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Australian Easton experiences massive Night Under Fire event

By JOE GILROY • Updated Aug 12, 2018 at 5:24 PM

NORWALK — Steve Easton has traveled a long way from down under — Brisbane, Australia, to be exact.

The 35-year-old Australian has no plans on missing his chance to race to the top of his profession.

That is why Easton was among the always unique field at the 41st annual Night Under Fire event — the largest single-day drag racing event in the country — at Summit Motorsports Park Saturday night in Norwalk.

Easton — some 9,100-plus miles from Australia in Norwalk — was unable to qualify past the second round when his Pro Mod car had wheel trouble and he was unable to keep it going.

“It is a bit disappointing, mate,” Easton said. “But, we had a lot of fun here and we are actually coming back in two weeks to try Summit again. We are off next week and will spend that time working on the car, so we should be in good shape there.

"I just can’t wait to come back here" he added. "The track is legendary, and the Bader family treats you like family, too. Great track, great people.”

But the night wasn't a complete disappointment for Easton. The former tuner for NHRA Funny Car points leader, Courtney Force, watched with the rest of the sold out capacity crowd of 40,000-plus people Saturday night as icon John Force beat his team member and son-in-law, Robert Hight, to win the FC match race to close the show — followed by the signature fireworks show.

A 16-time world champion and the most accomplished driver ever, Force lit up the Summit clock at 4.04 seconds. But even though Hight clocked 4.02 seconds on his pass, the 69-year old Force got him with the faster reaction time — .090 seconds to Hight's .152.

Also among the many highlights on Saturday was the first-ever North American jet car championship races. Scott Holdridge topped Sarah Edwards in the finals to win the title. In Top Alcohol dragster, Corey Michalek drove to a 5.32-second pass to defeat JP Gutierrez (5.45).

Meanwhile, Bob Motz returned with his signature jet truck, as did Chris Darnell and the 'Shockwave' jet truck as another crowd pleaser.

After a strong run in Australia and New Zealand, Easton landed a job with John Force Racing as the clutch guy for Courtney Force’s team.

"I have some very close friends there at JFR, and if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t even be here today," Easton said.

After working with JFR for a few years, Easton got the itch to get back in the car on a part-time basis. He was to split his time between consulting for the Patriot Pro Mod team and racing — that all changed this summer as he stepped up his role as their full-time driver.

Like all up-start racers, Steve has had to deal with the growing pains of developing as a driver as well as the financial aspect of maintaining a strong car for 24 weeks. But, there are the other things that are tough to focus on when, such as creating a public presence.

“Getting your name out there is the hardest part when you take on a plunge like this, mate,” Easton said. “When I was in Australia, I was in newspapers and on the cover of magazines every week. We had somewhat of a cult following there and in New Zealand.

"But in Australia and New Zealand, racing isn’t as big as it is here in the U.S. and I could be a big fish in a small pond," he added. "But competitive guys like me want to compete with the best, and to do that you have to go to America.”

Through it all though, Easton always will be appreciative of the Force family for giving him his first job in the U.S. — and everything that he has learned from them.

"Working for JFR has taught me a lot, it was a lot of work and a lot of hours, but it was all worth it," Easton said. “I've been part of the team to help put Courtney into the winner's circle and have learned what it takes to be a winner on the biggest stage — and ultimately that is where I want to be five years, 10 years down the road.

"I don’t know if John will still be racing by then, but those are the type of people I want to be competing with," he added.

Meanwhile, after winning at Denver on July 22, John Force is seeking even more momentum following Saturday night's performance. Force is a huge reason behind the success of the Night Under Fire event, and it was at NUF in 2000 that a portion of the grandstands at the Norwalk dragstrip were named in his honor.

Throughout the years, Force has also raced in special edition model cars at the Night Under Fire, including a 50th anniversary of Norwalk racing car, as well as patriotic themed cars.

The NHRA circuit has two races left before the six-race championship that features a 10-driver field finishes off the season. Courtney Force, Ron Capps and Hight are the top three FC points leaders, while John Force is eighth and looking to clinch his spot in the playoffs just yet.

The Lucas Oil Nationals are this weekend in Brainerd, Minn., followed by the famous U.S. Nationals over Labor Day weekend in Indianapolis.

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