The ‘Pom’ Returns to Top Fuel

‘Pommie’ Steve Read, one of Australian drag racing’s most experienced racers, is set to make a comeback to the Top Fuel category in late 2023. Read, who last competed in 2016, has joined forces with Fuel Funny Car driver, Tim McCarthy and long-time friend, Nick Packer to form RPM Top Fuel Racing. 

“I can’t wait to be back out there,” Read said. “Tim, Nick, and I have talked about joining forces in a fuel dragster program for a while. An opportunity to acquire a chassis came about, and now we’re busy putting the car together.”

McCarthy and Packer are equally excited about the partnership. “Nitro is where it’s at,” said McCarthy who drives the nitro burning Valvoline Chevy Monte Carlo Funny Car. “All the nitro guys have been helping me (with my Funny Car) the past few years. When the opportunity came along to buy a fuel dragster, we jumped at the chance. We just want to get in on the fun and keep the big teams honest!” Packer added.

The five time European Pro Comp/Top Alcohol Champion has kept his eye on the sport, encouraged by the success of the Burson Top Fuel Series and the recent NDRC [National Drag Racing Championship] Series announcement.

“A lot has changed since I last competed (in 2016),” said Read. “Top Fuel is racing to 1000ft, and the Burson Top Fuel Championship has been a huge success. Adding to that, the announcement of the NDRC series is very encouraging for drag racing’s future in Australia,” Read enthused.

Read, McCarthy and Packer are currently assembling the dragster and crew, promising fans an up-close experience. “We’ll be documenting our progress on YouTube and Facebook, giving race fans a behind-the-scenes look at the dragster and our race program,” McCarthy said. “Then things will really heat up once we start hitting the track!”

Left: Steve at the wheel of what was very nearly the BP Petroleum Top Alcohol Dragster from the early 90s. Photo from Dick Parnham Collection. Right: Launching hard at Santa Pod while dad Jim (in the yellow coat) looks on. Photo from JC Collection.

Throughout his combined British, European and Australian drag racing career, Read has won 23 championships in Top Alcohol and Top Fuel since 1977, starting with a dream event racing the ex- Priddle-Riswick-Gane-Stanford slingshot renamed Juara. Competing in the new methanol burning Pro Comp class at the Silver Jubilee Big Go event, Santa Pod Raceway, Steve won beating now ex-pat Barry ‘Bazz’ Young in the Desperado slingshot.

After a newly constructed rear-engined dragster built by Dennis Priddle had made its first appearance in 1978 for Jim to drive, after a long break away from the seat instead of turning wrenches Steve entered the 1981 Easter Internationals. Having qualified in the middle order at the wheel the Castrol Revolution 2 slingshot borrowed from Clive Skilton Steve ended up in the first round against, ironically, dad Jim who was still as sharp as ever on the lights to take the win arrow.

Left: Steve with the winning team after the 1992 Dragster Classic victory. Photo from Mark Gredzinski Collection. Right: At the wheel of the Stu Valance owned Miller dragster; his first taste of Top Fuel drag racing. Photo from Dick Parnham Collection.

After countless European and Scandinavian championships won in the eighties and early nighties, Steve was given some seat time by owner Stu Vallance in the former Miller/Frank Hawley Top Fuel Dragster, while staying loyal to the renamed Top Alcohol class for dragsters and funny cars. 

Having been invited to race ‘down under’ by Australian TAD racer Adrian Pozzebon in 1992, it didn’t take him long to figure it all out by tuning his racing to the Australian prepared tracks which eventually led to him winning the ‘92 Australian Nationals at Calder Park. 

Steve leading the way in Australia to capture wins and the series in 1992/93. Photo from John Baremans Collection.

Back in the UK Steve began to develop those principals adopted in Oz into practice where it all came together in the summer of ’92 at Warwickshire’s Avon Park Raceway; Steve finally became the first driver outside the US to run under six seconds in a methanol fuelled car by establishing a new European record of 5.975/233.95 at the track’s Dragster Classic.

Shortly afterwards Steve emigrated to Australia taking the dragster with him. What followed was more success in Top Alcohol, further seat time in Top Fuel, career boosting races with the Santo Rapisarda team as well as others along the journey! Now it has turned another corner with RPM Top Fuel Racing Team.

At the wheel of one of Santo Rapisarda’s many race winning, and championship searching, Top Fuel Dragsters. Photo from John Baremans Collection.

When asked about what brings him back to racing, Read grinned. “It’s the thrill of competing in Top Fuel, the camaraderie amongst the teams, and the fans we get to meet along the way that makes this all worthwhile,” Read said. “Then there’s the challenge of working with your team towards a common goal – getting 11,000 horsepower to the ground and seeing that win light come on. There are seven fast cars out there competing right now, so every win is earned.”

After six years out of the seat, Read will complete familiarisation passes before racing in competition. “We’re aiming to have the car ready for testing by August. More than likely, we’ll test in Sydney while Willowbank’s track upgrades are underway. I’m eager to get behind the wheel and dust off the cobwebs,” Read laughed.  

Steve Read and the RPM Top Fuel Dragster will make their debut on 21st October 2023 at The Bend Dragway in South Australia. The historic date will mark the first round of the Burson Auto Parts Top Fuel Championship running under the new NDRC series before moving on to Willowbank in December, Sydney Dragway in the new year, Perth’s 53rd Westernationals in March followed by a return to The Bend Dragway the first weekend in April. After the penultimate round back at Sydney Dragway for the Nitro Champs meet, the tour’s final stop lands at Willowbank for the Australian Winternationals. It’s going to be quite a hectic season in store for Steve and the RPM boys and we will be following closely in HoFTalk.

In the meantime Steve and the RPM Top Fuel boys have produced a couple of video shorts in between the mission of completing the dragsters build which you can see via the links below. 

The first is really an introductory to the team and how it all came about for our man Steve Read

The second explains that age old Formula 1 technology term ‘downforce’, how it’s created and the challenges involved in harnessing huge amounts of downforce a Top Fuel Dragster generates in horsepower.

The third video explains how much a fuel motor burns in terms of volume and delivery to the motors pumps on a 300 mph pass.

Further videos will be released by the team in due course.

Steve, along with his late father Jim and his brothers Robin, Tim and Glen were inducted into the British Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2008.

Jerry Cookson
HoFTalk Editor