Rising NHRA Top Fuel star, Ashley Sanford, will return to Australia to drive for Rapisarda Autosport International at Willowbank Raceway on January 6.

23-year-old Sanford last raced for RAI at the opening round of the 400 Thunder series at Sydney Dragway in November, finishing in 6th spot.

“To be invited back to race for Santo and his family team is a great Christmas present,” said Sanford. “I’m so excited. I know that Santo usually runs three cars in Australia and there are a lot of drivers here in America who would jump at the opportunity to drive for the team in Australia. After driving for Santo in November it was a dream that one day I would be invited back. When the phone rang last week and I saw it was Santo calling I took a big breath and crossed my fingers. It was the perfect Christmas present and can’t tell you how thrilled I am to be returning to Australia.”

Sanford will be joined by RAI team-mates, series leader Damien Harris and reigning 400 Thunder Top Fuel champ Wayne Newby, fresh from a successful NHRA campaign in November.

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“Sydney didn’t quite turn out the way I would have hoped. We lost a run due to the weather and I drew my team-mate Damien Harris in first round. One of the lessons I learnt was this team is all about family and having fun and to see two Rapisarda Autosport International cars racing each in the final was awesome.

I’m really looking forward to working with Santino and Santo Junior. We are all around the same age and get on really well. The boys really know how to tune a car, are fun and great company.

I want to win in Queensland, but, I’m also a team player and understand that what is more important is seeing a Rapisarda Autosport International car win the meet – whether that’s Damien, Wayne or myself.

Being able to run three cars is an amazing feat and up there with the best in America. There are probably only four teams in the world of Top Fuel that have the capacity and resources – Don Schumacher, John Force, Connie Kalitta and Santo Rapisarda”.

Or as I will call him when I ring on December 25 “Santa” Rapisarda”.