Guest Column w / Casey Jo Garrett

Casey Jo Garrett

Since the age of 3, my home has been the race track. It didn’t matter what race track it was, as long as there were the sounds and smells of race cars I was a happy girl. My grandfather began racing a Crosley in 1963 at a nearby local track. Both of my uncles and my mother also became very involved with drag racing and it was only natural to follow in their footsteps and spend every weekend in the summer at the track. During the winters I spent the weekends and holidays in the garage with Grandpa and my Uncle getting the cars ready for the next season. It became a family bond and a passion I would soon discover that I would never be able to let go of.


The fall of 1997 was a tough time for our family. My grandfather passed away that year from lung cancer a day before I turned 12. Grandpa and I were very close and it was a difficult thing to understand as a young girl. In honor of him, that Christmas I received my first Jr. Dragster. I can still remember that moment like it was yesterday. Walking into the garage with the entire family standing there waiting for me, and there it sat. It was painted blue just like the 1989 Dodge Charger my grandpa had owned and raced just the season before he passed away. In that moment, racing became more than just a sport to me. For one, it was all I had known growing up and what I had always wanted to do, but now it meant carrying on my grandpa’s memory and moving forward in the world of racing. Little did I know what I was walking in to.


During the six years that I was able to drive the Jr. Dragster, I was taught how to work on the engine and keep up with normal regular maintenance that needed to be done each week. I mowed 20 yards around my neighborhood to pay for entry fees and parts, and good grades and staying out of trouble was also a requirement. Christmas and birthday gifts were always engine parts or other things needed for the race car. It was exciting to me.


But as I grew older, I realized I was a little different than the others, mostly girls. I missed homecoming and prom each year because it was still race season. The boys made fun of me saying that girls can’t race or work on their own cars. Even at the race track I was judged. It was not common for a girl to be racing in the early years and some boys wouldn’t even shake my hand before or after a race. It became discouraging to me. I couldn’t figure out why we couldn’t all share the same love and enjoy being at the race track together. In moments like these I reminded myself of Grandpa and that this sport was important to me and it didn’t matter what others said or thought.


Eventually the Jr. Dragster years ended and it was time to move on. I watched many of my fellow Jr. Dragster friends travel down different paths. Some continued on with racing as their parents were financially able to help keep them going, while others tried to continue but eventually retired from the sport and moved on to other things in life. I like to hold on to everything from the race track, so it was hard to watch everyone grow up and go their own ways. Some I still see from time to time and we can chat about the “old days” and others I’ve never seen again.


In my situation, my family was not able to help support another big car. I spent the next five years helping and watching my Uncle race his car. From time to time I was able to make a few races and also had the opportunity to drive here and there for some others, but nothing consistent. It was tearing me up inside. I felt as though I would lose all my driving experience from the Jr. Dragster and was missing out on new opportunities to build on what I already knew. It was a true test of character. Do you continue on with your head held high and keep working towards your goal, or do you turn and walk away because it seemed so impossible to reach at the young age I was? There were a lot of tears shed in those years and a lot of doubts inside my own soul as to why I keep doing this and keep pushing forward. I would like to say that it makes sense now, but there are still days I find myself wondering.


Finally, in 2008 at the age of 23 I was able to buy my own 1999 Danny Nelson Racecraft Dragster. I had never felt more proud in my life. It was like a dream come true. I finally had my own dragster and all I could do was stare at it in amazement. Every nut and bolt was all mine. As many know, there are more let downs in drag racing than good moments, but this was definately a moment I put in the back of my mind that I will never forget. In all the excitement of having my own car and finally owning something I have always wanted, I failed to realize how much more went with racing a big car. While in the Jr. Dragster, my family helped support me and the racing. Now it was all on me.


I had the car, but no trailer. I also did not have a truck to pull the trailer. Minor details I somehow managed to over look in my wise age of being 23. One problem solved and now several more opened up. Once again, the racing was limited due to the fact that I had to borrow trucks and trailers when others were not racing. After all, they had bought their own stuff and it wasn’t fair to take their racing away from them because I wanted to race. But each time I was able to go, I made it an absolute point to drive the wheels off that car. I drove it as if I would never get to drive it again, because I never knew when I would get to go racing again. Once again, there were many tears and wondering how am I ever going to get there.


Growing up I had learned how to work on a Jr. Dragster engine and how to put it together and make it run. Another minor detail I had overlooked is going from a single cylinder to eight would also be a whole new world. There were many parts broken along the way and all from my error. We all hate to learn the hard way, especially when it can be so expensive, but we do learn and we don’t make the same mistakes. I would like to say I am done making those mistakes but I’m not!


I had some guidance from other racers and family but for the most part I had to learn it on my own. Let me tell you, when a young female walks into a parts store it can sometimes turn into a heated argument between the employee and myself. Just another obstacle I had to learn to overcome. If you are a female and talk to men about a man’s sport, I have learned that you need to make sure you know what you are talking about before you walk in and make yourself look stupid.


As time went on, my family found themselves a new path and sold all the racing stuff and moved on. I found this to be very heartbreaking. After all, they were the ones that helped make me who I am and I felt as though everyone had forgotten Grandpa. Continuing to struggle and work towards the racing career I wanted, I soon discovered that was not true at all. As much as I love my race car it doesn’t symbolize a person. What I do with it or how I continue to grow as a drag racing is what keeps my Grandpa alive inside of me.


As I have continued on in my old age of 30, racing has dramatically changed over the last three years. I began racing at a new track ywo seasons ago and it was amazing to see how good these guys were. This was a whole new type of racing that I had never experienced and these boys are fierce. Once again, I roll into a new track and hear the comments of “who is SHE?” And the looks you get when you are pulling up in the lanes for Top ET! I used to let these moments get to me and think to myself about how I needed to prove a point. There is no point that needs to be proven, though. Trying to make a point or prove yourself clouds your mind.


I drive the car because I love it. I love how the car shakes in a routine as the engine rotates, I love the sounds it makes, and I even love the stink of a sweaty helmet. The excitement you get when you pull into the gate and take the trailer door down and just can’t wait to get the car out. All these things are enjoyable to me because at one point in my life, I didn’t know if it was possible or if I would ever get to do it again. What I love most of all, is the friendships I have made with my fellow drivers and how they don’t see me as a female anymore. They only see me as another driver and we put our helmets on the same way and there are no friends on the race track.


Do people still judge? Of course they do and they always will. After al, how many women do you actually see that do own their own work and maintenance, take it to the track by themselves, and can race all weekend alone? There aren’t many. I can proudly say that I am one of them.


There will always be those few that judge you no matter how hard you try and don’t believe you did things the honest way and that you have used someone else to get what you have -- and that is fine. Those people can continue to judge. It is just reality that will never go away being a female. Those that have taken the time to get to know a person like me know the truth and the struggles. Those are the people I call friends.


My heart and soul goes into my drag racing as it does for most. We all spend long weeks slaving away at our jobs, personal lives, and yet still finding time to get that hot rod ready for the next weekend. It’s who we are and what we love. I have learned that you can never give up because anything is possible. If you continue to dedicate your time and be true to yourself and what you want, there is no dream you can’t make come true. 


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