Baytown: Will Hillary preview

Hillary Will's looks for "Girl Power" to continue at Houston As a ten-year-old, she visited Houston for a different type of learning curve BAYTOWN, Texas (March 24, 2006) -- Rookie Top Fuel driver, Hillary Will, moves to the quarter-mile...

Hillary Will's looks for "Girl Power" to continue at Houston
As a ten-year-old, she visited Houston for a different type of learning curve

BAYTOWN, Texas (March 24, 2006) -- Rookie Top Fuel driver, Hillary Will, moves to the quarter-mile track at Houston Raceway Park to continue her learning curve at the upcoming 19th annual NHRA O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals, March 31 through April 2.

But this isn't Will's first time in the Texas city. Fifteen years ago, she visited Houston for a different type of learning curve.

"The last time I came to Houston was when I was ten-years-old for Bela Karolyi's gymnastics camp. I got specialized instruction from Bela himself who has taught accomplished gymnasts such as Nadia Comanechi, Mary Lou Retton, and Kim Zmeskal," recalled Will.

While Will no longer competes as a gymnast, she has continued her competitive sports career through a collegiate diving career at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., where she graduated magna cum laude with a degree in economics, and now as a professional driver on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series.

Already a leading candidate for this year's Automobile Club of So. California Road to the Future Award, Will hopes to join the other "Women in Drag Racing," who have already made this a memorable 2006 season after just three races.

Consider that the season thus far, after three of 23 races (one for Pro Stock Motorcycles) for the professional classes -- Top Fuel, Funny Car, Pro Stock, and Pro Stock Motorcycle -- women lead the POWERade point standings in two of the four professional classes (Melanie Troxel in Top Fuel and Angelle Sampey in Pro Stock Motorcycle). In fact, Troxel has advanced to the final round four consecutive times dating back to the final event of 2005.

Will has qualified fourth and sixth in two of the first three races of her professional career. Erica Enders (Pro Stock) has two No. 2 qualifiers in three events in 2006 and has advanced to one final round (the second of her career). Karen Stoffer (Pro Stock Motorcycle) was the No. 6 qualifier at the Gatornationals and has won back-to-back events in Houston, site of NHRA's next event.

At the last race in Gainesville, Fla., the ACDelco Gatornationals, there were five woman drivers in final rounds in their respective categories, with two -- Sampey and Ashley Force (Top Alcohol Dragster) -- coming away with wins. It was the ninth time that at least two woman drivers have won an NHRA title at the same event. Troxel, Enders and Brenda Grubbs (Stock Eliminator) finished in the runner-up position.

Most drivers, male and female alike, credit Shirley Muldowney, who won three Top Fuel championships (1977, 1980, and 1982), for blazing the trail that made the NHRA a gender-blind racing fraternity.

"I believe NHRA Drag Racing is a platform where females can succeed because of what Shirley Muldowney accomplished in the sport," said Will, who is fortunate to have Muldowney as a mentor. "She showed that a female could drive a race car well and be a winner in drag racing. How appropriate that she was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in Gainesville on the same weekend that five females advanced to the final round."

At Houston, Will hopes to be part of those numbers that women have achieved in the sport of NHRA drag racing. "I sold a lot of Girl Power Racing hats and shirts at the Gatornationals because only in NHRA POWERade Drag Racing can we see such an awesome display of Girl Power. I hope to continue the Girl Power trend by advancing to the finals in Houston and maybe even winning the race," added Will, whose motorsport apparel carries her Girl Power Racing logo.

"I would like to think that the Girl Power Racing logo is symbolic of the message I am trying to send. Since my days in the sportsman ranks, people, especially females, come up to me at the races or e-mail me and tell me that what I do inspires them and I felt that just driving the car was not enough, so I started going to local schools, both at home and near where we race. I give talks to kids where I encourage them to dream big, and go for their goals.

"One advantage of being a female in racing is that I've found out that I can be an example to other women and girls of all ages. By seeing me compete in a male dominated sport, driving upward of 300 mph and winning, I hope they are inspired to take risks as well -- whether it's raising their hand in the classroom, applying to the best college, or starting a business. Life is all about taking risks. Successful people have taken risks at different times in their life."

Qualifying for Will and her KB Racing Top Fuel dragster begins with two sessions on Friday, March 31 -- scheduled for 4 and 7 p.m. and concludes with two additional sessions on Saturday -- April 1 -- at 12:30 and 3 p.m. Will begins her quest for the O'Reilly Auto Parts Nationals Top Fuel title on Sunday, April 2, with eliminations for all classes beginning at 11 a.m. All times are local Houston time (CT) and subject to change at anytime. Note: Daylight Savings Time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, April 2.

-kbr-

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About this article
Series NHRA
Drivers Shirley Muldowney , Karen Stoffer , Ashley Force , Melanie Troxel , Hillary Will , Angelle Sampey