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Rapisarda starts Dixon/Beard Top Fuel era at Pomona

February 9, 2013

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Larry Dixon spent most of 2012 looking for a ride, driving three races and working the ESPN booth when he was able (Anne Proffit photo)

When Australia’s Rapisarda Autosport International announced last month it was hiring Larry Dixon to drive and Lee Beard to coordinate a Top Fuel effort for the 2013 NHRA Mello Yello season, I thought that was extremely exciting. The Indiana-based team initially said it would start racing at Gainesville in mid-March, but then changed their minds.

So add another carrot to next weekend’s NHRA 53rd annual Winternationals on the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona dragstrip – Dixon, Beard and the Santo Rapisarda-led crew will be on hand for what they’re calling a testing session Feb 14-17. It’ll be great to see all of them back on the picturesque dragstrip east of downtown Los Angeles as they hone this newly configured team into form.

This year will mark the first time three-time Top Fuel champ Dixon and three-time championship-winning crew chief/tuner Beard have worked together in Top Fuel – they’ve competed against one another regularly over the years but never performed together. “I’ve admired [Lee’s] work from afar,” noted Dixon, second in wins (with 62) in the Top Fuel category. “Now that I see the behind-the-scenes effort Lee has prepared with the car and team with the Rapisarda family, it makes me very excited to come to Pomona. Lee has been very successful in the past and I see this program being no different.”

Dixon was released from Al-Anabi Racing after being No. 1 qualifier at the 2011 season finale in Pomona; he raced only three times last year for Dote Family Racing. Beard posted his 54th and most recent victory as a crew chief/tuner last November when he guided Cruz Pedregon to the Funny Car win at the World Finals.

“This program did not come together until mid-January,” Beard admitted. “As a team we have worked long and hard hours; we still have a lot to do. We feel it is necessary for us to be at Pomona and we are doing whatever it takes. We will treat it as our first test session,” said Rapisarda’s director of operations.

A four-time Winternationals champion, Dixon understands “You have to be realistic in your expectations at this point. I’m cautiously optimistic,” he said. “As we pull into the gates at Pomona, i think we have everything it takes to win. But we don’t have any time slips to show for it – we don’t have that level of confidence that a Schumacher or Force team might have after having a whole winter of testing. We just have to go out at Pomona and hit the gas and look for a solid time slip.”

Rapisarda Autosport International intends to contest the Arizona Nationals on the Firebird International Raceway dragstrip the weekend after the Winternationals and then regroup until Gainesville – the team’s intended season starter – in mid-March. “It was a strong effort by everyone at the team to get ready for Pomona and Phoenix,” Dixon allowed. “We wanted to go out to the west and begin collecting points for the NHRA Mello Yello championship.

“Everyone is tied for first place right now and, if you don’t go to the first couple of races, you are going to be tied for last. So we made the decision to go to Pomona and Phoenix. You need to get going right out of the gate. Whether you are full time or part time on the NHRA circuit, you will have the mindset to score points and see how things can shake out towards the end of the season.”

In 2012, Rapisarda Autosport International had veteran Cory McClenathan behind the wheel of their dragster, tuned by Santo’s sons Santo Jr and Santino (TIno). They finished 14th in the season-long standings. Only the top 10 in the regular season that ends at Indianapolis each year take part in the Countdown to the Championship playoff series of six races that culminates at the World Finals in Pomona each November.

By Anne Proffit

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