Women Take The Wheel: Not Just Men In Drag Racing


November 11, 1990|By Stanley C. Dillon

TANEYTOWN - Once upon a time, drag racing was a man's sport. Not anymore.

More and more women are becoming involved in this high-speed motor sport. Some help out in the pits while others, like Veronica Chassen of Taneytown, have become drag racers.

Chassen is one of a handful of women who compete at the 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia, Frederick County, every week. Although she has been around drag racing most of her life, she did not start competing until two years ago.

"I always wanted to race, ever since I could remember," said Chassen.

But, "I had this biggest fear of what was at the end."

The end that frightened her was the end of the strip. At 75-80, a hill lies at the end of the strip to help slow down cars after they pass the finish line. The cars go over the hill out of sight to make their cut off for their return trip back. It was the uncertainly of the unknown over the hill that frightened her.

Finally, her husband Scott drew her a map of the end of the strip and gave her instructions how to make the turn back. Veronica got up enough nerve to make her first run, the run that she had dreamed of.

She has been racing ever since.

"Once I did it I had to go right back," Veronica said. "It is the greatest feeling in the whole wide world. It's a lot of fun.

"Once I am there I can't wait until I get into the car. After each run, I can't wait till I race again."

Veronica competed in the ETK class, a trophy class for beginners, her first year and this year moved to class II for cars with elapsed times of 12.0 seconds or slower. Earlier this year she finished second in an 85-car event.

Veronica's car is a red 1983 Chevrolet Cavalier. She drives the car every day to work, then turns around and pushes it to its limit every weekend.

"Red has been good to me," she added. "I love my car."

Because Chassen's Cavalier is a 19-second car, she gets quite a head start on most of the cars she competes against in the handicapped races.

She is almost halfway to the end when the other cars get started.

Some of the faster drivers have trouble sitting and waiting for their light to start and often false start because they are over anxious.

Getting the early start doesn't bother Chassen, nor does a person passing her.

"My biggest thrill was when Dave McCarthy passed me in his dragster," she said. "It was the neatest feeling to have him go by me. It was neat."

Like all drivers, Chassen is not only her worst critic, but keeps working on her weaknesses.

"I have to learn to concentrate more and get my lights down." she said.

"I have to learn to find my spot on the (starting light) tree.

"It takes a lot of work. If I don't concentrate, I don't pull a good light."

Finding the spot is important to get a good start without tripping the red light -- a false start. Finding that spot on the tree is important for consistency and for getting as close to a perfect time as possible.

Chassen constantly listens to the more experienced drivers, including her husband, when they give her tips. She also learns by watching them at the line.

"I like to get up to the line early and watch the guys. I love to watch how they handle their cars, how they concentrate, respond to the lights, and watch them when they leave," she said. "I like watching my husband and Larry Hoff. Larry is the Richard Petty of drag racing.

"I also like watching Steve (Hoff). He is so relaxed. He just sits there, not tense at all, and is so good. I try to listen to them."

Chassen's future plans include driving a faster car. Scott is working on that car for her now, a 1970 Monte Carlo that they hope will be ready for next season.

For now, she is satisfied with her car. Scott is working on preparing Veronica's new car, but his racer comes first. During the day, Scott works as an auto technician for Bud Schmidt Buick in Baltimore.

Scott drives a 1970 Pontiac, a car his wife drove for the first time this year. She said she loved it.

"It was the best feeling in the whole wide world, it was just great," said the 29-year-old mother of two. "It's different. You have to pay more attention to what you are doing."

Scotts' Pontiac does the quarter-mile in the low 13 seconds; Veronica had a 13.22 in her run with the car. The 104 miles per hour was quite a bit faster then what she is used to traveling in her Cavalier.

"I enjoy coming out at the start," she said. "There's nothing like it."

Although husband and wife race at the same time, Scott has never been along side of Veronica. What would she do if it ever happened?

"I would just put it to the floor."

Racing is a family outing for the Chassen's, their son Patrick, 6, and daughter Rebecca, 5, cheer their parents on every week.

Veronica hopes to receive the Woman Driver of the Year Award at the track's awards banquet. Either way, she will be back next year.

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