Its Mother’s Day, and I thought I’d pay tribute to a different kind of mother…. the Mother of Drag Racing.
I’ve been seeing a lot of commentary on the subject of upper body strength and driving the nitro cars…. funny car especially. Seems that many question whether women, at a natural disadvantage in the upper body strength department with their male counterparts, are physically able to handle the demands of driving one of these “beasts”.
In fact, earlier last year, when I had my dream interview with Don Schumacher about the possibility of piloting the Oakley Funny Car, one of the questions he asked was did I think I’d be able to “man-handle” the “beast” down the track, and that it was something he found concerning about women driving in funny car. It threw me off, and it was a question that never driving one, I couldn’t guarantee the answer for, and coming from one of the most knowledgeable people in the industry, it rattled me. Sure, if desire could move mountains, I’d be able to steer one with my pinkie and my eyes closed, but would it be a real problem??
Being that I want to best prepare for any possible opportunities, I’ve beefed up my training regimine in the upper body section, just in case. But as an aspiring driver, its a question that I’d like to know the REAL answer to. There has been more than one woman to pilot a funny car, and none I would consider to be overly-built in that area of strength (re: none of them were amazons or anything like that). Yes, women do have less upper body strength than males by nature, but is it really a cause for concern as many imply, on their ability to control the cars at speed?
It was a question that was largely repeated last year for Ashley Force entering the Funny Car Gentleman’s club. She had risen from the Top Alcohol Dragster ranks, and stories circulated about her inability to get the car down the track. That talk increased after her incident in Seattle. But was this more a case of a learning rookie driver or a direct result of lacking upper body strength?
Though I have never spoken to Ashley, nor do I know anyone with inside answers to any of these questions as it pertains to her, I do think we saw some truth to the struggles she had on episode #5 of Driving Force as she was getting her license. But, as I mentioned in my comparison then, I took it more to be the differences between men and women in how we approach learning something different. Women are more cautious, and use our “feel” a little more. Men, just strap in, hold on, and go about it with a more wild abandon. Melanie further backed up my feelings on it in her recent interview. Get us used to it a little more gradually, let us learn what it is we are feeling, and we’re on even footing.
Perhaps Melanie Troxel will be the better indicator as the latest female to enter the funny car world. Melanie was already a respected driver in Top Fuel, and although she seems much smaller in person than her website lists her 5’9″ 129lbs. frame, she definitely would be comparable in size to your average woman. Its too early to judge her driving at once race into the season, but her initial comments seems to disprove the myth of upper body strength being a major hurdle.
“I’d say when you’re actually driving and going down the track it’s not something that enters my mind, I can’t actually sit there and think, ‘Wow I can’t. This is hard to do.” Troxel said.
It’s definitely harder but I don’t think it’s so much harder that somebody couldn’t overcome it if they wanted to do that you could pretty easily.”
Either way, I’m not taking any chances. I’ll continue to go through the extra motions of beefing-up-the-up-top and make it a non-issue.
Source: Competition Plus
I will be live on-air with the El Break morning show this Sunday, January 27th on Phoenix, AZ radio station 95.1 Latino Vibe.
The show is produced by a group of hipster college and high school students where they talk about latino culture, politics, entertainment, sexuality, education, and much more. It is the only show of its kind in the state and one of the only ones in the country. The show is a biligual mix– Spanglish: both English & Spanish, with my interview done in English (I’m a little rusty on mi espaÃ±ol).
They have big brown muscles, big brown mouths and big brown boobs. But most importantly, they have big brains and huge hearts. The hot, hipster crew from “El Break” is the best shot in the arm of political activism for the local Latino community since Chicanos por la Causa. This is a modern day crop of activistas who have their own rough-around-the edges/cutting-edge AM radio show on Sundays at 95.1 FM Latino Vibe. Luis Avila, Nuvia Enriquez, Laura Suarez, Obed Hurtado and others aren’t afraid to launch a hunger strike to support the DREAM Act one week, and then throw a blow-out rock en espaÃ±ol bash the next, with free-flowing spiked horchata. You can catch their show on Sundays.
The show will air from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM mountain time.
Visit the show’s myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/elbreak.
Don’t live in Phoenix? You can listen online.
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.**
This Flashback story takes us back to 2003…
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.
You see, I was “new” in town. The car? It was my “boyfriend’s”. He just happened to be out of town this particular weekend, and I had decided to take the car out for a “spin”.
[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!!!
The morale of this story…. objects may appear slower than they really are.
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?
Switching to new larger 88mm turbos before the race with no test time made it a tough learning curve for the weekend. Erica hauled the Horsepower & Heels Thunderbird from Alabama all the way to Topeka alone, as her normal crew were out testing a Pro Mod in Valdosta, GA.
Dennis Lugo flew in from Orlando to assist Erica over the weekend. The pair sorted through some tough timing issues before qualifying #4 with a 6.88 @ 203mph. That pass provided Erica’s best career 1/8th mile ET of a 4.44, but timing retard stayed on in high gear resulting in a less than average top half.
This paired Erica first round with David Schorr again. Though Erica took the advantage at the tree with a 0.032 to his 0.103 light, she lost traction down track and Schorr went around. Erica did move into the #2 position in the 2006 points championship entering the final race of the season in Ennis, TX.[imagebrowser id=9]
Photo Credits: Gabe Wittig
Yea, I know. There’s a big difference between a 1800 hp twin turbo doorslammer running 6 sec/200+ mph passes and a 7000 hp flopper running 4 sec/300+mph passes, but I’ve got to thank A&E and the Forces for showing what I suspect a vast majority of the women who dare navigate the 1/4 mile experience while learning to pilot these high powered “beasts” (to quote John). Let me reminisce…
I did not come from the racing pedigree that Ashley, Brittany, Courtney were born and raised in, in fact I hardly knew what drag racing was when I turned 16. My parents can hardly change a tire, and certainly were not race fans, but somehow I had a passion for speed and hot cars that would become more prominent as I graduated high school. So, when I purchased my first car: a 1990 5.0 Mustang GT, I was thrilled with the possibilities, and even more facinated with the world of information and aftermarket available out there on the domestic scene. Later that summer, I would venture to my hometown dragstrip for the first time. I didn’t know anything about how drag racing worked, but being a competitor at heart, and an adrenaline junkie, I knew I had to try it.
My first pass in late 1998 was a 15.30. A year later it was a 13.20. By 2000, I drove my first power adder car, a supercharged street coupe, to an 11.20. And before the end of 2001, I obtained my 9 second NHRA license in a twin turbo mustang. Fast forward through my first 8 second pass in 02, and my championship first runner up in 03, to my switch to the PRO 5.0 category and obtaining my Advanced ET license in the 6’s at 200mph today. Now, none of this is in the same ballpark as driving a top alcohol dragster over 200 mph before age 23, and licensing in your very own funny car to boot. But what I found so refreshing about this episode of Driving Force is how well myself and I’m sure many other women can relate to her experiences.
There is something about the way men and women learn and adapt to new experiences and new situations. My close friends (Hi Deby!) have had a good laugh over the antics and the battles that Dan & I have weathered through the process of getting me acclimated with the new car, and while they are funny to me now, they weren’t so funny then.
You see, there is what I call a sensitivity chip missing in men. A COMMONSENSE-ITIVITY chip that aids in the walk of a fine line between brave and ignorant. There is a point where you must accept fate & have the faith where your senses fail you. Guys have that blind faith. Faith in their machines, faith in their destiny, fate in their ABILITIES. Nevermind that the idea of losing vision while traveling at over 300 mph is not only terrifying and insane, but to have the blind faith to stay in the throttle that first pass is jarring. Us women, we feel. We analyze. We THINK. Much to the chargin of men, we often overthink, and overcomplicate. But as Ashley pointed out, all of the things– the thoughts, the feelings, the nerves, and the pressure come flooding over our brains, and as she delicately pointed out, the only thing stopping her is herself. She knows it, her team knows it. I also know this, and so does Dan. We all concur 100%.
Its definitely proven true the old adage… “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” although at times I swore Dan was from somewhere beyond Pluto. A planet with some coined race related name like Dragtopia or something where the people are born dropping clutches and wheeling pro mods. But somehow, we made it through it and truthfully, I know and appreciate that Dan means well and only the best for me (as John does for his daughters). …Even if Dan “definitely doesn’t have a career as a motivational speaker.”
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.
The Horsepower & Heels team entered the Fun Ford Weekend Thunder Valley Nationals with some hard work ahead of them. After a stellar performance in Norwalk, OH with a runner-up finish and the history-making initiation of Erica Ortiz into the 6 second, 200 mph clubs, the team was ready & working hard to build upon their progress. This process began promptly after their return from Ohio, pulling the motor for refreshing just 2 weeks shy of Bristol. After tearing it down and discovering no excessive wear or damage, the team opted to switch the cast crank in favor of a steel version for reliability and peace of mind.
There was still much to do as they pulled in the gates of Thunder Valley. Kevin & Dan worked on getting the driveline back together, while Erica unloaded and unpacked. Having arrived mid-afternoon on Friday, the team would not make the first call qualifying session. Teammate John Gullett would grab the pole with a 6.57. Back in the pits, the team buttoned up the car and went to the line for the 2nd session. This night session would prove to be the best conditions for performance, as the cool air and track temperature would aid the car’s performance. But as Erica cranked the car in the staging lanes, she quickly discovered that the Bruno was low on fluid and forced to back it off.
Saturday morning, the team went over the car again. Dan & Kevin changed the tires to a larger Goodyear slicks, and they made the call for 3rd round qualifying. Erica staged up, but the car moved hard right out of the gate past the 60′ mark and she was forced to abort. A broken wheelie bar and the change in tire size had the chassis tune up slightly off, so Dan adjusted it for the final session. Having not made a clean attempt, Erica knew how important the final session would be to the Sunday ladder. She entered the burnout, but something went amiss, and the throttle hung wide open as she fought to keep the car straight and in control while reaching for the power kill. After safely killing the engine, Dan backed her off, tore off the hood, and removed the culprit- a vacuum line tangled in the throttle cable. Erica quickly refired, and jumped to the starting line. Rattled, she staged and took off, but when the tires finally set down over 200 ft out, the car got loose and she lifted. This failed attempt secured her spot at the bottom of the ladder, facing #2 qualifier Chuck Samuels in eliminations.
An early morning 1/8th mile test attempt showed strong improvement, with the car making a clean, straight pass and running stronger than her previous incremental best 1/8th mile attempt. Knowing that Samuels had the performance advantage (he qualified with a 6.62), Erica knew she would have to cut a good light to try and outrun him. She staged first, and left ahead of Samuels, with a near perfect 0.008 light but it just wasn’t enough, as her new personal best of 6.85 @ 207 mph couldn’t compete with his 6.57 @ 217.
Though her early exit in eliminations was not what they had hoped for, the team is proud of their continued progress.
“We know that we come in here under-powered compared to these other cars, but we continue to improve with each outing, and even if we aren’t winning races yet, we’re proud of the advancements we’ve made thus far.” Erica says.
Erica entered the event #2 in points for the Pro 5.0 championship points chase, with John Gullett a close 3rd and Chuck Samuels in the #4 position. Her early exit may have caused her to lose some ground on the points fight, but Erica is not far out of the running. The team is working on some marketing partnerships that would enable them to finish out the remaining 2 events in the FFW season- Topeka, KS & the Dallas, TX world finals.
The Horsepower & Heels team will be back out next weekend, July 12th with the Automatic Pro Mods quick 8 event at Silver Dollar Raceway in Reynolds, GA.