Niosi, an energetic go-getter who doesn't take no for an answer, exudes the drive you'd expect of a high-powered New York City attorney who litigates high-dollar securities cases. What comes as a surprise is her Italianate passion for motorsports. As a child, she attended autocrosses, gymkhanas, and club races with her parents, who were stalwart members of the SCCA. Five years ago, when her daughters left the nest, she formed Scuderia Niosi to indulge her interest in the business of racing, most notably lining up sponsorships for drivers. The Molise connection was forged last year, when a genealogist discovered that Niosi's paternal grandfather had emigrated from the small town of Ripalimosani. Niosi and her father, John Granito, dutifully made a pilgrimage to Molise, where they fell in love with the region and its people. After returning to the States, Niosi - who answers to Ruthann in the States but is known in Italy as Raffaella - created the Molise Foundation and embarked on an ambitious program to spark economic development. Encouraging tourism was one of the top items on the agenda. Unfortunately, despite Molise's picturesque terrain, it contains none of the cultural attractions that draw tourists to Tuscany and Umbria. So Niosi decided to promote an event that would appeal to American enthusiasts who were looking for something more exotic than another track day on U.S. soil.
"Tom is my bellwether," Niosi says of Park, a twenty-eight-year-old entrepreneur who's already amassed a bunch of high-horsepower track-day experience on circuits ranging from Road Atlanta to the Nordschleife. "If he goes home with an ear-to-ear grin on his face, then I'm going to put together a package for Americans. They'll get a race car, insurance, FIA license, uniform, hotel, and transportation, and they can tack the rally onto a Monza F1 vacation. I think there are a lot of people who'd be interested. And the more Americans who come, the more American sponsors we can get."
In March, Niosi started exchanging the first of dozens of phone calls and thousands of e-mails with race officials in Molise. The Italians offered to stage an elaborate road race for a fee of 235,000 (about $350,000). "If I had a quarter of a million euros," Niosi said, "I'd just give it to the Foundation!" The next suggestion was a low-speed rally for historic cars, but Niosi didn't think this would fly with thrill-seeking Americans. Finally, in May, she hopped on a plane and met in Ripalimosani with the regional delegate to the Commissione Sportiva Automobilistica Italiana, Saverio Riccardi. "She was a volcano," he recalls. "We were a bit afraid of her. But we respected her passion. And Raffaella is very persistent."