.’

The song, celebrating community and looking out for your mates when they need it most, was set to footage of Australian drag racing while featuring both Sam Fenech and Louie Rapisarda. The video was created by Top Fuel Australia’s own Nathan Prendergast and the production was quickly hailed as the new drag racing anthem. You can view the video here.

On the track, the racers left nothing on the table as they all did their best to race for Sam and bring home the win in his honour.

When all was said and done, it was two-time and reigning champion Xiberras who took out the Top Fuel victory over Read – his first event win since the 2021 Winternationals and his first A-Final of the 2022/2023 season.

In the B-Final, Dixon took out the win and third for the round over team-mate Newby, while in the C-Final, what was supposed to be an all-LTFR C Final ended up being a Olive solo when his boss and team-mate Lamattina was unable to front for the run due to issues starting his Top Fuel Dragster.

Soon after, it was time for the Top Fuel pilots to head West for the Westernationals held in early March at the Perth Motorplex, with two huge days and nights of racing unfolding in front of a massive crowd.

After a hard-fought fight, Read took out the A-Final Top Fuel honours following an ugly yet entertaining final against Xiberras in a rematch of the Sydney A-Final.

Both racers were in for a pedal fest, with Read even seeing the air disturbance from his skating dragster dislodging multiple timing blocks, requiring a review of the racing replays to determine if he had crossed the centre line.

In the B Final, Harris took out the final over his RAI team-mate Newby in a race that was so close it required extended deliberations of the slow-motion camera to declare a winner.

The reliance on the cameras was necessitated as timing issues were encountered throughout the event, culminating in there being no timing for the 1000ft markers on Sunday, which meant the event had to resort to alternative methods to declare the winners.

Following a meeting between officials, the track and the Top Fuel teams, a slow-motion camera was set up and a three-strong adjudicating panel appointed to declare winners, with an official positioned on either side of the track with a flag to signal the result. Half-track times were used for seeding and bonus points (for low ET and high speed).

Local racer and series newcomer Putland continued a strong weekend of PBs to win over an off-early Lamattina in the C Final, while OIive won a solo D Final.

From Perth the Burson Auto Parts Australian Top Fuel Championship headed back across the country back to Sydney for the penultimate round of the 2022/2023 championship – the Nitro Champs.

With the championship finale so close, the intensity at this event was at boiling point. A long list of impressive performances resulted in an ecstatic capacity crowd and the promise of a Top Fuel title which would go down to the wire at Darwin’s finale in June.

US star Dixon was back to race with RAI once again, and took out the A-Final win in what was the American’s first ever Sydney win and his first Top Fuel victory since winning at Willowbank Raceway in 2016.

Dixon took a convincing win over Top Qualifier Lamattina, who experienced problems straight off the hit after having earlier been exceptionally pleased to be back on the right track with the LTFR Top Fuel dragster after a season of issues.

Title leader Harris was relegated to the D-Final after a difficult weekend which included crossing the centre line in round two, and while he took that win over Putland, his points buffer heading into the final round was left at just 65 points over his nearest rivals – Read and Xiberras.

Read had been second placed and 30 points clear of third place heading to the Nitro Champs, but was unable to front for the C-Final against Olive following a fiery second round win. Following Read’s no-show, when Xiberras won his B-Final against Newby, the defending champion elevated himself to equal second in the title standings, tied with Read.

“We have said it before and we will say it again, anything could happen come the final day of racing in Darwin at Nitro Up North – you do not want to miss this!” Burson Auto Parts Australian Top Fuel Championship Co-Promoter, Andy Lopez, said.

Nitro Up North – hosting the final rounds of the 2022/2023 Burson Auto Parts Australian Top Fuel Championship and the Australian Drag Racing Championship for Top Doorslammer and Top Fuel Motorcycle – will be held on Friday June 16 and Saturday June 17 at the Hidden Valley Drag Strip, alongside the Darwin Triple Crown Supercars event being held at the neighbouring Hidden Valley Raceway.

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