Whenever you set about compiling a list of Australia’s all-time top ten drag racers, you need to be fully aware of the challenges ahead and the peril involved.
With Coronavirus wreaking havoc and little happening in the world of drag racing there exists an army of armchair experts and keyboard warriors who can’t wait to re-engage with the sport they love and cherish. There is also an element, albeit minor, who has relished the opportunity to vent their spleen on who should or should not be a member of the Top 10.
In assembling the list, some of of the vitriol has been aimed at the inclusion of ex-pats Dave Grubnic and Richie Crampton, the absence of Funny Car ace Romeo Capitanio as well as Santo Rapisarda and his son Louie.
Grubnic and Crampton have earnt their place on the list despite limited success when they have competed in Australia. Both drivers made it to the NHRA fuel ranks on talent, perseverance and an ounce of luck. Neither “bought” their ride, as is often the case, in motorsport. ‘Grubby’ drove with distinction for one of the powerhouse teams in the sport Kalitta Racing for 15 seasons. Becoming the first non-American to score an NHRA Top Fuel victory was a remarkable feat and has been instrumental in motivating many of his countrymen to take their chances, chase the dreams and in Aussie spea … ‘ave a go’, in America. Ditto Richie Crampton. From a spanner in his hometown of Adelaide to a paid ride with Morgan Lucas Racing and claiming the NHRA rookie of the year title in 2014 was a magnificent achievement.
Australia has a history of punching above its weight in motorsport. Think Daniel Ricardo in Formula One and Will Power in IndyCar.
Romeo Capitanio was one of the most talented drag racers in the 1980s and 90s. His exploits in Nitro Funny Car are fondly remembered by those who mourn the passing of that era. An enigmatic, larger than life character, Romeo’s battles with officialdom and drag hierarchy are legendary. His sole ANDRA Top Fuel title came in 1991. His Funny Car time of 5.37 set at Calder Park Raceway in November 1994 stood for over 15 years.
If a list of the Top Ten of contributors to Australian drag racing were compiled, then the name Santo Rapisarda would be number one. His story, in many ways, mirrors the working-class roots of Australian Drag racing. A fruit shop owner, hairdresser, restaurateur, and construction titan Rapisarda was a street racer who graduated to the racetrack where he drove in Top Fuel from 1979 until retiring in 1987. A gritty competitor Rapisarda who raced with success, but an ANDRA championship proved to be elusive.
His contribution to the sport over the past three decades is unmatched. As a team owner he has employed, some of the biggest names in the sport. Cory McClenathan, Larry Dixon, Mike Dunn, Tommy Johnson Jr, Dom Lagana, Glenn Mikres and Richie Crampton along with local heroes Damien Harris, Wayne Newby, Allan Dobson, and many others. His support of rival teams struggling with budget woes is legendary often supplying an engine, drums of nitro, tyres, and spares parts. Over the past decade, Rapisarda has run three or more cars. His sponsorship of meetings in Australia, especially over the last decade has been critical to the success of the category. Many a time Rapisarda has handed back the winner’s cheque to race organisers without any fanfare.
Louie Rapisarda was a once in a generation talent who lost his life in a crash at Willowbank Raceway in July 1990. Louie was destined for greatness. In his first race, he finished runner-up to Jim Read then two starts later took a win at Calder Park Raceway with a 5.73, 238 mph and became the tenth and final member of the Australian GoodYear Five-Second Club.
In 2030, if an all-time Top ten list were to be compiled, it would probably be redundant and should be expanded to 15 or more. Probable inductees could include Phil Read, son of #2 ranked Jim Read, already a three-time ANDRA champ he is one of the finest in the current crop of fuel drivers. Joining him is likely to be two-time champ, Phil Lamattina, on the comeback trail after retiring in 2015. Second-generation racer Ben Bray with a pair of Doorslammer titles and one in Top Alcohol is also a candidate. Cheyne Phillips, son of #1, ranked Gary Phillips is a dark horse. Cheyne has recently licensed in the family Alcohol car, and it is not inconceivable he could join his father in the list of Australia’s best ever racers in the future.
While some will not agree with #2 through #10 in John Doig’s all-time Australian drag racers list, it’s very difficult to argue #1. Click here to see who is the top runner – https://t.co/Q2Hmyo6tyr pic.twitter.com/Pe4h27TEvO
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) May 15, 2020