The progress of the Rapisarda Autosport International drag racing team continued this past weekend in the second event of the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello Series, the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Firebird International Raceway. A solid qualifying effort and a first-round victory by driver Larry Dixon moved the newly-formed Top Fuel operation into the Top Ten in the current point standings.
After running five consistent laps at the Winternationals the week prior, Dixon, veteran tuner Lee Beard and the Rapisarda crew looked to improve on the 3.82-second qualifying performance from Pomona. And the opening day at Firebird saw a stellar 3.818 lap, the second quickest of the Friday’s second qualifying session. The team, with no pre-season testing, improved to a 3.814 seconds and 320.51 mile per hour run in Saturday’s time trials.
“We are still in a very early stage with this new Rapisarda team,” said Beard, an NHRA national event winner with 11 different drivers.
“We have a ways to go to run in the 3.70s and race against the top five Top Fuel teams. But we have some excellent people working with us including the young Rapisarda boys, Santo Jr. and Santino (both 19 years old), who will be excellent crew chiefs in the future.”
In the first round of competition, Dixon, the three-time NHRA champion, drove around Brandon Bernstein in a smoke-filled contest, 4.942 to 4.991. Dixon admitted conditions were tricky with the Firebird 1000-foot surface throughout the weekend. Dixon lost in the second round to Spencer Massey.
“The track got real tight on Saturday and Sunday and that produced tricky clutch conditions for the crew chiefs and engine tuners,” said Dixon, a three-time Arizona Nationals champion.
“Our team continues to work well together and we didn’t hurt any parts again this weekend. While we wanted to get into the 3.70s at Firebird, we did run back-to-back 3.81s and those times are the quickest ever for the Rapisarda team.”
The West Coast two-race swing was a late addition to the Rapisarda team’s schedule, as the Brownsburg, Ind.-based organization was not planning to begin its 2013 campaign until the NHRA Amalie Gatornationals on March 15-17. However, team owner Santo Rapisarda felt it was important to begin his team’s season at Pomona and Firebird and collect valuable points.
“I give Santo a lot of credit to take us out West for the opening two races of the NHRA Mello Yello series,” said Dixon, the California native now residing in Avon, Ind.
“We really only had five weeks to put everything together. And we initially were planning to collect more new pieces for the engines and go to Gainesville. But Santo wanted us to get into the thick of things at the beginning of the series. Now, we have collected points and we’ll prepare for Gainesville with some new parts.”
Top Fuel qualifying for the NHRA Amalie Gatornationals begins Friday, March 15, with final eliminations set for Sunday, March 17, at Auto Plus Raceway in Gainesville, Florida.
(Photos courtesy Rapisarda Autosport/Ron Lewis; Click to enlarge)