Tommy D’Aprile Gets Set for PDRA Return with New Perspective
PITTSBORO, NC – For seven years Tommy D’Aprile was the hired gun for Mel Bush Motorsports. When a turn of events sidelined D’Aprile early this year, he quickly turned what could have been viewed as a sour situation into a positive, character-building opportunity.
“You know how racing is: here today and gone tomorrow,” D’Aprile told. “This was a faith-growing tool for me. The focus was not on what was taken away, but being thankful for all that I had. This wasn’t anything that was bad. This was a business decision for Mel to help him afford to run his racing program. Mel and I never had a falling out. I was discouraged and disappointed a bit, but that’s just normal.”
D’Aprile is fully immersed in the sport, not only as a driver, but also as a race chaplain with God Speed Ministry and columnist for Drag Illustrated. In both of these latter positions, D’Aprile has a large-scale opportunity to encourage people with keys to living a healthy, positive, abundant life.
“When I knew I wasn’t going to be out there driving, I had to make a decision,” D’Aprile continued. “My first thought was that I wasn’t going to go to any of the races, and, honestly, I couldn’t sleep. It didn’t feel right. The first race was coming up in Texas, and even though I didn’t want to spend the money I said, ‘I’m going to buy the plane ticket, get a rental car, get a hotel, and I’m going to go serve the Lord’. God told me in my heart, ‘If you’re there only for racing, that’s no good.’ It really couldn’t be about that. So I went to Texas. It rained and it was awful weather, cold. I remember getting out of the rental car, and I stepped in the biggest puddle there was and it was 48 degrees out all day. I’m freezing. Nowhere to go. Usually when you’re there with a team you have a trailer there. But this time I had nowhere to go. But I was there to serve. We had a great church service. I had the opportunity to go around and encourage people. When I would see the new Pro Extreme cars and start having I wish thoughts I would correct myself and say, ‘No, I don’t wish.’ So I killed all the wrong attitudes. And I said all the right things, like ‘I’m grateful to be here.’”
D’Aprile’s positive attitude and willingness to serve would soon see payoff. He goes on to tell the story: “It’s expensive to travel. Between the hotel, rental car and flight it’s $1000 no matter how you turn it. At the end of the church service in Texas the owners of the PDRA came up to me and said, ‘We feel led in our hearts to pay your expenses to be here. You’re here working for God Speed. It’s imperative that you be here.’ So right there I got confirmation that I’m where I need to be. I never asked them for that.
“I found a place away from the driver’s seat that was actually more important. I realized I’m not what I do. I’m here to serve. That was really a big turning point. I didn’t make Rockingham because I had my kids, but I did go to Louisiana and had an amazing race. The encouragement I got and the prayers I got to pray with people were just over the top. I chose to speak favor and not defeat. My prayer daily was, ‘Lord, you’re opening doors for me and you know the desire of my heart is to drive. I’ll be there when I’m supposed to be there. I’m not going to worry about this. I’m going to serve you.’ The whole thing is, I had to get over myself. Every time I wanted to get upset I said ‘no way’.”
D’Aprile revealed that other driving opportunities were in the works during this time, but none seemed to be the right fit for him. Even while Mel Bush Motorsports started preparing for the 2015 season with the new driver, Alex Hossler, D’Aprile continued to be an encouragement to the team, maintaining thankfulness for all that had been given to him over the years, rather than be frustrated by what was taken away.
“I always look at it this way, I have to practice what I preach. I have to wake up and say, you know what, today is going to be a good day. It’s not that adversity is not thrown at us, it’s about the choice that we make. I set an example to people. How can I write these things, preach these things, and then not live them out? Not only can I write and preach about these things, but I live my life as a witness. I choose to have a good attitude. I choose to love people when they’re unlovely. I choose to walk the walk, even when it’s not the easiest thing. Really it’s a choice. I either get full of myself or over myself, but I can’t do both. I try to let people really see that.”
D’Aprile has never been a man shy about his faith, and being sidelined has actually given him greater opportunity to reflect the values he holds and to exhibit to others the God he serves.
“God’s got good plans for me,” D’Aprile continued. “I speak these words. My next sermon is about the words we speak. The power of life and death is in the tongue. How do you speak about yourself? I’m favored. No weapon formed against me shall prosper. God’s knows what He has planned for me. He’s got my future. What a great day. I’m blessed. I’m walking in health. You say it, you believe it, it will happen. People are saying the wrong things time and time again. I want to be different and I’m choosing to, because God told me to. So when I get full of myself I have to get over myself and start moving.”
D’Aprile’s positive speaking and attitude continued to bring good things his way. After the PDRA Cajun Nationals, D’Aprile checked in with Mel Bush, as was his habit. The deal to have Alex Hossler drive for Bush Motorsports had fallen through and soon D’Aprile and Bush were a team once again, just in time for the team to join the 2015 race season with their recently completed Larry Jeffers C7 Corvette. D’Aprile is ready to jump back in with both feet.
“I’m going to the race car shop this Saturday. We are going to prep the car, go through it completely and get it ready. We’ll spend the weekend getting the car totally prepped. It will head out Tuesday morning and then we’ll be in St. Louis for a full day of testing on Thursday. We’ll take baby steps. There’s no pressure. We’re three races removed from the points, so we’re just going to go out there and see what we can do. We’re just going to have fun.
“Mel revamped his whole program. He bought a new transporter, new car, new motors, new equipment, new crew chief. I’m really looking forward to working with [crew chief] Brandon Snider. We have two wonderful guys, Kevin Fenstermaker and Chris Foster, who also work for Paul Smith’s Top Fuel Funny Car team, that will be back with us again this year. Kevin’s wife, Danielle, has also been a big part of the team. So it’s them, me, Mel, Joanne, and Brandon.
“Opportunities don’t come along very often. They’ve come along twice now with Mel and Joanne. People need to know that they have a passion for the sport. I truly want to see them excel in this sport. So whatever I can do to make that happen, I’m going to give it one hundred percent. When we win that first race, it’s going to be Mel and Joanne up front. I’ll take a seat to the back somewhere. I don’t need the recognition. It’s for them and the guys who work so hard. We have a good team put together and this team is going to be prayed over. We’re going to see what God does.”
With or without a ride, D’Aprile remains the same. He makes the best of every situation and never altered his friendships with Bush or Hossler. “I respect my friendships,” he said. “Respect is earned. It’s not given. I called and encouraged Alex when he got the job driving for Mel and when the job went back to me, he called and encouraged me. We’re both here to do what we love.
“No matter what life gives you, you can either be miserable or you can go out and wait for other opportunities to open up and just keep moving along and doing what you do. Circumstances can either destroy us or they can build us. The circumstances at the beginning of this year gave me a different perspective our of sport and allowed me to spend time with people that I wouldn’t have before and make some great relationships. I was also able to encourage Mel. I don’t know why things fell apart on the other end, but my job is to be a peacemaker and love people. It was just God’s timing.
D’Aprile’s love for the sport is as evident as his commitment to his faith, and for good reason. D’Aprile began racing before he could even drive on the street. Growing up at the track fostered his love for racing at a young age and it’s been a lifelong addiction ever since. “I was 14 when I started racing,” D’Aprile explained. “They didn’t have Junior Dragsters then. Before I could even drive a regular car, I was driving race cars, just sneaking in at the track. I was painting a mustache on, making myself look older, hiding behind my helmet. It was fun.”
The Florida native has come a long way since the days of painting on mustaches. He’s well-versed in the highs and lows of racing, having won national titles, endured a fiery crash and walked the road of joys and frustrations that are the learning blocks for all racers. Now he’s ready to come full circle with the opportunity to race with one of the sport’s most exciting professional classes in front of his hometown crowd.
“This is the first year we’re going to have a national event at my home track in Bradenton, Florida. That was the first thing I thought of when I wasn’t going to be driving. I was like, you gotta be kidding me, this is the first year we’re having a big event here, and I’m not even going to be driving. I quickly got over myself, but it’s really neat that I’ll be able to do that afterall.
“In a position where people look to someone because they drive a race car, you can use that tool to maybe change someone’s life with an encouraging word or a nice gesture. The image is worthless. The character is what people remember, and that’s what lasts forever.”
D’Aprile’s character is certainly to be commended. Few would have held the perspective and attitude that he exhibited when sidelined, but for him it was just another opportunity to grow in faith and build those things that, as he says, last forever.
“I did not sit around and go poor me. No way. I may have thought it a couple of times. I’m not going to lie, but I decided to keep moving. I kept doing what I’m doing and loving the sport. God’s got bigger plans. I had other opportunities that I was praying about, but they were so uncomfortable. They were big, too. But something didn’t feel right. Nothing worked out and I thought oh thank goodness. Then when this came back around, I knew it was the right thing. I have a new perspective from my time on the sidelines. When I go back with Mel and Joanne there are areas that I want to step it up in, too. I want to be a person of excellence. Not that I won’t make mistakes, but I want to represent God the way I should, and that has a lot to do with our attitudes, actions and behaviors. So here we go!”
No matter whether he’s hoisting a trophy, preaching a sermon, or watching from the sidelines, D’Aprile holds fast to his beliefs, honoring people over position and choosing to be grateful in all of life’s circumstances.
Catch D’Aprile’s return at the upcoming PDRA Mid-America Open, May 28-30 at Gateway Motorsports Park. Watch all the action online at www.motormaniatv.com.