QUEENSLANDER Kelly Bettes has claimed the 2018 400 Thunder Top Fuel Championship in her rookie season, becoming the first female to win professional Australian drag racing category in the process.
Kelly edged out defending champ Wayne Newby in an absolute nail-biter in the semis at the Winternationals last weekend, running a 3.801 to Newby’s 3.842 to win by just 16 thousandths of a second. The win stretched Bettes’s points lead over championship rival Damien Harris to an unassailable amount, ahead of a showdown between the pair in the final. Talk about drama!
We caught up with Kelly after the dust had settled for a chat about the weekend, life as a champion, and what comes next.
Thank you! It all worked out to plan.
You clinched the title in one hell of a race. Talk us through that pass.
I was just focussed on what I needed to do in the car, and getting it from A to B. I didn’t see Wayne Newby go in front of me during the run so I was quietly confident we got there, but the vision out of those cars isn’t great, so for all I knew he could have been slightly in front of me and got the win. I thought I caught a glimpse of the win light as I crossed the line, but I didn’t get confirmation until they met me at the other end of the track with the trophy.
Speaking of the trophy, who gets to keep it – you or Phil?
Phil gets to keep it, but I got to hold it for a while. I’m hoping they’ll do a smaller replica of it for me to keep.
How did winning this Christmas tree compare to winning your first one in Junior Dragster?
My first one in Junior Dragster was exciting; at the time it was the biggest thing that could happen to me in drag racing. Winning a Sportsman series is a big deal for you as a competitor, but to win a professional title the sense of achievement is out of this world, especially in my rookie season. To win a category that’s the pinnacle of the sport just means so much to me and the whole team.
You’re back at work already. What’s it been like to snap back to reality?
It definitely takes a bit of time to get back into things – your mind is still very much on the weekend. But it’s an extremely busy time at work at the moment, so I’ve had to just block it out and continue on.
Are you going again next year?
Yes! Hopefully we can try and back it up.
Do you get free carrots now?
We had a whole bunch of carrots at the track on the weekend so yes I did bring some home, that’s for sure!
Will we see you back in the JETT Datto anytime soon?
Yes. I’m testing the car in a couple of weeks to get it ready to go into a container in August. It’s being shipped to the States for the World Sports Compact Challenge at Orlando Speed World in October, which is huge. Last year there was something like 30,000 people there. After that I fly back to Australia to race the Top Fuel car, then back to Orlando again to race the World Sports Compact Finals in the Datsun. There’s a lot going on!
How is driving a Fuel car in comparison to the Datto?
The Datsun is a complicated car to drive; it’s pretty on edge and there’s a lot to think about. The Fuel car doesn’t leave you with as much to think about, but they are two completely different beasts to drive. Getting used to the speed of the Top Fuel car and processing what happens during a run was the biggest challenge, but you learn to switch modes and adapt to what happens in either car.
Top Fuel seats are few and far between in Australia. Was winning the championship in your Rookie year your way of repaying Phil for the faith he had in you?
It wasn’t so much a case of paying back Phil. There was a certain element of that, but ultimately my goal is to win championships. I was given a great opportunity and I wanted to do my best in the car no matter what, for me and for the team. They’ve put me in the car for a reason, and I need to prove that I’m worthy.
Women are taking over the world in drag racing right now. What’s your take on that?
I think it’s coincidental that it all seems to be happening at once, because females have been a big part of this sport for a long time. For drag racers and people who have been around the sport it’s no surprise to see females achieving great results in pro categories, and proving that we’re capable of achieving just as much as males.