Not everyone takes the road Angela Proudfoot has to reach her desired destination of being a professional drag racer.
How many roads can there be, you might ask? Drag racing, that heart-pounding, earth-shaking, ear-numbing sport in which drivers buckle themselves in and set off as if blasting to the moon, is fairly straightforward.
But what if you're a young woman interested in limber movement and what makes people tick?
What if you had a double major in (modern) dance and psychology at the University of Maryland and want a master's degree in dance therapy to combine all of your talents and work with deaf people?
How do you work that kind of resume into being a top 10 performer as an independent among well-sponsored teams in the National Hot Rod Association's Summit Sport Compact Drag Racing Series?
Proudfoot, blond with disconcerting blue-green eyes, spends a lot of time surprising people who have looked at her name and think she is either an American Indian or from a family of Canadian hockey players.
She also spends time answering that question about her academic background leading her to become a drag racer.
"You can get here from there," she said, laughing one day last week before heading to Capital Raceway in Crofton to practice.
But it isn't an easy route to the NHRA series, in which she began competing full time nationally last year. The sport compact series has five classes, and Proudfoot competes in the Hot Rod Class.
She finished ninth in the final standings last year. She is one of just four women competing in the compact classes overall.
Proudfoot, who grew up in Howard County and now lives in Washington, was also sixth in the National Drag Racing Association's NOPI Fast and Furious Series.
This season, she is concentrating primarily on the NHRA series in her new 2003 Honda Civic. The NHRA series is, however, without a race until July 25-26 in Las Vegas, so Proudfoot will compete this weekend (June 21-22) in the Fast and Furious Series in the Pro Four-Cylinder class at Maryland International Raceway in Budds Creek.
After college, Proudfoot got a job as a telemarketer, with the idea of working toward her master's degree. But when she bought a Honda Civic to get to and from work, her life began to change. Many of her friends were men very much into the Import Drag Racing Series. They told her: "You've got to take the car to the track."
She already liked to drive fast. "I had a terrible driving record," she said.
Proudfoot took her car to Capital Raceway and fell in love. She started going every Friday night, even by herself. She began researching her 1998 Civic, learning how to make it go faster. And then she started buying all the parts necessary to convert her street Honda into a hot little race car.
"I got a second job just to support the car," said Proudfoot, 27, who now works as a human resource manager for a mortgage company in McLean, Va. "I bought bolt-on parts, exhaust headers, intake manifolds. I knew I wanted to race."
On a Friday night in October 1999, she paid $10 at Capital Raceway to make her first drag-racing run.
And that was that. She was hooked.
"I love drag racing," she said. "The feeling of it. The power. The faster we went, the more I liked it."
The person behind the mechanical side of Proudfoot's venture is Chris Neidemire. She met him when she first started taking her car to a garage to be souped up. He is now her chief mechanic and boyfriend.
"She came in, just out of college, and wanted to upgrade her Civic to high-performance mode," Neidemire said. "She spent 10 grand in our shop doing it. I had a race car, and it just happened that every time I was at the track, she was, too."
Proudfoot wanted to race, so Neidemire stepped out of his car and concentrated on hers.
"It feels just as good to watch a car you've built run good as it does to drive it," he said. "She knows a lot about cars. She doesn't know how to do things, but she always wants to know what I'm doing. She doesn't want to be stupid. She wants to be able to answer when someone says, `What size turbo are you using?' And she's a good race car driver."
They are competing against teams with major sponsors and are competitive. Last season, they made it to the finals twice and to the runner-up rounds twice.
Their best performance last season was in Englishtown, N.J., where they made it to the final round with a career-best 10.300-second, 132.04-mph performance.
They compete in a class in which the national record is 8.533 seconds, which translates to 168.11 mph.
Now, with a new car, Proudfoot and Neidemire have recorded a 9.58-second run, which Proudfoot estimates to be about 151 mph. And they are aiming for something better.
"The only thing that's fair is that, in this class, it all comes down to who comes up with the next idea," said Neidemire. "You can have a million dollars and you can't just say, `Build me a car that can run eight [seconds].' You can't do it. Everyone is learning off each other."