You’d be hard pressed to find someone with more love for drag racing than Santo Rapisarda.
The Australian-based Top Fuel team owner will fly tens of thousands of miles and spend untold amounts of his hard-earned dollars maintaining competitive nitro operations on two different continents.
Rapisarda says he doesn’t invest his time and money for the accolades, he loves drag racing.
Recently, during the Australian National Drag Racing Association Winternationals at Willowbank Raceway located outside of Brisbane, drag racing gave back to one who has given so much. This award will be presented to the winning team at the season-ending event.
Rapisarda, who was an up and coming racer during Australia’s formative drag racing years, was presented with the inaugural Mick Atholwood Award.
As fate would have it, Rapisarda’s dragster, driven by Allan Dobson, beat Andrew Cowin to win the event and in doing so, ensured Rapisarda as the inaugural winner.
“It really a meant a lot to me because I knew Mick for over 30 years,” said Rapisarda. “He passed away while I was in America and I couldn’t be there for the funeral and that was very disappointing to me. When I was told about the Memorial Award, and that I was going to be given it, I was honored. This means more than I could ever convey.”
Rapisarda lost a friend in Atholwood, and as painful as this loss is, his first real loss happened over two decades earlier.
“I lost a son at Willowbank 22 years ago,” said Rapisarda. “I know very well what it means to lose someone close to you.”
Louie was killed in 1990 when an engine explosion sent his dragster into the guard rail.
Rapisarda left the decision to continue racing to his other sons and family.
“When Louie passed, the family got together and we made the decision to keep going because that’s what he would have wanted,” said Rapisarda.
What would drive Rapisarda to keep giving to a sport which has cost him so much emotionally and monetarily? It’s the passion of the little guy and the memories of his youth when fighting tooth and nail for his mere existence fueled his passion.
Rapisarda says he’s in a different position and sees himself in many of those fighting to live the dream.
“In my younger years, I had to work hard and spent all of my money going hot rodding,” said Rapisarda. “I’d work 12 hour days to support my racing. People used to label me as crazy for doing that. They couldn’t understand it. So when my business did well, I noticed what everyone else went through doing the same thing I used to do and I just like helping them … the longshots and the little guys.”
Rapisarda never believed his participation in drag racing would grow to the point it is today. At any given event he could field as many as three fuel dragsters simultaneously.
“I never really wanted to race as serious as it is today,” said Rapisarda. “I fell in love with it when I had a street car. I just kept getting faster and spending more money.”
Rapisarda considers his money well spent in supporting his drag racing family whether blood-related or nitro in the veins.
“I started racing back in 1965 and some of the best people I have met are in this community,” Rapisarda admitted.
Rapisarda has two sons deeply involved in drag racing and handle the tuning decisions related to his Top Fuel operation. Santo Jr. and Santino strive to one day become top notch tuners in the rough and tumble nitro ranks.
Their father couldn’t be prouder.
“Santo Jr. and Santino work very well together,” Rapisarda proudly proclaims. “I really get the most enjoyment out of seeing them work well together. I couldn’t do what I wanted to do growing up. They have the money behind them to pursue this dream. I’m holding out for one day that we might win a race in America.
“Santo Jr. is a student of the game but if I didn’t want to do this, he would want to find something else to do. We do this together as a family and when one of us win, we all win. He’s not tied to this but enjoys this because we all do. The family part is what makes it the most fun.”
And, for Rapisarda, getting awards pales in comparison to seeing his family happy.
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