PORTLAND, Ore. (Nov. 8) - She's not the World's Fastest Teenager anymore (she turned 20 in March), but Top Fuel and Funny Car driver Cristen Powell is still a convincing ambassador for the sport of NHRA Championship Drag Racing.
The ever-smiling Powell, who most recently piloted the JCIT Funny Car through a four-race stint, is now being featured in renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz's book Women, which has just become available in bookstores across the country. Aside from the book itself, the striking single portrait of Powell is also being used to promote Women in the November issue of Vogue and on the New York Times website (www.nytimes.com.) Additionally, the piece is on display through Feb. 28 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington.
The image of Powell that made the final cut for the book shows her seated in her dragster near the starting line of Indianapolis Raceway Park. The dragster has its body panels removed and Powell is wearing a firesuit and headsock and is looking directly at the camera. For effect, some theatrical smoke was fed into the photo around the rear tires.
Leibovitz has been recognized as one of the world's best photographers for over two decades. Her work routinely appears in Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and countless other magazines. She is perhaps best known for the cover photo of a pregnant and nude Demi Moore that opened eyes across the country a few years ago.
"I went into class the other day and my friends were like 'Oh my gosh, you're in Vogue,'" said Powell, who attends Linfield College in Oregon. "Most of them have never seen National Dragster or Hot Rod magazine, but they all read Vogue every month.
"Then a reporter from The Oregonian did a story on it and now everyone in town knows. It's a pretty cool feeling. I can't believe I was lucky enough to be in this book. Then I can't believe they used my picture in Vogue and the New York Times to represent the book. It's great for women, especially ones that want to race, and it's great for the NHRA."
Leibovitz was originally hired by Women's Sports and Fitness magazine to take photographs for a "Women in Sports" banquet and for a story entitled "The Champions." The story, which came out in the March-April edition of the magazine, featured several female athletes that had excelled in their respective sports. Powell was featured along with the U.S. Women's soccer team, basketball standout Chamique Holdsclaw, track and field star Jackie Joyner-Kersee, skier Picabo Street, and several others.
According to Powell, the photo shoot with the incomparable Leibovitz was quite a production. "We got to the track and they had a motorhome for me with a make-up artist and a hairdresser," Powell said. "It was unbelievable. Then, once they had me ready to go, Annie shows up. First thing she says is 'take all those panels off the car.' By the time she had everything set up and started taking pictures it was perfect. Considering she didn't know anything about drag racing, she made it look so convincing.
"She was really nice, but very serious, kind of like I am on Race Day. She was also very assertive. I liked her right away. She's an incredible woman."
The photographs in Leibovitz's book capture women from several different walks of life. There are pictures of musicians, artists, businesswomen, female politicians, teachers, an astronaut, a housekeeper, prostitutes, athletes, the First Lady, writers, doctors, showgirls, rodeo performers, farmers, and many others. An accompanying essay in the book by writer Susan Sontag explains that "each of these pictures must stand on it's own."
In her interview with the New York Times, Leibovitz discussed her feelings on her work. "The glory of the book, the wonderment of the book, the success of the book is the variety of women and the broad spectrum," she said. "I'm not finding anything new about women at all. It's not anything I didn't know about women. It's just that I've never seen it together and that is what became fascinating."
Powell's particular photo is accompanied by this description: CRISTEN POWELL (b. 1979) is one of only six women to have won a national event title on the National Hot Rod Association circuit. She started racing when she was 16 and has set several records since, frequently reaching speeds of over 300 mph. She lives in Portland, Oregon, and attends Linfield College.
"This whole book is about women in non-traditional roles," Powell said. "It's funny because I'm taking a feminism class right now and we're talking about the same thing. Women have come a long way but we still have a long way to go. Young girls come up to me all the time at the track and say 'I didn't know girls were allowed to drive these cars.' That's when you realize how much work there is to be done.
"It's certainly not a burden. I will gladly carry the banner in drag racing. There were women before me and I know there will be a lot after me. Hopefully we will represent the NHRA well enough that we can all go to the next level."