GREASED LIGHTENING

Story by Jeannie Stone

The smell of oil and tamales wafts over the enthusiastic crowd cheering the racers on a Sunday afternoon at the Centerville Dragway. But even the seasoned fan flinches when the mighty roar of an open eight cylinder engine threatens to puncture an eardrum. On any given weekend, this is where you find Teri Lynn Wade of Atkins who, at 13, is already a veteran of drag racing. 

Wade, a student at Atkins Middle School, is among the handful of juniors who race at the Centerville strip. The junior dragster division allows racers as young as 8 to compete, but Teri Lynn is unique because she’s a girl.

“None of my friends do this,” Wade said. She speaks softly even though the noise of the track drowns her. “Most of the guys, especially, don’t believe I really do this. They think I’m talking about my dad’s race car.”

There is little doubt that the half scale junior dragster with the hot pink wrap around design featuring a green tribal flame and subtle ghost skulls belongs to the daughter.

Her father Pedro Hilliard laughs. “A lot of people think I talked her into this, but I got snookered into her racing. Ever since she watched that Disney movie she was all over this.”

That Disney movie is “Right on Track,” a true story which follows the drag- racing adventures of Erica and Courtney Enders, sisters from Houston, who rose to compete in the NHRA (National Hot Rod Association).

So, Hilliard did what any father would do. He rented the Centerville Dragway track car for $40. “We both got hooked,” he said. “It was $1,000 worth of fun.”

Wayne and Patty Styles, owners of the track delivered the obvious news to Hilliard. “It seems you have a racer on your hands,” they told him.

“She made perfect straight passes and nailed it,” he said with obvious pride.

Patty Styles is impressed with the young racer and her family. “Teri Lynn is such a good sport. Even though she lost a round today she was excited because the other littlegirlhadherfirstwin.Sheisjustthatsort of person, very much the encourager.”

Drag-racing is an expensive sport, according to Styles, and Wade’s family has really gotten behind her passion. “But her daddy just loves it out here,” she said.

The car was on display at Cogswell Motors for awhile. “The guys there told me they could have sold it a dozen times. EverykidinYellCountywantedthatcar,” he said.

Blackkat Creations, Nebo Chevrolet and Frank and Teresa Etzkorn offered to sponsor Wade. “They have all been great,” Hilliard said.

“They really stress safety at the track,” Billie Hilliard, Wade’s mother said. “Teri has a five-point harness which includes a seatbelt over her lap, around her shoulders and through her crotch. She has arm restraints which are strapped from the seatbelt to her wrists and fastened to the steering wheel. She wears a neck brace and a helmet and, of course, she wears a fire suit.”

The fire suit includes flame retardant shoes, pants gloves and a jacket.

“Oh, and the roll cage is for safety,” Billie said. “It’s not like we’re throwing her in a car and setting her loose.”

The Centerville Dragway offers “head’s up” racing for street cars on Saturday nights as well as bracket racing on Sundays. A “street car” is simply a car which is legal to drive on regular streets. The bracket racing is a short-distance race which hinges more on maintaining consistent times. The race distance is 1/8 mile for the juniors and 1,000 feet for the street cars.

“As opposed to head’s up racing where everyone is racing each other, bracket racing is more of a self-competitive sport,” Hilliard said. “The whole goal is to run as closed to your set times as you can. The other car in the lane is irrelevant.”

A “breakout” is when you run faster than you say you will. Running a “red light” or a “breakout” are the only two ways to lose in bracket racing. A reaction time laser beam monitors the startup and alerts the judge to false starts.

“We don’t want red lights,” Hilliard said.

“Teri’s favorite snack is Skittles, and she ‘scarfs’ them down when she has a slow reaction time.” Superstition keeps Wade from eating the red Skittles. “She doesn’t want a red light,” Hilliard said.

There are 16 weekends set aside at the racetrack to earn points. In the racing world, it’s known as a 16-point-race season. As the first half of the season winds down, Wade is currently placed third in points.

“She’s harder on herself than her mother and I combined ever could be,” Hilliard said. “She’s a good kid. She’s made A or AB honor roll ever since I can remember.”

The middle school student maintains high grades while participating in several school activities including the art club, science club and choir. She is also a member of a fast-pitch softball team, plays basketball and volleyball.

Although her friends are supportive of her dragging, “the guys think it’s a little strange for a girl to race,” Wade said.

“They all want to come out and see her race in person,” Billie said. “It’s not uncommon for her to have a waiting list of friends.”

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