top of page
Search

TENTH ANNIVERSARY IS COMING UP FOR RAPISARDA AUTOSPORT INTERNATIONAL

February 14th, 2023, will mark 10 years since Rapisarda Autosport International made its debut on the NHRA tour at the opening round of the season at the 53rd Annual Winternationals at Pomona Raceway.

Four weeks earlier, team owner Santo Rapisarda stunned the drag world on both sides of the Pacific when he announced he had signed 3-time NHRA champion Larry Dixon and legendary crew chief Lee Beard as Director of Operations to spearhead a multi-million dollar campaign to tackle the NHRA Mello Yello series. Rapisarda had previously competed on the NHRA tour on a part-time basis.


"We are extremely pleased to have the talents of Larry Dixon and Lee Beard joining Rapisarda Autosport International for 2013," said Rapisarda. "Larry and Lee have some of the greatest resumes in NHRA drag racing history. Although they have never teamed up together before, we believe their leadership and competitiveness will lead us to victory lane this year. I'm extremely excited to have this pair as part of our organization." Dixon, who worked in the media the previous year as an analyst with ESPN and NHRA, said, "This opportunity to join the Rapisarda team and work with Lee for the first time is very exciting for me. I think, like Lee, I can bring the Rapisarda organization solid background and race experience that can give the team strong performances. I want to thank Santo and his family for this opportunity."

Beard, a 55-time event winner in Top Fuel and Funny Car, added, “I see a lot of potential with the Rapisarda Autosport International team. I'm anxious to work with Larry. He is one of the greatest Top Fuel drivers ever. My job, as Director of Operations, is to oversee the team and teach my skills and craft to Santo's two sons, Santo Jr. and Santino. I see them as the future of our sport.”


RAI arrived at Pomona Raceway with zero test runs under their belt and a hastily assembled team of Aussie and American crew members. Despite the challenges, the team made a solid start for their rookie season.


Dixon qualified 13th with a 3.82 and, in the first round, narrowly lost to defending NHRA Yello champion Antron Brown with a 3.88 to Brown’s 3.85.

The team raced both the NHRA and ANDRA series for the next three months. Then, after finishing third at the Santo’s Cranes Super 3 Extreme meet at Willowbank Raceway, Beard sensationally quit the team to join Steve Torrence’s Capco Contractors Inc. team. Beard stated, “It was a business decision based on what’s best for Lee Beard. I worked very hard on the Rapisarda operation to upgrade its organization, appearance and performance. It was a tough decision.”

The drama continued in July when Dixon announced he was parting ways with RAI to concentrate on securing the funding needed to field his own racing operation for 2014.

“I want to thank Santo Rapisarda and the entire Rapisarda Autosport International team for their efforts this year,” said Dixon, “I have been working in a variety of areas to put a team in place for the upcoming season. I’m anxious to work full-time on this project. I wish the Rapisarda family all the best in its future racing endeavors."

Despite the setback, the team regrouped, signed NHRA veteran Tommy Johnson Jr. and continued to race both series. Their finest moment came when Johnson claimed victory at the 2013 Australian Nationals at Sydney Dragway.

Since their turbulent rookie season, RAI has gone with predominately two Australian drivers, Wayne Newby and Damien Harris, along with the occasional guest appearance by an American import when the team has fielded three or more entries. The international roll call has included Dom Lagana, Cory McClenathan, ex-pat Richie Crampton and Ashley Sanford. Over the past decade, the team has developed a cult following primarily centered on the intriguing narrative behind Rapisarda’s two sons, Santo junior and Santino, still in their teens, sharing tuning duties on the self-funded family fuel car and Rapisarda Snr’s laconic Aussie laid-back approach to racing.


“Drag racing is a hobby,” according to Rapisarda, “There are a lot of teams that have sponsors to help pay the bills, but for most people here in Australia, the sport is a hobby in the true sense of the word. You make money during the week to go racing on the weekend. I'm lucky that I have successful businesses that enable me to afford to go racing.”


In 2015 RAI made Top Fuel history at the Sydney Dragway Nitro champs when they became the first Australian team to field four cars in the elite category - Harris, Newby and Oz veteran Allan Dobson were joined by Dom Lagana.


Dixon returned to the team in 2017 as part of a three-car assault at the 50th Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway in what was to be a watershed moment in Australian Drag Racing.

Harris recorded the quickest run in Australian drag racing history with 4.44/ 335 mph in qualifying. Newby followed with 4.48 and Dixon, in third, with a 4.52.

The all-time standard over the quarter-mile distance was set in May 2004 when Doug Kalitta recorded a 4.42 at the Route 66 Nationals in Joliet, Illinois.

The performance from the RAI trio lit a fire under the sport in Australia and was the catalyst for Rapisarda calling on the two major race tracks - Sydney Dragway and Willowbank Raceway - to introduce 1000-foot racing for the 2017-18 season to commence at Sydney in November.


"I will not race a quarter mile again," declared Rapisarda. “The time has arrived for Australia to abandon the 1320-foot race distance on safety grounds. I have been giving this a lot of thought and my mind was made up at the Winternationals when we ran over 330 mph. It was a historic moment for the team, but the risks are too great when you run at those speeds."


"The NHRA decided to abandon quarter-mile racing in 2008 when Scott Kalitta was killed. I consider both our current drivers, Damien Harris and Wayne Newby, to be part of the Rapisarda family and could not live with myself if anything were to happen.”

Despite grumblings from some purists and a vitriolic social media backlash, 1000-foot racing was introduced at the opening round of the 2017-18 season.

Over the journey, the team has amassed multiple National championships and record-breaking performances, as well as being a significant benefactor to the sport in Oz including regularly sponsoring events.


“I do it and don’t make a fuss about it,” said the media-shy Rapisarda. “The reason is that I'm in a position to do so. It's not going to destroy me financially. I'm thankful that I'm able to help out."


The team's last appearance in America was at the 2019 U.S. Nationals. A return to the NHRA Camping World series in 2020 and 2021 was scuppered due to Covid -19 travel restrictions. Then, last year, the team elected to concentrate on supporting the breakaway Australian Top Fuel Championship series.

Harris leads the 2022-2023 series with three rounds remaining.


Dixon also continues to make cameo appearances with the team. Most recently at Sydney Dragway in January 2023, where he won the B-Final against Newby.We

Despite not racing in America since September 2019, the team maintains a fully equipped workshop, car and trailer at Brownsburg, Indianapolis. Speculation is the team could make a return to the U.S. in 2023 after the final round of the Australian Top Fuel Championship in June.


"It's hard to believe it's been ten years since we raced at Pomona," said Rapisarda. “There have been many high points and some low moments. If I didn’t like it anymore, I would have walked away from the sport and if my boys weren’t involved, I wouldn’t be here today.”

255 views0 comments

コメント


ATFC_MAIN_3D.png
bottom of page