In layman’s terms, drag racing is where cars, typically two at a time, race to be the first to cross a set finish line.
Sound simple? Not quite, as 12-year-old junior superstar Izabella Marshall of Vernon explained. There’s a lot more to the niche sport than what meets the eye.
“Getting off the starting line quickly, reaction time and making the car consistent, those are the three keys.” said Marshall.
1. Getting off the starting line quickly
How quick the racer is hitting the gas to get their car moving is the first important skill to master.
“At the starting line, there’s a Christmas tree of lights that come down that blink yellow, yellow then green, which tells them to go but they can never wait until green,” said Izabella’s father (and her trusted pit crew leader) Jody Marshall, who raced professionally on the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) circuit for four seasons. “You have to be leaving, because your car takes a moment, right at the moment it blinks.”
Izabella is in her first full season in the junior dragsters NHRA division six competition. Titanium Auto Group and Quality Manufactured Homes are the two key sponsors who have helped fund her drag racing journey in 2023.
How she got into the sport was like many young children, through the love of her role model, her father, Jody.
“I’ve been after Izabella for a number of years to race, and she just hadn’t been interested,” said Jody. “However, last year something just clicked with her and she had 1,000 questions on the way home from a trip to Seattle where we watched some races. And two weeks later, we had a car.”
Her car is a third of the scale of a regular dragster, which makes sense given Izabella is years away from garnering a learner’s license in a commercial vehicle.
The juniors race on a one-eighth mile track, as opposed to the pros running a quarter-mile. Other differences include the speed, where Marshall’s car is capped at 75 miles an hour.
2. Reaction time
Izabella’s car is ‘dialed in’ at 8.9 seconds, meaning that she can not go any faster than an 8.9 second time in the race.
“Your age determines your speed. So Izabella, at 12, competes with other racers who can be as young as six. Two cars come up to the line and she might be racing someone younger, so that car would get a head start. The theory is, by the finish line, they should get there at the same time, which never happens,” laughs Jody. “Because reaction time from when they start leaving is always the challenge.”
A six-year-old, if running next to Izabella, would be dialed in at 14 seconds, meaning Izabella cannot leave the line until 5.1 seconds after the six-year-old does.
“Reaction time goes by tenths, hundredths and thousandths of a second and she is really good at cutting a light at .o50,” Jody said.
At a race this past June, Izabella won an award for cutting the perfect light, with triple zeroes on the reaction time clock. If the car next to Izabella took a tenth of a second to leave the line, that puts the onus on Izabella to slightly slow down, in order to finish with her opponent.
“I don’t want to break out, so I will play with the other car to make sure we finish close together and that I am not a full cars length ahead,” Izabella said. “If I finish 8.89 seconds, just one decimal point faster then what was dialed in, I automatically lose.”
3. Making the car consistent
Izabella’s car runs on methanol, a single-cylinder billet aluminum block.
“She is even picking her own dial in now. If the car isn’t running great, her and I will have a conversation about what timing to dial into and she’ll go fuel the car up herself,” said Jody.
Safety is an obvious necessity during the races, and the athletes are equipped with a full fire suit, helmet and HANS device.
“I give myself a little pep talk because normally I get really nervous,” Izabella said. “I have a routine where I take a deep breath and then I go. There is always a little thing in my head thinking what if I crash?”
As the 2023 campaign wraps up, (season runs from April to end of September) Izabella is looking forward to 2024, when she graduates into a new tier (ages 13-17), the fast bracket, ramping up the speeds to 85 miles per hour. She and Jody are seeking more sponsors so that they can attend more races across the country.
On top of the thrill of racing, the social aspect is another reason why Izabella loves the sport so much.
“I’m hanging out with my friends from the track even more than racing,” she says as her current junior division has close to 30 other competitors.
“I also like going really fast and its really fun to beat all the boys. They get super mad when they lose to a girl.”
Visit Marshall Racing’s Facebook for more information.