Photography Courtesy of Dina Parise and FSC
When it comes to making dreams a reality, so many don’t ever push themselves out of their comfort zones, and unfortunately miss out on what could have been as a result. For the few that are willing to go for it, the reward can be well worth the risk. The 2015 IHRA Pro Mod World Champion and beloved darling of drag racing, Dina Parise, has proven that time and time again.
Growing up on Long Island, Parise had always been a fan of racing. With three brothers to look up to, and a robust racing community in the area, she often found herself parked in front of the TV watching Formula 1 and NASCAR.
“I loved it, but the only time I watched drag racing was when it was on Wide World of Sports,” Parise admitted ironically, as that motorsport is what ultimately wound up calling her name. Although she liked the idea of driving, she knew that long-format motorsports just weren’t her thing. “I never wanted to sit in a car that long. I want to pee and have a snack after a hundred miles!” she added, laughing.
She didn’t get her childhood start in a junior dragster, though. Instead, Parise’s non-racing family got her started ice skating when she was about 5 years old. Her father would spray their side yard with water in the winter so she could skate at home, and she spent countless hours at the local ice rink in the early mornings.
As Parise got older, she used her passion for her hobby to turn it into a career when she made her dreams come true and joined the Ice Capades.
“I was a hairdresser right out of high school, then started skating in the ice show when I was 22,” recalled Parise, who at just 5-feet-tall tall, had to lie (as per the recommendation of the audition selection staff) on her application about her height in order to make the cut. She stayed with the group for four years, then went back home to hairdressing.
It wasn’t until Parise met her husband, Andrew Parise, in the late ‘90s that she was able to get started on chasing her other dream—racing.
“He started out street racing, because that’s what you did in New York in the ‘80s,” she explained of her husband’s history. “Then he graduated, and after he watched someone get killed, he went to the track and never went back.”
Before the two were married, Andrew built a supercharged Super Gas ’67 Camaro and went to the Super Chevy Show at Maple Grove Raceway in Pennsylvania in the early ‘00s.
“He was with his friend and crew chief, and he went down the track and got close to the wall and it was this crazy thing. I loved the fans, the people, everything—it was the first time I had been to a live drag race, the first time I had been on the line, and I fell in love with the sport,” Parise excitedly recounted of the pivotal weekend. “The following year, I went to Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School and the rest is history!”
Parise never looked back after her stint at Frank Hawley’s, and stands firm that it was the best decision she ever made—other than marrying her husband, of course. She started driving the ’67, and soon Andrew built a supercharged Pro Mod ’53 Corvette.
“Then, Andrew surprised me with a Camaro body and said ‘this is for you, you’re going Top Sportsman racing!’ and I said ‘well, I kinda want to go Pro Mod racing…’ after he called me an a**hole for five minutes, my brother Charlie bought the body off him and they worked together to restore it,” laughed Parise, whose fiery, feisty personality always keeps things interesting.
Wanting to keep his amazing wife happy, Andrew caved and the two set out to build a split-window Pro Mod ’63 Corvette instead. Tim McAmis Race Cars handled the chassis work, and the couple fielded their pair of Pro Mods in the late ‘00s. Racing on the NHRA circuit, the two hit up many events over the years but one thing never changed—Parise preferred to leave off a clutch.
“We were the odd man out for running a Bruno with a Lenco three-speed when everyone else was running a clutch,” she noted. “If you ran a converter, you had to leave off a clutch pedal and no auto shift was allowed. I still run my combination the same way to this day.”
In 2014, Rob Matheis of Matheis Race Cars (who now works with Larry Jeffers Race Cars) got in touch with Parise.
“We weren’t in the market for a new car at all, but he said they had a new CTS-V body coming out and couldn’t see anyone else driving it,” shared Parise, because nothing is more perfect than an Italian girl from New York driving a 3,000+ horsepower Cadillac. To make the idea a reality, they relinquished ownership of her ’63, Andrew sold his ’53 as well, and plans were drawn up for the new Pro Mod build.
Once approved, the build progressed rather quickly. The old engine from Andrew’s car, a 526ci Hemi, was installed and Beale Racing Engines was contracted to handle later maintenance and refreshes.
“We’ve always run superchargers since day one. Not that we think anything else is bad, it’s just our power adder of choice,” Parise professed of why a blower was bolted on once again. Huffing VP Fuels methanol out through its zoomies, the blown Hemi also pushes power through Parise’s tried-and-true Bruno/Lenco combination with a Neal Chance converter.
Parise’s carbon fiber-clad Pro Mod 2013 Cadillac CTS-V mixes luxury with brute power, and is the perfect counterpart to the “Show Girl” and “Spicy Meatball” behind the wheel. Named in honor of her grandmother, Stella, the car has followed suit in its namesake’s honor for being a hot redhead.
Testing began in late 2014, and the new car made its grand debut in the 2015 season. Parise campaigned it throughout the year in the IHRA Pro Mod category, and it was a pretty wild few months for the bunch.
Parise qualified at her first IHRA Pro Mod race with the car in April at Florida’s Bradenton Motorsports Park, but didn’t get past the first round of eliminations as the team was busy shaking down the new ride. Things got better, though, and by August, Parise had moved into the lead for the 2015 season points championship.
“We were racing Steve Matusek at US 131 Motorsports Park and dumped the car in the sand,” Parise shared of the mild mishap that left the car a little scraped up, but no worse for wear.
Not one to let a little thing like that slow her down, Parise came right back and wound up winning the championship while racing at the IHRA World Final at Memphis International Raceway in Tennessee during a pedal fest against Robert Patrick in the first round of eliminations. Achieving such a major milestone should have been a cause for celebration, but the feat wound up taking a gut-wrenching turn.
Parise was beyond excited to tell her former skating coach, Lee Meadows, about her big victory.
“Lee was the guy that made me the competitor that I am today, and helped me get my edge. I was so excited about this amazing accomplishment, but when I went to message him, I found out that he had died suddenly the night before…” shared Parise, heartbroken that her respected, beloved mentor would never get to share in her success. “He always said ‘just be you.’ Life is short, why not? So, we started having the guys wear light-up tutus on the line, because, well, every once in a while, you just gotta have some fun and wear a tutu.”
After the championship, it seemed like the future would hold more success for the unstoppable, energetic woman—but that was not the case.
“It was like we went from hero to zero. The last two years have been a struggle,” admitted Parise, who has had to work through a myriad of issues with her Cadillac. Racing in the NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod category, she hasn’t made it through to the Aerospace Components Winner’s Circle just yet, but is well on her way and her intense dedication, diehard attitude, and incredible perseverance ensures it’s only a matter of time before she makes it happen. “We’re hoping we’ve gotten it all taken care of now. We’ve done a lot of testing, maintenance, and research and have figured out where a lot of the issues were coming from.”
Spearheaded by her husband, Andrew, and working with long-time crew member Dave Jordan, and other crew men Charlie Saccoccio and Butch Branzelle, the task of pushing through the challenges was one that the small team is hoping pays off big on their return to NMCA VP Racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod in 2018.
“Andrew does a lot of the work on his own, for many reasons. He likes to handle things himself so he knows what and why things are happening,” added Parise of her husband’s commitment. “We can’t wait to get back to NMCA because we really like how they run their events, prep the track, focus on safety, and treat their racers. Plus, the livestream is cool and great for our sponsors!”
Over the years, Parise has worked with a number of high-profile sponsors, including NGK, EndoTech, Lucas Oil, DJ Safety, CRC Industries, Wiseco Products, Crank It Media, SpeedWire, Hoosier, and Browell.
“We’ve been fortunate to have great marketing partners. We do our best to work hard and keep their visibility high, even if performance is down,” mentioned Parise, who also handles all of the marketing and public relations for her team.
She loves to post videos from events and races, and often takes the time to show her fans the behind the scenes details of what goes on, all while explaining things to try and educate and involve her audience.
A noted public speaker and inspirational mentor, Parise often participates in seminars and talks designed to help others further their own efforts. While attending the 2017 Performance Racing Industry trade show in December in Indianapolis, Indiana, Parise was invited to participate on a panel of guest speakers (including IndyCar driver Pippa Mann and jet dragster team owner Elaine Larsen of Larsen Motorsports) at the second-ever “Opportunities for Women in Motorsports” seminar, and she shared lots of great advice, as well as marketing tips and insights, with the crowd.
Parise is also heavily involved with outreach and charity programs, especially when it comes to giving back to the military. She also took it upon herself to raise money to benefit the family of Daphne Reynolds, BangShift.com creator Chad Reynold’s wife, after she passed away from cancer, as well as to support her friend Beth Percante’s fight against ovarian cancer.
“We’re blessed to be able to do what we do, and believe a foundation for giving back is the best way to go,” Parise stated gratefully.
Similarly, supporting animal welfare is also a cause that’s near and dear to Parise’s generous heart. After losing her precious pup, Pickles, to a rare parasite, she founded “The Pickles Project,” a website dedicated to providing information to help pet owners keep their fur babies happy and healthy.
Years after having traded her skates for tires and her sequins for a fire suit, Parise was able to find a lot of parallels between her two sports, not just with the level of competitiveness.
“With the ice show, we would go from venue to venue with our team and see a lot of the same people. The fans would come to the back door to get autographs, just like they do in the pit area, and we would put on a show just like we do with racing,” Parise detailed of the parallels. “Drag racing is basically the same, just minus the false lashes and red lipstick!” (Editor’s note: there’s actually a lipstick holder built in to the shifter of Parise’s Pro Mod.) She’s brought a new breed of fan to the sport, as her friends from her former days as a professional skater are now actively interested in drag racing and follow her progress with exuberance.
Many often warn that business shouldn’t be mixed with pleasure, but Parise and her husband of 20+ years have something truly special that works. They make blending racing and marriage seem effortless, and although they do bicker from time to time, it’s all done with affection and they are quick to laugh about it after.
“We try not to argue in front of the fans, but sometimes we get heated. I love the man, but he can be a pain in the ass,” joked Parise, whose humor is laced with love. Andrew has assumed the nicknamed of “TOG,” which stands for “The Other Guy,” as when the couple raced together, many fans were so enamored by Parise that they didn’t even realize he raced, too. “He really is the world’s best husband, though, and I absolutely couldn’t do this without him. His support means the world to me, and I couldn’t ask for a better support system and partner to go through life with.”
Now, after having firmly established herself as a powerful force within the automotive community thanks to her tireless efforts to be a winner both on the track and off, Parise’s seeing her hard work come to life. The “Spicy Meatball” has become a role model, and a well-respected part of the community. Her flair for sarcasm and smartassery is always coupled with a genuinely warm smile, and her infectious positivity means her pit area is always full of fun and shenanigans. No matter what equipment she’s sporting, or what spotlight she’s under, Parise shines like the star she was born to be.
Owner: Dina and Andrew Parise
Driver: Dina Parise
Hometown: Currently Atlanta, GA (But always NYers!)
Occupation: Pro Mod Driving, Meatball Makin’ Showgirl
Class: VP racing Fuels Xtreme Pro Mod
Crew: Andrew Parise
Engine builder: Beal Racing Engines
Displacement: 526 ci
Block: Brad Anderson
Cam type: Comp Cams
Power-adder: Kobelco blower, no sissy stuff
Ignition: MSD Pro Mag 44
Fuel brand and type: VP Fuels Methanol
Headers and exhaust: Custom zoomies
Transmission: Lenco CS1/Bruno
Transmission Builder: Lenco
Clutch/shifter/torque converter: Converter/Neil Chance (leaving off a Clutch pedal. Only buttons in the car are used to shift with.)
Body and/or chassis builder: Matheis Race Cars
Suspension (Front): Strange struts
Suspension (Rear): Four-link with Santhuff shocks
Rear End: Matheis Race Cars housing with US Gear
Brakes (Front): Strange Engineering disc
Brakes (Rear): Strange Engineering disc
Wheels (front): Weld V-Series spindle-mount front runners
Wheels (Rear): Weld V-Series beadlocks
Tires (Front): Hoosier 25.0×5.0x15
Tires (Rear): Hoosier
Aftermarket body modifications: Only a bit of Duct Tape when she went in the sand at US 131 in 2015! LOL!
Safety equipment: DJ Safety
Vehicle weight: Wouldn’t you want to know (Would that be before or after my PB & J sammich?)
Quickest et: Not quick enough… To be continued…
Best 60-foot: 0.969