- Associated Press - Sunday, September 20, 2015

ROANOKE, Va. (AP) - It didn’t take Taylor Dunahoo long to run into a red light in her first class at Virginia Western Community College on Sept. 7.

“So what’s your hobby?” the instructor asked her new students.

The 2015 Northside High graduate offered a beaming smile and responded: “My name is Taylor, and I drag race.”

Everybody in the class turned around.

“Yeah, I drag race … been doing that since I was 8 years old,” Dunahoo said. The teacher’s responded: “I’ve never met anybody who does that, much less a girl.”

The 5-foot-2, 100-pound Dunahoo could only giggle.

“I don’t think she will forget me,” she says.

Neither will the rest of the class.

Since she started racing as an 8-year-old, Taylor’s been getting faster and faster. In late July, she was a quarterfinalist in the NHRA Junior Dragster’s Eastern Conference final that featured 100 drivers at Bristol, Tennessee. She also owns seven career wins in the International Hot Rod Association’s Pro Junior Dragster class.

You won’t find too many other female drag racers, unless you’re rolling with the Dunahoos. The north Roanoke County family has been running straight-line quarter miles for decades. Taylor’s paternal grandfather, Tommy, and his brother, Marvin, started racing in the 1970s.

“Of course, they got that into me,” says Jerry Dunahoo, Taylor’s father.

Taylor was 6 years old when she first brought up the idea of being a racer. According to her mother, Marlo, the 6-year-old met Jerry in the driveway tapping her foot and saying, “Daddy, I’ve got to talk to you. Daddy, I got to talk to you. … I want to drive race cars.”

“Jerry and I had always talked about it that if we had any children that they would be given the opportunity to do that, because that’s what he did,” Marlo says. “From as little as she was and to see how many times she got beat and never got discouraged and stayed with it, it was amazing to me.”

Her ride is a half-scale rail dragster that looks like the real thing, except the power plants are limited to 50 horsepower. The top speeds in her division generally range from 83 to 84 mph on the top end.

Taylor spends hours a day sitting in a simulator equipped with a drag-racing Christmas-tree lighting system in the family’s basement. Hours and hours at that drill have enhanced her starting-line reaction time.

“The most important thing is the reaction time,” Jerry says. “That is mental. It’s just learning it, repetitive, doing it over and over again.”

Her father says the sport his oldest daughter loves is safe as can be. Taylor wears a five-point harness, a fire jacket, fire pants, gloves, and a HANS device - made popular by NASCAR for head safety. She has never been injured.

“I tell everybody that she’s safer doing this than she is riding the school bus to school,” says Jerry.

Taylor Dunahoo is going to college. She hopes to be a nurse one day. Along the way, she plans to continue to hit the drag strip on weekends.

She’s now too old for the junior dragster class so now plans to run the IHRA super stock division. Jerry Dunahoo has a 1993 Mustang ready to roll that will have a driver with a heavy foot awaiting.

“I don’t like getting beat,” Taylor Dunahoo says.


Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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