KYLE RIZZOLI HAS MASTERED THE BOTTOM BULB
Like a lot of the younger generation of racers today, Kyle Rizzoli literally grew up in the sport, shadowing his parents, Jim and Kay, as they travelled the west coast racing an alcohol dragster amongst other things. In fact, young Kyle’s first trip at the age of six-weeks old to the drags was the final day of the famous Orange County International Raceway on October 30, 1983. The elder Rizzoli has been a multi-time division champion along with a JEGS All Star champion, currently a tuning consultant for a number of A/Fuel dragsters. Needless to say, Kyle has been an integral part of the sport since birth.
Not only is his rise through the sport been part of his life, his younger age brings about some unique thoughts and aspects of sportsman drag racing.
With a younger sister Karen, Kyle and his sister graduated up through the ranks of Jr. Dragsters and together learned somewhat of the intricacies of bracket racing. During that period, there weren’t many instances where the Rizzoli offspring weren’t with their parents. In the early ‘90s, Jim decided to stop racing the alcohol car and focus on the juniors. “I always like to say that my sister is really the better racer than I am,” says Kyle laughingly, “and if you look at our records against one another, she was always crushing me.”
After graduation from the juniors, it appeared to be easier to get into a full-size dragster than anything else. “Dad has always been a dragster-guy,” says Kyle, “and it appeared the Stock and Super Stock classes were somewhat of a harder barrier to enter than Super Comp.”
In any event, a Spitzer-built four-link dragster was acquired and Kyle was off getting acclimated to top bulb bracket racing. “Even though we learned a lot through racing the juniors,” says Kyle, “Dad was not a bracket racer. So we ended up learning a lot of stuff on our own as we went along.”
Eventually, the Rizzolis purchased an old Pro Mod big inch engine, installing into the frame of the older car and began running Super Comp more often than not, going 180-mph at a time when that speed was really fast for the class. “But the car was not super consistent due to the high horsepower,” says Kyle. “But I also think that was where I learned to drive the finish line. I’m not sure we knew what we were doing but we sort of accidentally fell into doing the right things.”
Success found him as his first national event win was in 2002 at Pomona in Super Comp after a runner-up finish at the same event the previous year. Progressing up through the ranks, Kyle grew up with other notable southern California “kids,” Shawn Langdon, Ryan Mangus, Brad Plourd, Morgan Lucas and others. With a mechanical engineering degree from Cal Poly, it was simply the case of hanging around with his race track friends, those of which he still maintains a friendship with today.
Working today managing the family business, Rizzoli’s Automotive, an operation which was begun by his grandfather, Mario Rizzoli, in 1976 as a small repair shop, today has grown to three locations and 26 employees. However, during his college days, Kyle didn’t spend too much time both in the business and racing, yet a friendship with Morgan Lucas furthered a career move, helping Morgan’s mother Charlotte break her way into Super Comp.
“After college, I was pulled into the family business and couldn’t race as often as I’d have liked, which is when Brad Plourd took over helping the Lucas.”
After his 2002 win, two more runner-ups in Super Comp followed which only cemented his driving prowess. With his closest track being Bakersfield, Rizzoli picked up a Datsun bracket car, racing the Datsun in one class, while wheeling his tow vehicle in another on the same day. “I won the Sportsman track championship the first year in the tow truck, and finished second with the Datsun by only one point,” Kyle said. “But I began to really enjoy racing the bottom bulb. At that point, I approached my father about purchasing a Stocker, but of course, we had no idea on how to do that, or what to do.”
With the purchase of a ’67 Camaro that had been a race car for a long time, the Rizzolis were off and running after national and divisional wins. “It wasn’t a great Stocker, but it taught us a lot,” he said.
Success with that car though found the eyes of fellow racer Dave Bridgewater. “Dave had a couple of race cars and had just purchased another ’69 Camaro,” says Kyle. “I approached him about allowing me to drive the car as long as he could help us out.”
NHRA Division 7 championships with that car followed in 2012, ‘13 and ’15, leading to even more accolades for the Rizzoli family. A friendship with another notable racer, Jim Whitely found Kyle behind the wheel of another 69’ Camaro Whitely had owned since high school now destined for Super Stock.
There actually was a brief period where Rizzoli and his father built an alcohol dragster with Kyle driving both at certain events. “It was the craziest dichotomy,” he said, “because I’d jump from driving the A/Fuel car where it feels like you’re getting shipped off to the moon and then jump into the Stocker where you could still wear pajama pants. We just got a little burnt out, doing all the work and funding it ourselves, but it was a great experience.”
It’s obvious he has mastered the art of leaving off the bottom bulb, something which can be extremely frustrating. It requires concentration behind almost compare. “Driving two different cars, the Stocker and the Super Stocker, can be chore,” Rizzoli pointed out, “but I practice a lot and we’ve adjusted both cars so they more or less leave roughly the same and I have the same spot on the ‘Tree I can leave at.”
His most recent outing, the oddly named NHRA Winternationals in Pomona in the middle of the Summer, found him in two final rounds, scoring the win in Stock and a runner-up finish in Super Stock for his 11th national event win.
It’s interesting how the whole dynamic of the Stock and Super Stock classes has changed somewhat over the years. The classes used to be all about having the fastest car in the class, winning class eliminations along the way. With some of the younger generation such as Rizzoli, they’ve realized it may be more of a bracket race than anything else.
“I came into the classes because I looked at it as a bracket race,” says Rizzoli. “Heads-up runs against the same class cars is really just an annoyance. But I do believe the heads-up part is somewhat its beauty. It’s where you have the bracket racing side but you still have to have a car that is fast, and I’ve embraced that aspect. However, the class is so layered in that it can take years to pick up all the nuances. The price of the class is a big barrier. I don’t know what I would have done had it not been for a veteran like Dave Bridgewater who helped to accelerate our learning curve.
“But I can understand how the younger generation today can be pulled into the bracket classes,” he added. “I still enjoy those kinds of races. The other aspect that adds to the expense of trying to race for a championship is the NHRA schedule itself which requires quite a bit of travel. I’m fortunate because of our business, but it still is expensive. What keeps me going is I just want to do it against the best people in the world and hence my reasoning for following the NHRA circuit, but I also enjoy the bigger bracket races as well.”
Thanking my family is extremely obvious,” Kyle said. “Without them, it would be very hard to compete. Dad may not be 100-percent behind Stock and Super Stock all the time, but he knows it’s what I love. That also goes for my girlfriend, Julia, who’s also 100-percent behind me. And there’s also Dave Bridgewater and Jim Whitely, who have been big supporters of our team for years along with sponsors Hoosier Tire West and J.B. Dewar petroleum. And a good friend of mine, Patrick Drom, has been coming to the races with us and helping out quite a bit. Racing two cars can be a challenge, but it’s also the part I really love.”
And it’s apparent the feelings of love are mutual, as Kyle Rizzoli is poised for good things in his future.