For a motorsport event it is rare for the racing to take second place to anything else, but this weekend’s Atlantic Oils Top Fuel Slam at Sydney Dragway will be an emotional and moving occasion as the drag racing community pays tribute to Top Doorslammer driver Sam Fenech, who passed away following an accident at Willowbank Raceway on January 7.
The Atlantic Oil Top Fuel Slam is round five of the Australian Top Doorslammer Championship, where nine cars have entered not just to race, but to honour Sam, a man who had a reputation as a friend to all, even as he battled them on the track.
Among the entries is Sydney racer Craig Burns. As a friend of Fenech’s since 14 years of age, Burns knew better than most just how influential Fenech was in the Sydney drag racing scene.
“Sam was the go-to guy in the industry, whether they were entry level racers or at the top tier,” Burns said. “Everyone knew of Sam and Westend Performance. Sam’s passing has left such a void in the community. I don’t know if the knowledge he had can ever be replaced.”
Burns’ supercharged Ford Mustang is only an occasional runner in Top Doorslammer, but he is no stranger to the class, having raced as a teammate to Fenech in Maurice Fabietti’s ACDelco team.
“We just jog along and keep things simple with this car, it’s a family team and a bunch of mates who help crew,” Burns said. “We do a bit of everything with this car, from radial tyre stuff to no-prep. I’d like to think the car would go low 5.8s and maybe even a 5.7 in a best case scenario, but honestly it is more about the event as a whole and everyone getting together to remember Sam.”
The Mustang will take up the pit position next to an empty spot reserved for Fenech, a place Burns said he felt extremely privileged to take.
“As you came down the return road, Maurice and Mary Fabietti were always the first cab off the rank as you turned into the pits. Margaret from Sydney Dragway told me that their space would remain vacant in memory of Sam and that we would be next. That is very humbling to me, and we will have a place for Sam’s crew, family and friends so when they are ready they can come over.”
The Atlantic Oils Top Fuel Slam will feature a ‘missing man formation’ at 4pm on Saturday, where the Top Doorslammer field will honor Sam Fenech. The memorial will be aired live on 7plus (4pm AEDT, 3.30pm ACDT, 1pm AWST) ahead of the commencement of the night’s racing. Taking part will be Matt Abel, Craig Burns, Daniel Gregorini, Geoff Gradden, Craig Hewitt, Peter Kapiris, Kelvin Lyle, Emilio Spinozzi and John Zappia.
The Atlantic Oils Top Fuel Slam will also include the completion of the final round of the Willowbank event, with Zappia and Lyle to face off for the A Final while Gregorini and Abel will compete for the B Final. The ‘race within a race’ will take place during the second qualifying session on Friday night. As a bonus, teams will also be vying for the Crow Cams Top Qualifier Award.