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Nitro Funny Car – it’s no laughing matter

Written by Kym Oberauer.

croc nitro funny carRicky and Christine Steffens' Croc Nitro Funny Car (Photo courtesy www.dragphotos.com.au)

Question: When was Nitro Funny Car last run as an ANDRA championship bracket?

Answer: 1998 - a one-off event in Perth won by Lloyd Jones.

It seems strange that one of the most spectacular crowd pleasers in drag racing has been on the outer for 14 years.

Don't quote me on this but at the time I recall Nitro Funny Car was struggling with competitor numbers and their on track performance sometimes criticised. The closure of Eastern Creek (1997) and Calder Park Raceway (2001) to ANDRA championship drag racing certainly didn't help the cause either.

With the rapidly changing landscape of drag racing in Australia the decision was made to focus on 1 premier bracket - Top Fuel.

However, are things about to change? Will we see the return of Nitro Funny Car as an ANDRA championship bracket and a schedule of events teams can plan for and look forward to?

If Ricky and Christine Steffens and the other Nitro Funny Car supporters have their way it will.

Nitro Funny Cars Australia Pty Ltd – a new voice for Funny Car in Australia

In the last 4 or 5 years there's been a resurgence in Nitro Funny Car numbers. At the moment there are about 6 teams who are ready to take to the track.

However, the good oil is there are up to 15 Nitro Funny Cars in sheds and factories around Australia. With the right conditions we could see fully subscribed fields in the next year or two.

In an effort to get Nitro Funny Car back on the map, Ricky and Christine formed a company called Nitro Funny Cars Australia Pty Ltd. Described by Christine as the "voice for Funny Car in Australia", the primary goals are to:

  • Have Nitro Funny Car reinstated into the ANDRA rule book. As a bracket, Nitro Funny Car was in the 2007/2008 rule book and then dropped from the 2008/2009 edition
  • Include Nitro Funny Car in rounds of the ANDRA Group 1 Championship
  • Provide spectators with what they want. According to Christine, "Nitro Funny Car is one of the premium Drag Racing products made up of the most spectacular vehicles on planet earth."
  • Present a united voice for all the Nitro Funny Car teams in Australia
  • Develop appearance, marketing and sponsorship opportunities for the bracket as a whole

The idea for a company to represent Nitro Funny Car has been bubbling away since a meeting held amongst teams at Rocket Industries back in 2010. As an outcome of the meeting, an agenda item was put forward to the ANDRA National Control Council (NCC) to return Nitro Funny Car to championship status.

This was unsuccessful, leaving the teams very disappointed and unsure about the future of the bracket.

With the creation of Nitro Funny Cars Australia Pty Ltd, a new proposal was delivered to ANDRA in February 2012 with further information supplied in April 2012, followed up by more detail in May 2012. To-date they are awaiting a response from the ANDRA Board with regards to the supplied information.

What's in the new Nitro Funny Car proposal?

Christine was kind enough to provide me with a copy of the proposal. Here are some of the major points:

  • Discussions have been going on for far too long. Nitro Funny Car should be returned as a championship bracket immediately. While this does not require the tracks to run the bracket it gives them the opportunity to run it at championship events
  • ANDRA drag racing is in a slump at the moment and we need all the elements of our premium product on display. After such a long absence, Nitro Funny Car can assist in putting spectators in the stands
  • As of February 2012, there were only two opportunities to race; both in Perth and one invitation only
  • There is no incentive to prepare many of the existing Nitro Funny Cars so they're ready to race
  • We're losing very high profile competitors from the sport as they have nowhere to race
  • The current system isn't working to draw a crowd in various areas. Spectators want to see Nitro. Split the rounds between Top Fuel and Funny Car to share the load – say 6 rounds each, 1 each at the major tracks (assuming Adelaide and Melbourne come on-board)
  • Performance based payments. If they don't perform they don't get paid – create incentives to go from A to B consistently under power. This will improve the show for the spectators and the teams enjoyment levels
  • There are more than enough Nitro Funny Cars in Australia to put on a good show and if there is the incentive more will come out of the sheds
  • Run Nitro Funny Car as a Chicago Shootout with a minimum of 4 cars running and 1 alternate, who can run if they wish. This strategy will ensure 3 rounds of paired passes for the spectator's entertainment

The proposal was delivered well before the recent ANDRA board meeting. The Nitro Funny Car fraternity are hopeful that it's been received favourably and will make its way to the ANDRA Board for review and implementation.

A passion for Nitro Funny Car

Ricky and Christine's involvement Nitro with Funny Car started when "Ricky got a phone call from Ashley Bailey asking if he would come and help them out. And Ricky came and asked me 'what should I do?' Well they're locals, they're nice guys; how can you not do it. So, the Nitro Funny Car nightmare began".

In 2007, "Ash [Bailey] got busy at work and Rodney wanted to get the second [funny] car going and was looking for a driver. Actually, Rodney asked Christine to drive the car in 2002 but she had been involved in a big crash in a modified Dragster in 2001. "Of course my answer was yes, Christine said, but my husband's answer was 'over my dead body'."

Christine suggested that Ricky have a drive, knowing full well that once he'd been in the driver's seat he could hardly refuse Christine having a go. With that Ricky got his Nitro Funny Car license and at his first event at the Perth Motorplex in December 2007 where he also had his first event win.

Lockyer Engine Reconditioners - Fan Card

While on holidays in January 2008 Christine got a call that a Nitro Funny Car was for sale. "Ricky was asleep on the couch and I was having discussions about buying a Nitro Funny car. When he woke up I told him - honey we're going to Melbourne in two weeks to have a look at a race car."

A few months later they were the proud owners of the croc Nitro Funny Car. And in September 2011 Christine got her turn in the driver's seat and after three days at the track over a number of months in January 2012 she passed all the requirements to get her Nitro Funny Car license.

Where to from here?

If the proposal is accepted by ANDRA and Nitro Funny Car becomes a championship class once again we can all look forward to seeing a great deal more of Nitro Funny Car in the future.

Until then however, there are a number of opportunities to see the "plastic fantastics" in action this season.

On September the 22nd, Ricky and Christine will be taking their Nitro Funny Car to Bernaraby Raceway for some test passes and a promotional display.

Definitely on the calendar is a meeting at Adelaide International Raceway on December the 8th 2012. Then it's over to the Perth Motorplex for some match racing on 28th and 29th of December 2012, with a return encounter for a 4 car field on March the 16th 2013.

And word on the street is we could see the Nitro Funny Cars come out to play once more in April 2013.

Nitro Funny Car needs your support

Do you love Nitro Funny Car? Do you want to see them in the flesh, thundering down the track with flames shooting high over the roof line?

Then take a few minutes to fill in the form below and we'll pass your messages of support onto ANDRA. Every message will bring us closer to having Nitro Funny Car back where it belongs – in front of drag racing fans all around Australia.

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