31 May 2017

 Top Fuel Drag Racing is widely regarded as one of the most extreme forms of Motorsport the world over. With 10,000 horsepower on tap, immeasurable racing budgets and launches that place the driver’s body under 8Gs – two and a half times the force an astronaut experiences during a space shuttle launch - Top Fuelers are the sport’s flame-throwing, bone-rattling headline act; the unapologetic rock stars of Drag Racing.

At this year’s Gulf Western Oils 50th Winternationals, held at Willowbank Raceway June 8-11, the field of Top Fuelers will have a distinctly international flavour, with three-time NHRA Champion Driver Larry Dixon securing a seat aboard one of the Rapisarda Autosport International rocket ships.

It's fitting that Dixon, a certifiable American racing legend, will compete at the historical 50th running of the Winternationals. The event, first run at Surfers Paradise International Raceway in 1968, was an homage to the American Winternationals event and has grown to be the largest race meeting anywhere in the world outside of North America - the verifiable pinnacle of Australian Drag Racing and the final round of the local 400 Thunder Series.

2017 sees a field of over 540 entrants vying for valuable championship points, as well as highly-prized accolades at the Winternationals event.

Dixon will be one of eight Top Fuel drivers competing at the event, and returns as the defending champ' after enjoying great success at the 2016 Winternationals. Previous Australian trips have been kind to Dixon - in 2013 he reset the Australian record for the Fastest Ever Top Fuel pass, and in 2016 etched his name in to the record books again registering both the Quickest and Fastest Side-by-Side passes alongside Wayne Newby and Damien Harris respectively.

“When there is money and trophies on the line, of course every team wants to enjoy that success. I am no different,” explains Dixon with the steely determination of a career professional driver. “As a competitor you are always looking forward and looking to improve, whether that's the next qualifying spot, the next event win or setting national records. Santo is bringing three very competitive cars; we'll be looking to grab all three.”

Dixon’s special relationship with the Rapisarda operation stretches back to 2012. A long-time friend of the family, their friendship became intertwined with business when Dixon substituted for one of their regular drivers. Since then, Dixon has been a regular feature on the Rapisarda card both locally and in the States.

“It has been enjoyable to watch [Santo] Junior and ‘Tino’ grow into Championship Crew Chiefs in their own right,” explains Dixon proudly.

“Larry is not only a good friend of the family, he’s also a very talented driver – one of the best there is!” echoes Santo Rapisarda Junior on behalf of Rapisarda Autosport International. “We originally had Dom [Lagana] driving but when he had conflicting obligations at Englishtown, we couldn’t look past Larry to fill the seat,” explains Santo of how Dixon won his drive at the 50th Winternationals.

And with the Rapisarda sprawled across an amazing three of the eight Top Fuelers at the 50th Winternationals, the family will have their work cut out for them over the course of the weekend.

“We do it for the love of the sport,” explains Santo succinctly. “The family does it in memory of Louie [Rapisarda], and Dad [Santo Senior] is just as passionate about the sport – he’s recovering well from his hip surgery and we’re looking forward to seeing him running around the Winters!” jests Santo.

“Running three cars keeps the sport healthy; it keeps the numbers in the field up and it keeps the crowds coming to the track,” explains Santo, aware of the star power of the Top Fuelers. “At the Winters, whether it’s Larry or the other two cars, we don’t want anything less than a win,” he adds.

“Growing up in the States, the races that mean more to me are the ones that have been on the NHRA Tour the longest - Pomona, Gainesville, Englishtown and of course Indy. The Winternats at Willowbank is no different. The trophy I have from last year’s event sits right next to my NHRA Championship ones. I am just as proud to have won it as any other,” admits Dixon, who’s fondly looking forward to reconnecting with his Australian fans in just a few short weeks.

“After competing at other events [in Australia], I've seen the biggest fan draw at the Winternats. With it being the last big event of the season and Championships on the line, the fans know the teams will be giving their all and they want to see it in person,” adds Dixon.

“Willowbank is one of the best surfaces in the country, the amount of 4.50s we’ve run at the track speaks for itself. The track prep’ crew do a great job they're very consistent, and in Top Fuel especially this consistency is incredibly important,” echoes Santo.

Those keen to see the heavyweights of Australian Drag Racing duke it out can see the action unfold live at the Gulf Western Oils 50th Winternationals at Queensland’s premier Drag Racing facility, Willowbank Raceway. For more information on the historical 50th running of the Winternationals, including information on ticket pricing, visit www.willowbankraceway.com.au