Right back at the very birth of Door Slammer racing in Australia, when the class was nothing more than a demonstration support category, was a much younger John Zappia who’s HQ Monaro had already been through an evolutionary process from mild street car, all the way through to a radical, blown race car. John remembers it like it was yesterday – not bad for a man whose career, spanning over two decades, boasts more Championship wins, titles and records in Pro Slammer than any other racer in the country.
“I started racing when I was 17 and by 21 I’d built the very first ‘Zap’s Rat’,” begins the wild Western Australian, whose racing career has seen him dragging various evolutions of his Monaro to all corners of the country to race.
“I inherited an injected big block, then stuck a blower on it and that started the whole thing. By 1991 we had the first prototype of our door slammer and we’ve been doing it ever since,” continues Zappia.
“Door Slammer started off as a 6.90-second Dial Your Own bracket and at first the rules stated no old chassis, which meant our mild-steel chassis didn’t qualify. We came back with a chrome moly chassis and at our very first meeting we went 6.25-second. Within a year or two of that we were running 6.08-second. We were the first to run a 5-second pass in 2007, and nowadays you’re talking about 5.60s to stay competitive,” explains Zappia of how he’s seen the category evolve over time.
With so many years in the seat, the 2016 400 Thunder Championship was ‘business as usual’ for Zappia and the Fuchs Monaro. The team maintained a steady pace throughout the season, contesting rounds at all corners of the country, and managed to take out the first Sydney round which would be their highlight performance of the season.
“That first round in Sydney was probably the hardest round of the season,” laments Zappia. “We blew an engine in the first race and rolled over the line for a win – the worst thing is it was on its way to a great pass! We rolled back to the pits, changed the engine and then discovered a cracked chassis so missed the second round. Despite all this we managed to pull off a win when we could very easily have gone home in the first round,” Zappia continues. It’s this tenacity and energy that the team continued all season that led them all the way to the top.
They Top Qualified at the Nitro Champs and went on to be Runner Up, at which point Zappia recalls he and the team did the math and they’d put on enough of a lead to sail in to the Winternationals knowing they’d wrapped up the 400 Thunder Championship. “All in all it was a mixed season but we managed to stay ahead of everyone else,” explains Zappia.
The lead allowed the team to use the Winternationals meet to test while their peers duked it out over the silver and bronze medals. “We’re always testing and trying new ways to do things when there’s no risk of it costing us the championship. Unfortunately at the Winters that meant an issue with our fuel system which burnt up a few engines,” explains Zappia of the gremlins the team appeared to be chasing all weekend long at the Winternationals.
The team would go on to finish third in an eighteen-car field at the Winternationals, but by Sunday had gotten a handle on the new hardware ahead of their assault on the 2016/2017 season. “We’re using better Noonan cylinder heads and plenty of billet parts – in fact we’re using more Australian parts than anybody else in the field. We’re also constantly learning about the chassis, suspension and fuel system,” adds the newly-crowned, inaugural 400 Thunder champ’
“It’s always good to be the first [400 Thunder Champion], we’ve been the first in so many things in Slammer in Australia!” jests Zappia in closing.