This past drag racing season saw many youngsters coming through the ranks with great results, here we take a closer look at nine of them.
Each season there is an influx of new drivers competing, or existing drivers stepping up to run in a more competitive class. The 2008/2009 season saw more youngsters racing at a competitive level than ever before, so we thought it was about time we took a closer look at those achievers.
While many have come from racing Junior Dragsters as kids, there are a few who have jumped straight into the deep end. Read on to find out where these young achievers have come from and what the future holds.
Vehicle: Dodge Avenger Funny Car
Sponsors: Scrap Palace, Teng Tools, Brad Penn Oil, Nostalgia Motors, Upper Hutt Glass, Mitsi Spares Hamilton, Jonsey’s Garage, ISS
Morice McMillin has probably been in the limelight more than any other young driver this year, thanks to his great success in the Scrap Palace-sponsored Dodge Avenger Funny car.
When Morice was just five years old, his father Noel started building a Junior Dragster for him. However, he didn’t get to drive it until he was eight. “It was my Christmas and birthday presents for three years,” Morice says with a laugh. After that car came another two Juniors, which his brother and sister also drove.
Aged 12, Morice competed at the Junior World Champs, where during the one meeting he made more passes than in a whole season of racing back home. While in Australia he also competed at the Winternationals, although much to his disappointment he only got three runs in before the event was rained out.
But Morice didn’t remain in juniors for too long. “I got a bit bored with Juniors,” he says, “so left to crew for Blobby [Mark Thomas] and his ute. Any event that Blobby wasn’t running at, I would race dad’s truck.” The truck in question is Noel’s daily-driver-come-work-hack, which while no doubt fun, is far from fast.
Morice’s first venture into fast full-size vehicles was when he got the spare Mustang Funny Car body from Brett Wilson, who was the first local Funny Car driver to run a six-second pass. “Horn Engineering in Morrinsville, where I was working at the time, built the chassis, and we went on to run a best of 8.36 at 160mph.” After running the Mustang for a few years, the desire for more speed took hold. “You always want to go faster, but it was going to cost as much to make the old car go fast as it was to build another one. Plus the old car was a cool nostalgia car and best left that way. Building the new car gave us a chance to do it on our own and see if we could cut it.”
The new car features the rear half of the old Spiderman Funny Car chassis, with a new front constructed by Bob and Chris Tynan, along with a 532ci KB Chev belonging to Ryan Sheldon, Morice’s partner in the vehicle.
They opted for a soft tune, and the whole team was delighted with how the first season in the car went. Not only did Morice run a best of 6.73 at 211mph, he also placed third in Top Alcohol for the NZDRA series. The 6.73 is three-tenths of a second quicker than the AA/FC record, and was run at 13mph faster. However, as it was not backed up, the record is still on the list of goals for the ’09/’10 season.
“We would like to be running 6.50s or high 6.40s by the end of next season. If not, we still have the motor plates so we could bolt a Hemi into it, if we ever got the money. Ryan’s not a Hemi fan though, so it’s unlikely we will ever go that way.”
Morice thanks: “My sponsors, Ryan Sheldon, the crew ” Monique, Anthony, Craig, Chelsea, and the Tynan family for endless advice, and Colleen for her cooking, dad for all his help, and everyone else who has helped out over the years.”
Vehicle: Rear-Engined Dragster
Sponsors: Master Blaster, Rivers Speed and Spares, Pharazyn Autos, Brad Penn Oils, GR Miller Panelbeaters
Scotty Miller has probably done more passes down a drag strip than anyone else his age. His first was when he was just six years old, in a 100cc lawnmower engine-powered Junior Dragster. Back in those days, Thunder Park didn’t have eighth-mile timing, so Juniors ran full quarters. In that car his best ET was in the mid-20-second range.
These days Scott drives one of the fastest small block Ford-powered cars in the southern hemisphere. But there were many steps between the first Junior and the rear-engined rail.
At around age nine Scotty got a new dragster, one his father constructed, with a 125cc Honda scooter motor. He remained racing this vehicle until age 12 or 13.
In 1997 Scott flew over to the World Junior Champs in Canberra, where he was placed runner up. While there, the decision was made that a newer Australian-built Junior would be the way to go. In 1998 he returned to Australia and was again runner up.
The new car was powered by a 40hp Briggs motor that ran methanol, and would power the car to 9.6-second eighth-mile passes. “It would rev out to 10,000rpm. It was a trick little Junior,” Scotty says.
Aged 16 Scott stepped out of Juniors and into the 1979 Mustang previously campaigned by Murray Hartley. Halfway through his first season in the car, Scott decided the carburetted 351 wasn’t really enough, and told his dad he wanted to go faster. It was at this point that his relationship with Grant Rivers from Rivers Speed and Spares began.
Grant has been building Scott’s motors ever since, including the current 380ci Boss motor in the dragster. To date Scott’s best pass is a 7.2 at 182mph. But he has bigger plans. “We want to run that elusive six-second pass, preferably at 200 miles per hour. We are looking at a Lenco or maybe a Powerglide, as the old C6 three-speed transmission can’t really handle the power any more. Huge thanks must go to Mark at Pharazyn Autos for fixing all the ones we’ve broken.”
Scotty thanks: “Master Blaster, dad, our crew ” Bruce, Sparrow, Mike, Gavin, also mum, my girlfriend Danielle, Grant at Rivers Speed and Spares, Mark at Pharazyn Autos for the gearbox, Morice for the oil and for help with the fuel system.”
Chris (Goof) Sherwin
Vehicle: Ford Escort
Sponsors: Pro Drill, Gubbs Pumps, Waitomo Petroleum, Abernathy Civil, Papakura Engine Specialists, Marsh Motorsport, Signmax
Pukekohe, Buckley Engineering, Autotrans Auckland
The son of legendary Meremere starter Plank Sherwin, Chris ” or Goof, as he’s more commonly known ” grew up at the drag strip, where he first started racing Junior Dragsters aged seven. After competing in a 50cc car for a few years he progressed to running a 250cc car sponsored by Mustang Flooring. “The 250cc car originally belonged to Karina McMillin [Morice’s sister] and looked like a coffin, so we changed the body a bit,” Chris says. “After that I raced my own street cars a bit at Nightspeed, running a best of 13.1 in my Subaru. Dad started talking to Allen Lim about the Escort and we ended up getting it out of retirement. It was in a garden, covered in crap. It took a bit of work to get it back together.”
In his first season in the car, Goof won the Meremere Super Sedan series. In the ’08/’09 season the decision was made to do the whole NZDRA series, in which Goof had great success. “We kept going quicker and quicker. We won in Christchurch and got second at Fram and Masterton.” Against quality opposition, these were impressive results. But it hasn’t been all plain sailing. “At the final meet of the year the car threw a rod as I hit the finish line. It threw oil under the slicks and I hit my opponent before hitting the bank.” It was a messy situation and a wild ride, but that hasn’t put Goof off. “Next season my older brother will be driving the Escort, and I will be driving the Thunderbird.”
The Thunderbird he’s referring to is known as Quarter Master Two, and last raced back in the ’90s. “It should be an eight-second car, so I can’t wait. All going well it will be ready in time for the start of next season.”
Vehicle: Rear-Engined Dragster
Sponsors: Redline Oil, RPM Tool and Die
At just 16 years of age, Todd Vincent was lucky enough to be thrown in the hot seat of one of the family’s dragsters. Running a small block Chev, he took out Modified class at the Nationals, and ran a best time of 9.2 at 154mph. Not bad for a teenager!
From there Todd went on to run three seasons in the Freight-train, a dragster previously campaigned by his father, Mark, with two engines. However, with Todd at the helm, the car ran just one motor. Todd’s highlight while driving that car was winning Supercharged Outlaws in the 2007/2008 season, and running a PB of 7.53 at 180mph.
Then one day Mark surprised his son, telling Todd that he would be driving a newer, faster vehicle. “I didn’t know I was going to drive the big car. Dad announced it to me on the night of my 21st birthday. It was a pretty cool surprise. Dad did everything he could do, but the competition was catching up. He’s not the quickest on the tree, so he thought I might have better reactions than him.”
Todd describes his first season in the car as up and down. At the Northern Nationals the engine dropped a few valves. However, once it was fixed Todd was in the finals at the next three rounds, winning two of them. At the last meet of the season, two brand new rod bolts snapped and poked out either side of the block. With the engine grenading at around 1000ft, the car still went on to run a 6.08-second pass. Todd and his team are certain that it would have been a five-second pass had the engine held together. He expects to get there soon.
“When I jumped in the car, we took power out of it to sort the clutch, and have slowly started stepping it up. So as yet I haven’t run it with full power. The car is capable of a five-second pass, so that’s the aim for next season.”
Todd thanks: “Mum and dad; my crew, Brendan, Chris, Lindsay, Jonathan, uncle Chris, and little brother Scott.”
Vehicle: Spritzer Dragster
Sponsors: Metalman, Marsh Motorsport
Unlike many of the other young achievers featured here, Anthony Marsh’s first taste of competitive motorsport wasn’t racing a junior dragster. Instead it was an 1275cc Austin Mini, which he used for a hill climbs event. Stepping from that into the Metalman-sponsored dragster previously driven by his father, Tony, was undoubtedly a huge step. “It was a big jump,” Anthony confirms. “My first thought was, ‘Holy sh*t!’, and it scared the hell out of me. Everyone said it would push you back in your seat, but it’s a hell of a lot more than that. Even now I don’t remember my runs, it all just happens so fast you don’t know what’s going on. By the time you realise what’s happened, you’re pulling the ’chute, and hitting the brakes.”
Though he was originally sceptical about being able to beat Tony in the vehicle, Anthony has gone on to run a best of 6.798 at 197.55mph. That makes him not only a national record holder for A/dragster, but also faster than the current NHRA record of 6.822 for the same class. What does Tony think? “He’s taking it all right,” Anthony says. “I never intended to go faster than him, maybe win a couple of rounds, but I’ve won a lot of meetings including the Century Batteries Nationals. It’s a high perch to get knocked off though. He jumped back in recently, determined to run a 6.8 but ran a best of 6.900, so that’s annoying him a bit.” The clincher is that Tony is 20kg heavier than his son, and in a lightweight naturally aspirated car such as the Spritzer, that’s a big difference.
Anthony’s most memorable moment in the car to date came when the ’chute didn’t deploy properly, sending him off the end of the braking area and through a gate. Thankfully, it was open at the time. He now laughs about the situation, saying, “I know where [the gate] is now, so I know where I’m aiming”.
The next big goal is to race the vehicle in Australia or America, where both Anthony and Tony are confident the vehicle will run quicker. So far the goal of hitting 200mph has eluded the team, but father and son are confident that with a bit of fuel system tweaking, it is achievable.
The 398ci small block Ford motor in the car is built in-house at Marsh Motorsport, and is among the most advanced naturally aspirated small blocks in the world. Because of the high revs required to make power, the team usually replaces eight intake springs and maybe two or three exhaust springs per meeting.
Anthony thanks: Clark Procter from Metalman, John at Redline Oil, crew Bill, Daryl, Ian Mac, Carl, Sean, Kane, Trevor and most of all dad, not only for building such a great motor, but for letting him drive the car too.
Vehicle: 2008 Chev Monte Carlo Funny Car
Sponsors: Naming sponsor wanted, Exide Batteries, Homeplus
The name may be familiar, but the car will not be. Aaron Phillips hails from a successful career in the driver’s seat of a Junior Dragster. However, for the upcoming season he will be behind the wheel of a Top Alcohol Funny Car. Aaron took the Junior Dragster National Series by storm in the ’07/’08 season, winning by the most points margin of any drag racing class.
The vehicle he was driving belonged to Price Motorsport. Team owner Greg Price says Aaron proved he had the commitment a lot of other young drivers lack, which is how he first got the drive.
After his Junior Dragster success, Aaron progressed to crewing for the Price Motorsport Team’s dragster, and helping other Price Motorsport Junior Dragster drivers. In 2008 Greg decided he would like to add a Funny Car to his stable and selected Aaron to be the driver. While the dragster is in partnership with Greg’s brother Malcolm, the Funny Car will be a separate deal between Greg and Aaron.
The vehicle is constructed from an S&W kitset chassis and a full carbon fibre 2008 Chev Monte Carlo body, with the vehicle built in-house at Greg’s place. The plan is to have it ready for the beginning of the ’09/’10 season, but much work is still to be done, but just as we went to print it sounded like an engine package had been finalised.
“The new car will scare a lot of people, it will scare me, it’s a whole lot different to anything else I’ve driven,” Aaron says. “It will take a couple of goes to get used to, but the aim is to end up running sixes in the first season.”
When asked what will happen when Greg and Aaron end up side by side on the track, Aaron makes it clear that there’s no love on the track, and neither will be backing out to let the other win. “Some of the other drivers think I’m crazy for giving myself competition in Top Alcohol,” Greg says. So already it’s known that, driving the Monte Carlo, Aaron will be a strong contender in the bracket.
Greg says he would love to see the vehicle run by a crew comprising people of a similar age to Aaron. Greg’s daughter ” and Aaron’s partner ” Stacey is already sorting out the publicity side of the vehicle. Regardless of how old the crew or driver are, this is definitely a car to look out for in the upcoming season.
Besides working on the Funny Car Aaron has been helping up-and-coming Junior Dragster drivers. One campaigns his old vehicle, and another is his younger brother.
Aaron would like to thank: Greg and Stacey Price, Derek Fowler, Malcolm Price, Kevin Ericksen and Mike Shaw Fibreglass for the carbon fibre work.
Nicole Rivers & Adrian Rivers
Nicole Age: 19
Adrian Age: 21
Vehicle: Rear-Engined Dragster
Sponsors: Rivers Speed and Spares, Blues Brothers Racing, KAR Motorsport, RRR Trust
Like many other young achievers, the Rivers kids Adrian and Nicole grew up in a motorsport family. This saw them in the driver’s seat of a Junior Dragster from the time Adrian was 11 and Nicole nine. Although the racing was originally just for fun, the desire to win against the competition and against each other soon became apparent. On sharing one car between the two, Nicole says, “It’s quite surprising how well we worked together.”
From the Junior, Adrian progressed to driving father Grant’s Mustang at age 15, while Nicole continued in the Junior until she stepped up to racing her MkI Ford Escort.
These days the duo are back to sharing one vehicle, the rear-engined dragster belonging to Phil and Graeme Blumont. “It started out as an ongoing joke between me and the brothers that one day I would be driving their car,” Nicole says. “It ended up happening when I was 17. It was very cool; I couldn’t believe it when they told me.”
Of driving the dragster Nicole says, “The first run was amazing, you just don’t realise the G-forces until you drive one, it blew me away.”
Generally the Rivers alternate drivers for each event. However, Nicole had about a year headstart on Adrian, after the car was damaged at her first event and took a season to repair. Clearly she wasn’t put off, and enjoys the fact she has run slightly quicker than Adrian, with an 8.52 at 159mph, versus 8.54 at 151mph.
Over the last season both drivers have concentrated on getting used to the car, and have been progressing well. The aim for next season is to compete in as many rounds as possible at both Masterton and Taupo.
The Rivers thank: Dad (Grant Rivers) for all his help and Phil and Graeme Blumont for the use of the car.
Vehicle: Quarter Master Ford Escort
Sponsors: Pro Drill, Gubbs Pumps, Waitomo Petroleum, Abernathy Civil, Papakura Engine Specialists, Marsh Motorsport, Signmax Pukekohe, Buckley Engineering, Autotrans Auckland
Like with many of our young achievers, Tony Massey’s family have been involved in drag racing for their whole lives. Tony first took the steering wheel of a Junior Dragster aged eight, and continued driving Juniors until he was 15. Over that time he had two different vehicles, one a 5hp Briggs and Stratton-powered, the other a modified methanol-fed motor sourced from America. Highlights for Tony include winning the national title, as well as winning the local points series at Fram Autolite Dragway, and coming runner up a few times.
For the last two seasons Tony has been sharing driving duties in the Quarter Master Ford Escort with fellow young achiever Goof Sherwin. While Goof concentrated his efforts on the NZDRA series, Tony was running the vehicle at the Fram Autolite series, in which he managed to finish in the top three cars in Super Sedan.
Next season Tony intends to continue in the Escort and eventually, when the team’s Thunderbird is completed, Goof and Tony will end up in one car each. However, it sounds as if their shared driving days won’t be over, as each has a brother quite keen on getting in on the action.
Tony thanks: My parents, Plank and Francis, Russell Sherwin, Kevin Gubb, Alan Lim.
Vehicle: 1984 Pro Stock Camaro
Sponsors: PIRTEK Taranaki, Autolines New Plymouth, Ernie’s Engineering LTD, Ulenburg Haulage, Nv Hair, Brad Penn Oils
A young female hairdresser isn’t probably the first type of person that comes to mind when thinking of a two-time national drag racing champion. But that’s exactly what Shanelle Dobson is. The 23-year-old from Taranaki has won the NZDRA Super Gas title for the last two years, proving that it’s not just the black singlet brigade that can be competitive.
Shanelle got her first taste of drag racing when her dad started racing himself, and offered her the driver’s seat after he damaged his bigger engine. She races the Pirtek-sponsored 502ci 1984 Chev Camaro, and lists her greatest achievement to date as winning the Super Gas series in her first year competing.
So where to from here for the two-time champion? Well, Shanelle has been hairdressing for seven years now, and six months ago opened her own salon, a life-long dream. She has claimed numerous awards through her hairdressing career, including winning at the Taranaki Regional Hairdressing competitions more than once, so things are looking good on and off the track. However, she is realistic about always winning. “I’m not going to get upset if I don’t win, rather I’d think I had a wicked experience anyway,” she says.
Next season Shanelle is planning to offer support to her dad, who gave up the driver’s seat for the last two years. Apparently you may see her back behind the wheel in a new class, with a new engine to get a handle on.
Shanelle thanks: “My parents for all the support and commitment they both put in. We have done a lot of travelling together and been in each other’s pockets and they are my biggest fans; they organise everything for me from tuning the car to mum packing my race bag for me! My partner Adam for being a huge support, without him I couldn’t do it, he gives me the confidence I need to race.”
Words: Todd Wylie Photos: Various
This article is from NZV8 issue 50. Click here to check it out.