BRISTOL, Tenn. — They say it's lonely at the top, and that certainly seemed to be the case Saturday afternoon at Bristol Dragway.
As eliminations continued on the final day of the NHRA Summit Racing Jr. Drag Racing League Eastern Conference Finals, only a smattering of haulers and RVs remained in a pit area that was bustling with activity just 24 hours earlier.
Those who remained were still in the hunt for a prestigious Wally trophy, the holy grail for any drag racer. Just one month ago, Erica Enders-Stevens hoisted a Wally at Bristol Dragway after winning the Pro Stock division at the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals.
Enders-Stevens is an inspiration to many of the youngsters who came to compete in the event, which included more than 500 of the top racers ranging from 8 years old to 17. As a kid growing up in Houston, Enders-Stevens got her start in the sport behind the wheel of a junior dragster at the age of 8.
Enders-Stevens certainly has a fan in 12-year-old Wyatt Young, a Pearland, Texas, native who has been around drag strips since the time he was 2. As vanquished competitors trickled out of the pit area in RVs, pulling their dragsters behind them, Young's father was still hard at work on his son's half-scale dragster.
Wyatt watched his dad compete in the Super Street class at NHRA events in Texas, and now he's three years into his own racing career.
"When I first got started, it was kind of hard," Wyatt Young said. "You can start when you're 8, but I wasn't ready until I was about 8 and a half."
He said the level of competition at a big event like the Eastern Conference Finals requires concentration and nerves of steel.
"You have to block that pressure out if you want to win," he said.
About 50 feet from Young's pit sat a pair of dragsters belonging to Macey Ludolph and Jessie Daniel, who both race out of the Atlanta area.
After tasting success last year, Daniel came to Bristol to run in the fastest class in a dragster capable of hitting 85 mph. The 13-year-old got into cars at an early age by helping her dad on a big project when she was just 5. By the time she was 8, she was behind the wheel of her own dragster.
"I helped him build his '68 Camaro and he built me one of the little junior dragsters and I've been hooked on it ever since," Daniel said.
A love for motorsports is often passed down through the generations, and it's no different in Daniel's family.
"My dad's dad used to drag race, and my dad used to drag race," Daniel said. "It just kind of ran in the family and I got hooked on it."
Like Daniel, Ludolph's father has always been a big-time drag racing fan. But the sport didn't immediately capture her imagination.
"One of our friends took me up when I was about 10, and they showed it to me and I was like, 'Oh this is cool,'" Ludolph said. "My dad was like, 'I showed you this before.' But now it was something new I thought was interesting. I just found it through a friend."
Ludolph is now 12 years old and two years into her own racing career. The Eastern Conference Finals became a bit of a struggle for Ludolph when a new motor failed to cooperate.
"It's supposed to be an 8.90 motor, but it won't run 8.90," Ludolph said. "I started dialing it in and looking at the numbers and we changed a few things."
The changes weren't enough to keep Ludolph's dream of winning a Wally alive, but she was hardly disillusioned. Her goal is to one day drive a Top Fuel dragster like NHRA driver Leah Pritchett, who got her own start in the NHRA Jr. Drag Racing League back in 1992.
"Driving fast has always been fun," Ludolph said. "I think that's just every little kid — 'I want to go faster.' That's always been how it is for me.
"I want to be a Top Fuel driver. That's what I want to do when I grow up."
So she'll keep following that well-worn path down the center of the drag strip, and she'll ride it as far as it will take her.comments powered by Disqus