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Local News

Villa Park woman, Elmhurst grad pursues pro drag racing career

Before reaching speeds in excess of 200 mph, it’s vital to clear the mind of distractions, believes aspiring drag racer Marina Anderson.

“You can’t bring the stresses of life into the race car because it can be dangerous,” said Anderson, a Villa Park resident and a recent Elmhurst College graduate. “You have to clear your head and feel what the car is doing.”

Anderson, 21, took a serious interest in the sport of drag racing as a teenager, when she began working with her father, Scott, the crew chief for Frantic Fueler, a successful nostalgia front-engine dragster.

To Anderson, the sport is a thrilling mix of entertainment and really fast cars.

“There’s a lot of adrenaline – even when you’re just watching,” she said. “The ground shakes and the smell of nitromethane makes even the biggest men cry.”

For the past four years, Anderson has been working hard to build her own 4,000-horsepower rear-engine dragster. She plans to debut her vehicle this weekend at the annual Detroit Autorama show, and from there, the goal is to qualify for the National Hot Rod Association A/Fuel, the high-speed class for the governing body.

Anderson said the vehicle will be capable of reaching speeds of more than 250 mph and covering a quarter-mile track in 5.3 seconds.

Going fast was always a thrill for Anderson. As a child, she gained experience racing go-karts and dirt bikes. The Willowbrook High School alumna placed fourth in the state Skills USA Championship in the category of automotive service technology during her junior year.

In 2010, Anderson completed the Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School in Indianapolis, a two-day training course where she got her first experience drag racing on a track. She is currently licensed a Super Comp driver, a class of dragster used during the program.

Anderson will have to upgrade that license to A/Fuel before she can compete in the NHRA’s high speed class.

With the encouragement and help of her father and family friend, Dave Daunheimer, the owner of Competition Fabrications in Maple Park, Anderson set out to build her own A/Fuel dragster four years ago.

“I had to build my own because the cars are so expensive.”

Anderson, who graduated earlier this month from Elmhurst College with dual majors in supply chain management and economics, is currently seeking marketing sponsors to help fund her dream of racing on the professional level in the NHRA Drag Racing Series. With an outline of her marketing plan in place, Anderson turned to Kelly Cunningham, associate professor of business and MBA program director at Elmhurst College.

Cunningham, who taught Anderson in a strategic management class, said he was unaware of Anderson’s interest in auto racing.

“She brought me her sponsorship plan and I was just fascinated with her whole story,” Cunningham said. “She is modest, but very ambitious and determined to succeed.”

Cunningham suggested that once the dragster is complete, that Anderson take the finished product directly to potential sponsors.

“It’s important to show what the sponsor will receive for their money– where their label would go on the car of uniform,” he said.

Climbing into a dragster and strapping in, nerves begin to set in for Anderson, but once the engine starts, there is a strange calming effect, she said.

“Even though it’s really loud around you, it’s calming in a way,” she said.

“The tires burn out, and it’s exhilarating after that.”

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