Rain, Rain, Rain.
Rain, Rain, Rain.
Since I was riding with Ben & Leanne, I got up extra early to get ready, get Spike (my dog) to the boarder’s, and get over to Ben’s house by 8am. I was so excited, I showed up around 7:30, hyper and pumped to get going.
We pulled out of Grant around 9am and started our 10 hour journey to Gainesville. I got the back seat, which meant I had plenty of room to stretch out for a nap. Between packing and the company event I went to the night before, I didn’t get into bed until after midnight, and had to get up extra early to finish off packing. Ben handled driving duty all the way until Gainesville.
We arrived at the hotel around 5:00pm in Gainesville. Leanne and I got changed to head over to the Ale House. The Ale House is always the unofficial hangout for drivers and crew since it is right across the street from the hotels that most all the teams stay with. We got there around 6pm to make sure we got seats, and waited for everyone else to show up.
Since I grew up in Orlando, the Gator Nationals have always felt like my “home” national event. The last couple of years, I use the event to meet up with and spend time with old high school friends, and my family. My sister, Melanie, has a birthday in March like mine, so I treat her to the event for her birthday. Frankie, Tommy, and Mikey are all my high school buds that love NHRA just as much as I do, so they were pumped to come up as well.
Around 9pm, the place got packed quickly, and with 5 dollar buckets of beer, our table had a blast. There were plenty of drivers and teams hanging around, and if you didn’t make it, you really missed out. Just a few that we saw during the evening: Dave Connolley, Morgan Lucas, Ashley Force, Del Worsham, JR Todd, and several others.
Not wanting to ruin my Friday, I decided to call it a night early around 12:30am. Its off to the track for a good wake up whiff of NITRO!
Its campfire story time, so I thought I’d share one of my more comical stories from my past.
**Names/Locations may have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.**
I built my first project car, a 1992 LX Coupe that was once a FL highway trooper car from the ground up. Took it down to the metal, rebuilt a short block, and rounded up old odds and ends parts from across the shop to assemble it. Stuck a single turbo on the thing, and made it the ultimate street sleeper. The car had dark tint, no rollbar, and stock wheels with Nitto radials on back. An automatic and quiet as can be, it was completely unassuming. I built it with the intention of smoking Z06 Corvettes of that day… they loved to play from a roll.
One weekend, I got bored as I traveled out of Orlando for the weekend, and decided to check out the local race scene in another town. I pulled up for their midnight drag at the track (street racing style grudge night) and got out of my car in my heeled sandals and mini-skirt, to the curious stare of the local crowd. After a few minutes on the fence, I walked up and introduced myself. Well, that’s only half-true. I walked up and in a sugar-sweet voice, proceeded to put on an Emmy Winning performance.
[Me]: “Hi, guys!”
[Local Track Guy]: “Uhh, hi.”
[Me]: “I’m a little new here, but ever since I saw that movie on TV, you know… the Fast and the Furious, I wanted to try this. My boyfriend’s out of town, and I’m out playing with his car tonight. What do I have to do to race like that here?”
[Local Track Guy]: “Well, uhh, do you even know how to drag race? I mean, have you done it before?”
[Me]: long pause. “Well, no…. but I saw it on TV and want to learn. What do I need to do?”
[Local Track Guy]: “Forget whatever you saw on TV. That’s not drag racing.”
[Me]: “Oh, really? So you don’t race for money and stuff here? What do you do then?”
[Local Track Guy]: Grins. “Weeelll, we DO still race for money, so you probably don’t want to try that right now seeing how you’ve never done it.”
[Me]: “Oh, that’s okay. How much does it cost and how does it work?”
The local track guy proceeds to tell me all about arranged “grudge” matches and how they pair two cars together for money, and race for the winnings. Sometimes, they negotiate for head starts they call “spotting a car length”, or they get to leave first, which they refer to as getting the “hit”. After carefully nodding during his explanations, I set in for the kill:
[Me]: “So who wants to race me, then?”
[Local Track Guy]: “What does that thing have done to it? Is it stock?”
[Me]: “I don’t know. Its my boyfriend’s car. Its pretty old, so I guess so.”
(Local track guys talk among themselves for a minute before one steps out)
[Camaro Boy]: “I’ll take your money… err…I mean, I’ll race you.”
[Me]: “Well, since its my first time, how much of a head start are you going to give me? I am just a girl trying to learn, you know.”
[Camaro Boy]: laughing cockily. “Pffft, I’ll give you a car and the hit.”.
So I lined up with a blue Ls1 Camaro, who proceeded to give me my 2 car spot and the head start. I was supposed to nod when I was ready, and then as soon as he nodded he was set, I could leave whenever I wanted. After a very good show of “barely being able to do a burnout”, I gave the signal and looked back for the nod. No sooner than I get it, and with my door still partially open (I can’t see out with windows tinted black), did I roll into the throttle. I left pretty good on him, so I didn’t ever really need to go to the floor with it. I kept the win to a few car lengths at the stripe, and proceeded to round the return to claim my cash.
My Camaro buddy was complaining he wasn’t ready (then why did you nod, fool?) and wanted to re-run, but using the starter and not getting any head start. By now, they were wondering what this muffled, quiet little car was capable of doing. It left quicker than expected, and didn’t sound stock. Surely this sleeper with an automatic wasn’t THAT fast??
We lined up again, this time straight heads up. I cleaned off the tires, and staged up. I had been leaving at idle so they didn’t hear the turbo too much before, though I think they had figured it out by now. So I tried to bring it up a little and took off. Admittedly, I was a bit late on this run, so I had to run her out a bit to chase him down, but ultimately, I had passed him at the stripe with a little change to spare.
Again, I return to claim my cash, met with lots of commotion and some real hard attempts to peek inside the car. It was getting late, and these guys were all stirred up. But before they’d let me leave, they wanted a Rd. 3 with a different car, double or nothing. This time its with a whistling fox body mustang that I know at least has a blower on it with exhaust and the rest of the goodies. I agree to line up, knowing I’d have to run it this time. I mean, I’m there to have fun, right???
We leave, and spin pretty good off the launch, which actually worries me for a few seconds. But I start to reel the mustang back in, and was able to pass him pretty good before the finish. Knowing I was done for the night, I stayed in it hard and actually ended up with a sizeable lead at the stripe.
I come around to collect my cash.
[Me]: “This is FUN!!!!!” Snatches money. “I didn’t know it’d be this easy! Thanks guys, but I gotta get going!”
(dumbfounded crowd starts asking to see the engine)
[Mustang Guy]: “You passed me like I was sitting still. I was doing 110 mph! Pop the hood on that thing.”
Smiling, I walk over and pop the hood. The guy lifts the hood up and gasps at the turbo, intake and all the other toys. The crowd starts complaining and asking if my boyfriend knew I was driving the car. I just started smiling and laughing, when I hear a guy walking up yelling from the back.
[Guy in Crowd]: “Man, don’t ya’ll know who that chick is? She drives a damn 8 second drag radial car. “
The crowd starts yelling, some laughing and others visibly pissed off. They start telling me to get the heck out of there, that I was one sneeky little bugger. (putting it nicely)
By this point, I am quickly closing my hood. My work there was done, and $200 to the good, it was time for me to go!!!
After a rough Friday, my good friend TJ from T.A.R.E Racing stopped in and picked me up on his way to the NHRA Bristol race. (Really what this meant was he stopped in around 10:30pm, and proceeded to fall asleep while I drove the 4 hours to Bristol,hahaha… but I’m grateful for the ride!) We arrived at the track around 3:30am, and by 7am I was up and awake, and only a little groggy. I absolutely LOVE NHRA races, its my goal to be racing there in the next 2 years. I don’t know if its seeing all the people that you follow on TV every race weekend, or just being in the midst of all that horsepower and seeing how the professionals run their operations, but I can’t absorb enough from NHRA National events. Bristol is also my all-time favorite track, so attending this race made me very happy. Thunder Valley is something every drag racer or fan should experience in their lifetime… its absolutely beautiful and the people are super friendly.
I did learn of some disappointing news while there… I had actually interviewed with Don Schumacher at the Atlanta race back in April to drive the MOPAR/OAKLEY Funny Car after Gary Scelzi retires at the end of ’07. I knew that it was an absolute long shot, but having the opportunity to speak with Don Schumacher and even be remotely considered for this type of opportunity is HUGE to me. Unfortunately, one of the OAKLEY reps this weekend broke the news to me that the field has been narrowed down now, and I am not in contention anymore. I’m sad, but I know that if I keep working, that another opportunity will come.
I think the answer that most people would expect is that I was daddy’s little tomboy that probably grew up at the drag strip along side my father, or brother, or uncle or some other relative. But that’s not what happened.
Truth is, my parents could hardly change a tire. They were a conservative, military family that based their automotive decisions on practicality and reliability, not on prowess and horsepower. So where exactly did I pick up this obsession with all things automotive? The honest answer is: I have no clue.
My earliest car memories started when I was about 7 years old. I remember sitting in the back seat of the painfully practical Chrysler K car, counting out loud whenever I passed a Corvette. (I can’t believe I just admitted that out loud… I was young and didn’t know any better) I remember Mami asking me what I was counting, and my answer was Corvettes. There was a look of complete bewilderment on her face, A) that I even knew what a Corvette looked like, and B) that I would be spending my time counting them on the highway. Although she had no clue what sparked my interest in a Corvette to begin with, I do remember getting a small RC replica of a little Gold Corvette for Christmas that year.
My next memory of automotive influence came at the expense of Mami’s lead-footed driving style. By now, the “yellow lemon” as I endearingly referred to our K-car, had been traded in for a 1988 Pontiac Grand-Am. I was at the dealership when they bought the car, listening to the sales person intently as he boasted about the QUAD-4 engine, and other features. Mami was more concerned with the color combos available, Papi was trying to keep the cost down and ensure that the warranty was fully protective. I was impressed and raving about the E.F.I. and QUAD-4 engine, even though I had no clue what that meant. What I did learn when Mami was driving and Papi wasn’t around, was that the car was much more powerful than the old lemon. And believe me, Mami quickly developed the reputation of having a lead-foot, mainly because I was quick to brag on her fast driving… something she referred to as “tattling”.
I believe if given the opportunity, Mami would’ve made a great stunt driver. Best example: I was sick from Asthma on a drive home from my uncle’s gym. There was a large hump in the road crossing a major intersection in my hometown. The speed limit, I believe was 30 mph. All I can say, is that Bo & Luke have NOTHING on Mami. We hit that thing doing 70 mph and were completely airborne for a moment. I might’ve been sick, but that was still a rush…
By the time I hit high school, I had come to my senses, and developed a love for Mustangs. That was around the time that the SN-95 retro-look mustang was introduced, and I really thought they were sexy. A kid in my class drove up in a yellow Boss adorned Mustang on his 16th birthday. I just was in awe of that car. It sounded mean, it looked great, and I definitely was envious. A friend of mine ended up with a V6 version of that car, and I managed to con him into letting me drive it one night after a volleyball game. I pulled out of the Taco Bell parking lot, and laid into the throttle. Ryan grabbed every “Oh Crap” handle in the car, and with a nervous laugh asked me to take it easy. Its funny looking back, because I didn’t know it then, but that was the first time driver’s instinct kicked in for me.
My first knowledge of drag racing came courtesy of my first love… Jason’s family was more of the traditional motorsports variety. Father and sons out at the drag strip every weekend. He grew up in it, and frequented the track with his father and older brother, who raced. I remember him telling me one Friday night that he was going to the racetrack. I asked if I could go too, and he turned me down. I think he thought that I just wanted to tag along as an annoying girlfriend and had no real interest in the sport. It’s ironic that I would see his brother and father again, a few years down the road pulling my own racecar into the staging lanes. He never said anything about it… but I secretly gloated in a “So there” moment at that meeting. And I also secretly reveled in the fact that my little “street car” eventually became faster than their racecar. But who’s keeping score, right?
Back to my own first experience… after graduating high school, I acted on my newfound adulthood freedoms, I bought my first car. It was a 1990 Mustang GT 5.0. By now, I had begun dating a fellow enthusiast (looking back, the only good thing about him was his car…. I’m a sucker for notchbacks) and he had a handful of Mustang driving friends. We formed a little car club… “Horsing Around”… I know, can we say “Cheesy”?!? Our first trip to the drag strip was in August of 1998. Dave, Chris, Aaron and I all were first-timers at the strip, and not being much of a spectator, I pulled my car in line in the staging lanes for street car drags. After some brief pointers from some young guy in a tricked out Supra, I bypassed the water box and staged the car for the first time. 15.8 seconds of idle-leaving, granny shifting later… I crossed the quarter mile finish line at a breakneck 91mph. I was hooked.
From there, the rest is history. But I still have that original time slip… my very first time down the ¼ mile.
What was YOUR first racing experience like?
Erica Ortiz from Horsepower & Heels Racing, takes on Chuck Samuels in Round 1 of Pro 5.0 eliminations at the 2006 Fun Ford Weekend Thunder Valley Nationals in Bristol, TN. Erica leaves first, but is out-powered by Samuels who takes the win. Ortiz runs a career-best ET of 6.85 @ 207 mph to Samuels’ 6.57 @ 216 mph.
Watch the video from the Round 1 match-up below.
Erica works with Mark Daffin of MD Photostudios on a photo shoot for an upcoming promo card.[imagebrowser id=14]
Photo Credit: Mark Daffin, MD Photostudios
I finally get my car running, get it out to the track, excited as all get out to test again this weekend, and hopefully be the first turbo car to try and qualify for a Dixie Pro Mod race this Sunday in Phenix City. But NOOOO. Mom Nature has other plans.
Today, the weather is beautiful. Sunny, temperatures in the mid 50’s, no wind. A little on the cool side for my FL Native heritage, but not bad testing weather at all. But NOOOOOO, that would be too much to ask for. Instead, mother nature has decided to blow in a super cold front, which is expected to drop temperatures to the low 20’s overnight and bring possibility of a snow flurry on Saturday. Yep, SNOW. It is NOT supposed to snow in GA! And because it wasn’t enough to ruin my chances for Saturday, but Sunday the temperatures don’t show signs of improvement at all either. GRRRR!
What is the forecast for Monday you say? Hmmpfff. Exactly what you would expect… Sunny & beautiful, high in the 50’s. A dollar short again….
Oh well. Next weekend is the ADRL Winter Drags in Valdosta, GA at South Georgia Motorsports Park. I’m mainly using it for some test time and to try for my license. I don’t think I stand a chance yet against those 4.07 & under n2O promods, but it’ll still be cool to be racing along side them.
Now where did I put my Parka?
Its hard to remember back to the beginning, back to your very first drag racing experience. Some of us were lucky enough to call the drag strip home all our lives, having family whose involvement in racing was passed along to the next generation of racers. Others came across it on their own terms, through car clubs, magazines, or simply by accident. No matter what brought you to your first racetrack, one common result ensues for all: Its only a matter of time before you’re hooked.
This past weekend, I was refreshingly reminded of what the first time at the drag races feels like. My best friend since elementary school, Heather Sinks, made the trip down to Richmond FFW from her home in D.C. to spend the weekend at the races with me. Having never been to a drag race before, Heather had no clue what to expect. While most of us experience our first race from the safety of the stands, her first experience placed her in the thick of things, along side the crew of a Pro 5.0 entry. After all my years of involvement in racing with Fun Ford Weekend, I tend to take for granted how foreign it all seemed in the beginning. Which is why Heather’s first experience brought me back to the early days and the rosy colored glasses. Here are some of the best anecdotes from Heather’s weekend:
“Why do the fast cars need training wheels?”
That’s right, training wheels. Or what us seasoned veterans refer to as Wheelie Bars. Although, quite honestly a set of training wheels for some drivers would not necessarily be a bad thing either.
“The back tires are bald. Why don’t they have any tread?”
Valid point. In daily driving, bald tires are a bad, bad thing. Which makes it all the more complicated to explain why slicks help get the car to hook and NOT spin, and why drag radials (with treads) are the hardest tire to master and not spin to smoke. On the road, bald tires will make travels a slippery experience. But not at the drag strip…
“Why do they sit there and make the cars smoke?”
Ahh, the smoke. And the people who sit there and willfully inhale it. Drag Racing is one of the few locations where second hand smoke is the most desired experience second only to the first-hand inhale of your own tire smoke. Yes, burnout smoke, which incidentally most of us probably have amassed enough rubber particles in our lungs to have our own Mickey Thompson slick bouncing around, is a drag racing anomaly that the ‘normal’ folks don’t quite understand.
“Why are the front tires so much smaller than the rear?”
Well, besides the fact that they are kinda funny looking that way, I can see why that would be a source of wonder. They tell you not to drive a spare donut tire faster than 55 mph or risk serious injury, and drag racers willfully strap two on the front of a 200 mph car? What’s up with that?
“What are those bags on the back of the car?”
Those neatly (or NOT) packed bags are parachutes.
“Parachutes? Like the ones you don’t want to use on a plane?”
Exactly. Only these help stop the car.
“Don’t they have brakes?”
Well, yes. But these help stop faster than brakes alone when cars are going faster than 150 mph.
“Why do the faster cars get pulled to the starting line, why can’t they drive up?”
That’s a good question, I mean one would think that such an expensive car should at least be able to make a trip around the block. I guess that brings the term fuel economical to the next level.
“These things cost HOW MUCH?!?!”
No explanation needed. And no, you’ll never win enough to pay for them.
“Do these run on gas like regular cars do?”
Well yes, sort of. Not exactly the regular unleaded you find at your local Exxon, and theres a whole lot more than a “tiger” in your tank. You complain that gas is too expensive at the pump these days?… try $15 a GALLON and you have to pump it out of a drum, carry it to the car and pour it in manually! That takes Self-Serve to a new level.
“What is that hissing sound and that air they spray out on the windshield?”
What, a nitrous purge? That means they need a big weight break and are about to burn up a piston trying to keep up with a turbo car. [kidding] No, seriously, its something they spray into the motor to make it go faster.
“Isn’t that cheating?”
[Wise beyond her years, isn’t she?] No, not always, but most of the ones that are, you probably aren’t going to catch. -AND- just to be sure and careful (because nowadays you can never be too sure), contrary to what you may have seen on TV or in Hollywood, its called Nitrous NOT NAAAAWWSS.
“Why do they have to wear gloves and that funky outfit?”
Unfortunately, you’d think that today’s fashion forward world would have an answer to fashionable safety wear. Really, the unglamourous truth is they don’t want to be burned, so instead they slow cook in a 5 layer driving suit and an unair-conditioned crock pot. Hello, VERSACE?!? Please make us over! And why can’t they use that Dri-fit technology for a meaningful purpose!
“What are all the fans and the leaf blower for?”
Well, to help cool the ‘crock pot’ back down.
“Are you going back up there right away?”
No, we have about 2-3 hours between rounds.
“So all this for a car that runs for 6 seconds and then gets shut off and towed back?”
[long pause] Well, yea. That’s pretty much it.
By Saturday night, Heather’s outlook had already changed towards drag racing. She started off only knowing that she drove a mustang, and nothing else. But like so many others, the smoke was addicting, and she was already hooked. A few Saturday night Pit Party beverages later, she was telling everyone she wanted to jump in there and “smoke” her own tires….
A quick photoshoot at Phenix Motorsports Park with the new Thunderbird Chassis.[imagebrowser id=19]