Driver of the KB Racing-owned, Kalitta Motorsports-managed Top Fuel Dragster Four weeks from today Hillary Will, 25, takes to the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (Calif.) track in her professional debut behind the wheel of the KB Racing-owned, ...
Driver of the KB Racing-owned, Kalitta Motorsports-managed Top Fuel Dragster
Four weeks from today Hillary Will, 25, takes to the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (Calif.) track in her professional debut behind the wheel of the KB Racing-owned, Kalitta Motorsports-managed Top Fuel Dragster.
En route to the nitro fuel division, Will advanced through the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series sportsman classes. Born and raised in Fortuna, Calif., Will, who now calls Ypsilanti, Mich. home, started in Super Street, then jumped to Super Gas and Super Comp. After receiving her TAD license from Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School, she moved to Top Alcohol Dragster in 2004, .
In TAD, running a supercharged engine, Will, a 2002 graduate from Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., with a degree in Economics, won one divisional in two final round appearances. She finished 2005 No. 2 in Division 6. Entering the 2006 season, she is one of only four drivers of supercharged alcohol dragsters to go over 270 mph.
On the national event side of things, Will finished sixth in points nationally, winning the spring SummitRacing.com Nationals at Las Vegas and finishing runner-up at two others. She was runner-up at the Winternationals in Pomona, Calif., and at the Mac Tools U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis. At Vegas, Will was the No. 1 qualifier and set low elapsed time and top speed of the race. In all, Will has two No. 1 qualifying spots, 2 low elapsed times and four top speeds, all recorded last year. Her career best numbers are an elapsed time of 5.302 seconds and a top speed of over 270 mph.
Will and her KB Racing-owned, Kalitta-managed team, headed by crew chief Jim Oberhofer, will be utilizing the three weeks prior to the start of the 2006 NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series to test. Will's official Top Fuel professional debut will come at the NHRA CARQUEST Auto Parts Winternationals when the season--opening event unfolds at the Auto Club Raceway at Pomona (Calif.) Feb. 9-12.
With the 2006 preseason testing getting underway in just less than two weeks, Will (HW) sat down for a question and answer session. The following are her remarks:
Q. Briefly recap your progression from your start in drag racing to your time in Top Alcohol Dragster.
HW: With the support of my family, I have worked my way up through the ranks over the course of eight years. I was very fortunate to be able to progress slowly through NHRA's sportsman classes. If I had to choose the proper progression for a pro driver, I would think my experiences would be great for any up and coming driver.
My first drag race was at our local track, the Samoa Dragstrip. I used the car that I drove to school everyday, a '73 Dodge Challenger that my Dad got for me. One day he asked me if I wanted to take it down the quarter-mile to see how fast it would run. Up until then, I was always a drag racing spectator and I really enjoyed watching. I was really nervous about driving, but my Dad gave me a lot of encouragement. Once I tried it, I loved everything about it. That first experience grew when my dad put me in a little faster car and we started racing Super Street. We started winning and then I was really hooked. In 1999, I went to the finals at Sonoma and that's when I knew that I was never going to be able to stop racing. Not long after that, I started racing Super Comp and Super Gas.
I had moved away to college in Massachusetts, 3000 miles from home, and I thought that I would have to give up racing. But I kept coming home every summer during college just so I could race; thinking each summer was going to be my last.
After graduating college, like most college students, I had no idea what I was going to do. The one thing I did know was that I love racing. So I thought I would go back home to California and race a little bit longer until I could figure out what I wanted to do with my life.
Thankfully I found a job near my hometown that paid enough to get me by and they let me go racing. After a year and a half, I saved enough from my pay to go to the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School. So in January 2004, I headed to Florida for drag racing school.
I did really well at Frank Hawley's school and got my Top Alcohol Dragster license on my first visit. I was motivated and focused. I didn't have enough money to go back, so I made sure I got my license on the first visit.
We had a car that we could use in Top Alcohol and Bucky Austin, a racer and family friend, said he would build our motors. So we headed to the Top Alcohol Dragster class with a team that didn't know anything about racing in that class. All we knew was that we had the desire. We didn't even have the right tools and parts, but Bucky taught us what stuff we needed, what clutch combination to run, what type of crew we needed and on and on. He basically told us everything we needed to know. Fortunately, my dad loves racing as much as I do, and was willing and able to put it all together. It was pretty risky for us at that time to jump into Top Alcohol.
After a few divisional races in 2004, we won our first national event in Las Vegas in 2005.
Q. How did the move to Top Fuel come about?
HW: To answer that, I'll have to repeat some things I've already said.
For the eight years I've spent racing, it has always been my hobby. I've had a true passion for driving since I began. I came home from college every summer so I could race. When I graduated college, I kept thinking I was going to give up racing to focus on my career. The more I raced, the more I developed a passion for it. I worked as financial analyst for two years and fortunately I was able to keep racing during that time. I couldn't get away from racing though. Even when I was physically at work, my mind was focused on racing. My sensible, responsible side said to stay with the financial career but my heart said to go racing.
Last April, I finally decided that I wanted to go all or nothing and make racing my career. I took a big risk and left my job to try to devote 100% of my time to turning my hobby into my career. I had to do financial consulting on the side to pay my rent but my main priority was to secure sponsorship for my Top Alcohol team with the goal of being able to bring enough money to eventually go pro.
Then in August, I got the phone call from Jim O. (Jim Oberhofer). It was completely unexpected. Prior to the phone call I had heard about Ken Black Racing and Kalitta Motorsports teaming up to go Top Fuel racing, but I never ever considered myself for the driving position. I didn't even consider applying for it.
When I first I talked to them, I assured them I have a lot to learn about driving a Top Fuel dragster but I am willing to listen and learn. I said that I'm not coming to you saying I'm the best Top Fuel driver there is. I'm coming to you saying I want to try and become the best Top Fuel driver there is.
The fact that I had been working with Bucky Austin in Top Alcohol helped me get the position. Having worked with Bucky for the last two years gave me a lot of credibility. Ken Black realized that I learned from the best. Bucky is a 17-time national event champion and very well respected in the racing world. He taught me and my team how to be winners in drag racing.
Because of the opportunity that Ken Black, his wife Judy, and his son Ken Jr. are giving me, I can say that racing is my career and "Wally" collecting is my hobby. I made the right decision when I decided to follow my heart and give 100% of my effort to racing.
Q. What are the biggest differences that you experienced so far between Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Fuel?
HW: There is a big difference between Top Alcohol Dragster and Top Fuel. Driving a blown alcohol dragster is completely different, procedurally, than driving a Top Fuel dragster. I don't see a shift light in the fuel car; I don't see a tachometer; I just see the finish line coming at me faster than it ever did before. I think Top Alcohol is the best prep for Top Fuel because it helped me get used to the speed, acceleration, and how quickly everything happens. I learned an infinite amount this past year about what it takes to be a competitor in racing. I plan to continue to draw upon what I've learned and continue to keep learning.
Q. You have done some testing in the Top Fuel Dragster in 2005. Tell us about those test sessions. Any problems arise?
HW: We've made about 16 runs in testing so far. I got my license at our first test session in Indy and everything went well. Then a couple of weeks later, we went to Joliet. It was not one of my better driving days. I saw the wall closer than I ever wanted to see it going 300 plus mile per hour. I got off the throttle but it was too late and the rear tire brushed the wall. I will always remember that day. I wish that it didn't happen but I think it happened for a reason so I have to learn from it and move on.
While there was a lesson learned about driving, I also I learned what kind of people I'm working with at KB Racing and Kalitta Motorsports. Everyone is very supportive. I'm so fortunate to be able to work in that sort of environment.
They never lost confidence in my driving ability; they let me come back and test in Dallas the very next week. I couldn't wait to get back in the car. We tested two days in a row and everything went well. We made our best run which was a 4.563 at 326 mph. After that, we tested at Las Vegas for a day and that went well also. I'm glad I could bounce back and restore confidence in my own ability and restore the team's confidence in me. Testing is a lot of extra work for the crews so it meant a lot to me that they put in the added time.
Now we have three more test sessions ahead of us before the season begins. These will not only be beneficial to me but to the entire team. Between the sixteen test runs I did in 2005 and the upcoming test sessions, I should have about 50 runs in a TF dragster by the time we pull up to the starting line in Pomona.
Q. What are your expectations for 2006?
HW: I have high expectations for myself going into 2006. Obviously this is a top caliber team and I want to do a good job driving for Ken Black, Ken Black Jr., Connie Kalitta, Jim Oberhofer, and the whole team. I think they made the right decision in hiring me and at the end of 2006; I want them to be glad that they made that decision. I know that Ken Sr. would like us to finish in the top five in the 2006 POWERade point standings. It is my personal expectation to drive to the very best of my ability each and every time I pull up to the starting line, regardless of points and regardless of whatever distractions there may be. I'll also be working on securing a primary sponsor for our team.
Q. In your recent press release unveiling the rendering of your paint scheme for 2006 there is a decal that is a logo for "Girl Power." Explain the decal and what "Girl Power" is about and what advantages a female driver has in drag racing right now.
HW: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.
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. Sometimes it's risky to do so, but encouragement really helps. I ask them to find mentors to help them get where they want to go. I've also talked to women's group and I encourage them to be risk-takers, set goals, go for those goals and also become mentors.
I would like to think that the Girl Power Racing logo is symbolic of the message I am trying to send. If people do not yet know my message, then the logo is something that a lot of people can identify with. Women and men, girls and boys of all ages were buying up Girl Power Racing apparel last year. This year we're going to expand our program and offer apparel at all National events. We are currently working with Mac Tools to set up a trailer that will be near our pit. I'm also looking to sell some items online soon. I think we will have a lot of things that people will really want to wear.
Q. What is the most challenging part of racing?
HW:The challenging part about being in drag racing is gaining acceptance and respect. I don't think anyone, man or woman, is automatically respected as a racer. We all have to go out and prove ourselves. Thankfully I am given that chance even though I'm a female. If this was the 1960's or the 70's, I might not have this opportunity. Shirley Muldowney had to fight just to be granted a racing license. For anyone who doubted that a woman could be a winner in drag racing, Shirley proved them wrong. She opened the door for women in the sport because she proved that women could be winning race car drivers.
Q. In closing, any additional thoughts or comments?
HW: Lately I've been asked what advice I could give to up-and-coming racers. I have a hard time with that because I have by no means "made it." I still have a long way to go in racing, but I tell people that it's important to surround yourself with the right people. I have always had the support of my Dad and my Grandpa. They have always believed in me and supported me 100% no matter what I do. A lot of times they believed in me when I didn't believe in me. I was fortunate to have Bucky in my corner. I wouldn't have the same opportunities in racing if it were not for him.
Now, with being involved with Kalitta Motorsports and KB Racing, I am surrounded by a number of people who can really help me. I have a lot of resources and it's going to be up to me to utilize those. I have Shirley Muldowney as my mentor and there's Connie Kalitta, Scott Kalitta, Doug Kalitta, and Dave Grubnic. Also, Greg Anderson and Jason Line are my teammates. Obviously they're doing something right in Pro Stock and I think I could learn something from them as well.
No matter what happens, I just know that I love to race. I like the competition, I like the adrenaline rush, I like the people involved, I like being a part of a team, and this list goes on. I loved Super Street racing where the fastest I went was 122 mph and I covered the quarter mile in 10.9 seconds. There is something about seeing that win light come on in my lane, no matter the speed and time that is very satisfying. Not everyone has a career that they can win at. I plan to have racing as my career for a long time so hopefully I will see lots of wins.
KB Racing is owned by Las Vegas businessman Ken Black. In addition to Hillary Will's Top Fuel Dragster, KB Racing also fields two Pro Stock cars, driven by Greg Anderson and Jason Line on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Anderson has won three consecutive POWERade Pro Stock Championships (2003-2005). Line finished third in the 2005 POWERade point standings and was honored with the 2004 Automobile Club of Southern California Road to the Future award, presented to the most outstanding rookie in a professional category.
Kalitta Motorsports (www.kalittaracing.com), owned by the legendary Top Fuel driver and successful businessman Connie Kalitta, will field, in addition to Will's dragster, three additional nitro fuel cars -- two Top Fuel dragsters and a Funny Car -- in 2006 on the NHRA POWERade Drag Racing Series. Doug Kalitta will drive the Mac Tools Top Fuel Dragster, David Grubnic will handle the driving duties on the StriVectin-SD Top Fuel Dragster and Scott Kalitta moves from Top Fuel to the Funny Car for 2006. In the final 2005 Top Fuel point standings Doug Kalitta finished third, Grubnic fourth and Scott Kalitta eighth.