Young gun drag racer Nathaniel Kuchel, 9, will lead the way for Sunraysia Drag Racing Association juniors this weekend at the very first Sunset Strip Junior Nationals. Photo: PAUL MENSCH

THE biggest ever entry of junior dragsters in the southern half of Australia will come together at Koorlong’s Sunset Strip this weekend.

The first ever Sunset Strip Junior Nationals, hosted by the Sunraysia Drag Racing Association (SDRA) will see 46 teams descend upon Mildura, with the event beginning today.

There has only ever been a couple of stand-alone junior race meets in Australia but this will be the first in a few years.

“The support we have received from the junior community has been very overwhelming and every team is really looking forward to competing on the weekend,” SDRA president Kingsley Kuchel said.

“It has been great to see interest from all over Australia with five teams coming from Perth and well over 12 teams coming from Sydney, most of which have never raced at our facility.”

Testing begins at 3pm today, as the event will be the first race of the season for the majority of teams.

Competition begins tomorrow, however it will be a format which junior drivers will not be used to.

“Normally in junior racing the starting light sequence, or Christmas Tree, is three yellow lights, one after another flash, then a green light for go,” Kingsley said.

“On Saturday, however, we are setting it up so that all three yellows flash at once before going straight into green. This will make it hard for the first couple of passes to adjust and get the car off the line faster.”

Tomorrow will also be a round-robin competition, which will give all drivers the most possible time in the car.

Normally in juniors, there are three categories within the one category, which is C Class (age eight to 11), B Class (11 to 14) and A Class (14 to 17).

“These classes all have different maximum times they are allowed to run, but as our normal form of competition is handicapped racing, any class can race someone from any other class,” Kingsley said. “In addition to changing the starting sequence, we are running each class individually for the day. So C race C’s, B against B’s and A versus A, as it just shakes it all up a bit.”

Once competition is completed tomorrow, an open session will be held for drivers in the evening for extra testing, and for a bit of fun, some parents will race the kids. This has not happened before at an event and many parents are said to be looking forward to this part where the children become the crew chiefs, rather than the drivers.

Special guest tomorrow is newly-crowned Australian Top Fuel Champion Kelly Bettess. Kelly won the title in early June in her rookie season driving for the Lamattina Top Fuel Drag Racing Team.

The Lamattina’s are local farmers, located in Wemen, but have for a long time been great supporters of SDRA, and Kingsley said the organisation was very appreciative of them helping organise Kelly’s appearance.

Kelly’s visit to the event is also made more special as she was the very first Australian Junior Dragster Champion 20 years ago, as well as now being the first female to win a Pro Category Championship in Australia. Kelly will also strap in to race against a few lucky entrants in exhibition runs in the afternoon.

Sunday is the business day of the event where all juniors are put together for qualifying before being seeded, depending on how close they get to their maximum time allowed. This qualifying list then determines who will race who before entering an elimination format until only one driver remains.

Four SDRA drivers will be giving it a crack against some of the country’s best juniors. Nathaniel Kuchel and Alex Kane will race in C Class, while Bodhi Kane and Madison Sparrow will race in B Class.

“It is fantastic that we can put an event on like this and have some locals into the mix,” Kingsley said.

“We encourage anyone and everyone to come out for a look and spend some time with the drivers and families over the weekend.”

Today’s event opening will run from 3pm until 6pm and is free of charge. Saturday’s action is from 10am until 3pm, and then the open session from 3pm until 5pm. Sunday runs from 10am until 4pm. Adults are $5, under 16 $2 and under fives are free. There is no BYO by law and catering is available on site.