POMONA, Calif. — It’s been like a whirlwind the last month or so for me, Lee Beard and the entire Rapisarda Autosport Int’l Top Fuel drag racing team.
I was still trying to put my own team together late last year. But then you have to look at the possibilities, and time wasn’t on my side for a 2013 program. So you look at what might be available. You look at plan A, plan B, plan C or plan D.
And I had spoken with Lee a couple times after he was available at the end of the 2013 NHRA season. We stayed in touch and he hit me up right at the first of the year. I am a believer in destiny. I don’t look to the future too much. Lee asked me how my program was going and I said the money hadn’t hit the account yet for a program.
So he asked if I had interest in being a part of this program with him and the Rapisarda family. I spent an hour talking with Lee about his program and it sounded good. I have always competed against Lee, but never worked with him. Now that I see the behind-the-scenes effort Lee has prepared with the car and team with Rapisadra 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.
Lee explained it like the David Power operation he did in 2008 and 2009. It was a small group and it was privately funded. And in a matter of a year, he had moved into a big operation with two major sponsors and two top-five teams. So this program has the capabilities of doing that also. Hopefully we are on the leading edge of seeing something like that happen here.
I wish we had been able to do a little testing before going out west. But Santo (Rapisarda, team owner) was excited with the effort everyone has put in and wanted to start the season. I’m anxious to get to Pomona too. Lee and the crew have worked hard to prepare the equipment for the season opener as well as the Phoenix race.
I’m very grateful to Santo and his sons, Santo Jr. and Santino (Tino), for their determination to have their organization ready to go. With Lee’s guidance, I think we can be competitive.
This deal really got put together just a month ago. I had no idea in November that this deal would come about or I would be working with Lee. He has put together a good group of guys with the Rapisarda family. So I feel good about getting back to Pomona.
It was interesting being out of the race car in 2012. I did a few races at the end of year.
But I was fortunate enough to work with Bob Frey in the NHRA announcing booth and keep my name and face out in the NHRA drag racing world. It made me a lot more comfortable behind the microphone. It was interesting to watch what happens behind the scenes at a race and as it becomes a show. And it really is a show. We are entertaining a variety of people and the race fans. It made me see the other sides of an NHRA event and it made me more excited on how I need to sell myself and what we need to sell as a whole in NHRA drag racing. I was able to work on the ESPN2 Sportsman (television) shows, too, and it was a fun year. I learned a lot. It wasn’t a year lost for me. It will help me for the future.
I’m very anxious to work with Lee in 2013. I think there is definitely information that we can trade from each other. There are things I have learned along the way as well as last year, and there are many things I can learn from him. And you put that together and you built the best package possible to compete on the race track. And at the same time, we have the equipment that is needed to produce round and race wins. We need to find some additional funding to go out and compete every weekend. That will be the biggest thing I will be working on at the beginning of the season. I want to find some additional funding to make this a championship-type effort.
Entering the Winternationals this weekend at Pomona, I think you have to be realistic in our expectations. We didn’t get any testing in this winter, and I know that Lee would have liked to have gotten that done. So I am cautiously optimistic.
As we pulled in 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 to Pomona and hit the gas and look for that solid time slip. That time slip and that trophy at the end of the weekend is your report card on how things are going for a team.
It might be just me growing up in Southern California (San Fernando Valley) and the Pomona races are just two months apart. But they seem so much different. You go to Pomona in November and it seems like the end of summer. The summers seem so long there compared to Indy where I live now.
So you come back in February and things are different. There are wetter conditions and you have a race track that doesn’t have fresh rubber. Hopefully, the weather doesn’t play into things. You hope you can get the four qualifying attempts and have a solid effort on Sunday for race day. In years past, if you only get a couple of qualifying runs in, then you felt you were still all right. But for the Rapisarda team, we need every run we can get. I already have my fingers crossed that we can get all of those runs in during qualifying and the race. So we can do the best job we can.
It was a strong effort by everyone at the team to get ready for Pomona and Phoenix. If we didn’t go to Pomona, we weren’t going to run Phoenix either. 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 and I’m very excited.
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 regarding points and how things can shake out toward the end of the season.
I know that Lee wants to use the first two races (Pomona and Phoenix) as a test. And I totally agree with him. But, if things come together this weekend, I would like to go as many rounds as possible. And that would be a great story considering we only started this deal last month.