JACKSON TWP. Most 11 year olds are still four-plus years away from getting behind the wheel of a car.
Jackson sixth grader Erika Mast is ahead of the curve in that respect and her love of driving has taken her far in a short period of time. Mast is a junior drag racer whose interest in the sport began less than a year ago, but has quickly become a big part of her life.
"One day In the fall of 2017, I went to my parents and told them I wanted to do junior dragster racing after seeing a chassis at Summit Motorsports Park gift shop in Norwalk," Mast said. "I've never seen or heard kids racing before. I just wanted to do it - it was calling my name - and my parents showed me a YouTube video of junior dragster racing was and they even found a parent who was willing to let me sit in his son’s dragster."
She sat in the car, started it up and she was hooked on the sport. None of her three older brothers had don any kind of racing, but her parents began setting aside money to buy her a dragster. They found a used one and her older brothers Nathan and Ryan were able to do the necessary work on the car to get it ready to race.
The goal was to race for the 2018 season, which meant both getting the car ready, finding a trailer to haul it and getting her International Hot Rod Association (IHRA) license. Mast accomplished the last of those aims in May and is licensed to race at any IHRA track, but must pay entry and pit crew fees, which her parents say can cost as much as $300. There’s also the caveat that, due to her age, she can’t drive her dragster back to the pit or staging areas and has to be towed by a golf cart borrowed from her grandfather.
Costs are arguably as big of a challenge as other races, as travel expenses make it difficult to plan trips. For now, the family isn’t able to buy a motor home to travel in the way some racers do, so they stay in hotels when they go to races. Even their "home" track, Dragway 42, is an hour away.
With all of those expenses, the process of updating her dragster with new parts to enhance its performance is a long and drawn-out one. Mast is working on learning how to perform her own maintenance and repairs on her car while also working to find sponsors willing to help fund her racing efforts.
Her most distant journey for a race to date was in Morocco, Ind. She admits that her first time getting behind the wheel for real was a bit intimidating, but she’s come a long way since then.
"Yes it scared me, but since I had control of the kill switch inside my dragster I used it each time to shut the motor off until I got comfortable going farther and farther, so by the time I had my first race I was very comfortable with my dragster," Mast said.
She enjoys competing and making friends and says that the difficult and unpredictable Ohio weather has been another major hurdle to clear. It has limited her chances to race, but when she does, the schedule for events is fairly similar.
"We try to go to test and tune on Fridays and once in a great while on a Wednesday or Thursday," Mast said. "We race whenever there is a race because I'm signed up for IHRA Super Summit Point Series at my home track, which has eight races. Also we fill in seat time with other races that we hear about on Junior Dragster Swip Swap and Ohio-Michigan Junior Dragster social media sites."
Her parents admit that when they bought the dragster, they didn’t know anything about its engine. They bought a used on and a refurbished clutch after the one they were using broke, but maintenance on a dragster is a constant process.
Brian Mast is the crew chief for his daughter, while her mother, Terrie, is the crew manager and handles video. They say the time spent together racing, while stressful, is "priceless." Their youngest son, Matthew, is sensitive to loud noises, so for now he stays home from races until the family can buy a motor home where he can stay at events.
To raise funds, the family has created both Facebook and GoFundMe pages and made t-shirts and drink holders to sell. So far, it has been tough going to get enough sponsors to help with costs, but the family continues its efforts and in the interim, is making do with what it has on hand. Their hope is that success will come both on the track and in the fundraising world as they try to get up to top speed.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB