Marshall County can lay claim to several unique and beautiful titles known to people across the country. Weekenders call the lakes region their home away from home. Friendships develop that transcend states. Anglers flock from miles in any direction to compete in tournaments.
But one less recognizable feature of Marshall County is two young ladies that compete in one of the most unique sports for females. They toe the line for national titles with no differentiation between the guys and the gals.
Marshall County ladies Maizie Martin and Gabby Davis strap in to cars that exceed speeds of 140 miles an hour to challenge whoever draws the spot next to them on the line. They watch the same tree. They sit poised to snap into action when their light hits green. They fly down the same track to reach the line before their opponent. They take the win (or loss) without ever seeing the face behind the other helmet.
Drag racing’s claim to fame dates back to the 1930’s in California. As its popularity grew, so did the need for a national association. The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) was birthed in the 1950’s and has grown to over 80,000 members and 35,000 licensed competitors.
However, the reach of the NHRA did not end at the gate. It has spawned merchandising, sponsorships, and multiple television series such as Street Outlaws.
It would take over two decades for a woman to make her mark in drag racing. Shirley Muldowney was the first woman to obtain a NHRA license and went on to claim three NHRA titles. Known as the “First Lady of Drag Racing,” she was the first person to ever win three Top Fuel titles (1977, 1980, 1982).
In 2016, Leah Pritchett faced off against Brittany Force in all-female finale at the Carquest Auto Parts NHRA U.S. Nationals. Following Pritchett’s win, she added five more Top Fuel Circuit wins. She stated in a USA Today interview, “Drag racing has embraced [women drivers] from the series to the teams to the fans. NHRA prides itself on that diversity. It’s a stereotype that’s already been stepped over. Females are perfectly capable of driving.”
Martin looked down the length of her first track at eight years old after watching her brother race. She took a little time off but returned because of her love of drag racing. Next year, she will be looking down the lines of a bigger car, a full-size dragster, as she ages out of the junior league at age 18.
Davis grew up as a fan at the track but did not get behind the wheel of her own car until the age of 16. For her, it took the right circumstance to come along, and it was love at first sight. She rode along every chance that came available and worked with a rider-instructor before branching out on her own. Now, at 19, she has won against a female-great of drag racing, Lizzy Musi, star of “Street Outlaws” and daughter of the legendary doorslammer racer and engine builder Pat Musi.
Davis paired herself with a passenger on one pass this past weekend and gave her ride-along a glimpse into the world of burnouts, G-forces, green lights, and adrenaline. Her passenger had stood at the finish lines of Gateway Motorsports outside St. Louis, Missouri. and Memphis International Raceway in Tennessee and walked the pits meeting such greats as 330 mph barrier breaker Tony Schumacher, never imagining the personal thrill that comes with the rumble of the engine from inside the car.
That passenger was another Marshall County gal. That passenger was me, and IT WAS AWESOME!