Category Archives: Racers’ Tribune

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Joe Ligouri and Family

RT EPISODE 8: Is 2020 Over Yet?

Joe Ligouri and Family

FOR THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW, CLICK HERE.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—No one could have predicted back in January that 2020 would one of the most eventful in recent memory. Through early-October, we have experienced global pandemics, social justice movements, and political turmoil not seen in decades. It seems like those face been the least of Joe Liguori’s concerns this year.

Liguori’s racing career began in go-karts before he made the jump to midgets at 14. He raced around Indiana and his native Tampa, Florida through his teenage years. The day prior to his school graduation, Liguori was racing in Indiana. He flew back in time to walk at graduation before moving to Indiana the next day to pursue his racing career.

Much of Liguori’s racing career can be credited to his grandfather, Ralph Liguori.

“My grandfather started racing in 1949,” Liguori said of his family’s racing background. “He went through the war and grew up in the Bronx. He saw some stock car racing and said ’I am going to go do this.’ The very first race, he went out and spent $40 om the car and won $60 so he thought he could make a living do it.”

Ralph owns the most attempts to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 and never make the field. The open-wheel fan-favorite owns the 50-lap sprint car speed record on a dirt mile when he averaged 104 miles per hour. Racing until 2000, Ralph finally retired at the age of 74. Just six years early, he won a regional midget race at the Indianapolis Speedrome which made him the oldest racer ever to win a USAC feature.

Thanks to his grandfather, the entire Liguori family became involved in the racing world. Joe’s dad and uncles were involved in motocross. There wasn’t much hesitation when it came to Joe when he became old enough to race.

“I’ve won some regional midget races but nothing huge,” Liguori said of his racing resume. “I have won several local dirt sprint car events. Some of my bigger wins came in the Ford Focus midget division. In 2009 and 2010, we won the Midwest Championship and were the highest point man in the country.”

The thing about the racing community is that everyone knows everyone, and they are more like family than friends. Joe’s wife, Lynsey, is a former racer. They raced against each other on multiple occasions before and after they were married. The pair are the only spouses to make the feature at the Rumble in Fort Wayne as well as the first husband and wife to wreck each other in the event.

That tight-knit racing community may have been what helped the Liguori family power through 2020.

“In January, I lost a good friend of mine, Wally Sexton,” Liguori described how is 2020 started. “He was a mechanic of mine and had a lot of health issues. We moved on and come April 15, we had a house fire. The whole garage burned down from an electrical fire and the whole house was smoke damage. We had to take it down to the studs. Then my grandfather passes away.”

All of this happened for Joe and his family during a time when most of the world was worried about public health, job security, and how they were going to pay their bills. For a time, nearly the entire world was locked down to the point of not being able to leave your home. The Liguori family no longer had a home to stay in.

You would never know, that Joe and his family have had one of the worst years imaginable. He has found a way to keep pushing through and does it with a smile or a laugh because as bad as 2020 has been, it could always be worse.

“There are still a lot of goods,” Joe said of how he stays motivated. “Between my daughter, my wife, and my mother-in-law lives with us. She was actually there with my daughter when the fire happened. She was able to get here and the dogs out where no one was hurt. It was a large bad, but there were goods to it.”

None of the 2020 setbacks kept Joe from racing. The fire claimed his house, but his shop was still standings out back. This winter, he plans to build a non-wing sprint to build on both his wing and non-wing programs in 2021. Along with a few silver crown races, Liguori plans to make plenty of local appearances next year.

“Hopefully, in 2021, things return to normal,” Joe said of his plans. “We will get back to our regularly scheduled programs.”


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Angelo Taylor Car

RT EPISODE 7: No Other Car Like This One

Angelo Taylor Car

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—All drag racing fans remember the legends of the sport. Their achievements. Their sponsors. The cars they drove. The thing is that seldom have multiple legends been behind the wheel of the same car. Almost never have dozens of legends jumped into the driver’s seat of the same car.

Almost

Angelo Taylor purchased a rare 1984 Plymouth Horizon that was one of just 84 made with the same drivetrain as the 1984 Shelby Charger. There were plans to make more than 84 until it was discovered that the car could travel at over 120-mph, but the tires were only rated for 112-mph. Additionally, just one of the 84 was made without a radio in the dash. That one belongs to Taylor.

“I had received a brochure with a silver Horizon on it and promptly threw it in the trash.  A few days later I am taking the trash out and I noticed that on the left side of the brochure it mentioned that it was available with the Shelby HO motor,” Taylor said of how he came to own the rare car. “I called Kokomo Chrysler Plymouth, a sponsor of mine back then. They thought it was a mistake. A few days later, I looked through the order book and it was listed as an option for less than $400!”

Beginning in 1985, Taylor won the track championship at Bunker Hill for five-consecutive years and seven times in eight years including a win at Division 3 ET Finals in 1987 for street. Eventually, Taylor began splitting time between Bunker Hill and Lucas Oil Raceway culminating in a street class track championship at both facilities in 1992.

Taylor has been no stranger to Lucas Oil Raceway since his track championship in 1992. Between NHRA, IHRA, and NMCA, he owns 51 championship crowns. As he puts it, “I don’t count wins, just championships.”

While an incredibly accomplished driver in his own right, Taylor likely does not meet the standard for a drag racing legend. So, who else has sat in Angelo Taylor’s 1984 Plymouth Horizon? Here is just a list of the racers Lucas Oil Raceway was given photo evidence of. There are more. Many more.

Ed “Ace” McCullochCruz PedregonTony “The Sarge” Schumacher
Andrew HinesDon SchumacherScott Palmer
Antron BrownMatt HaganShawn Langdon
“Fast” Jack BeckmanRobert HightTommy Johnson Jr.
Bo Butner IIIJohn ForceTony Pedregon
Ron CappsLeah PruettRoland Leong
Courtney ForceMike SalinasChris Karamesines

Taylor is no stranger to NHRA member tracks, NHRA events, and community events where NHRA racers may be present. His race car is street legal. He can take it anywhere, and he does. When it leaves its destinations, it often does so with a trophy in the back seat or another legend added to the list.

It has more than 321,000 miles on the odometer and dozens of championships to its credit. It’s more than possible, it is likely that more NHRA legends have found themselves behind the wheel of this car than any other racing vehicle.

This 1984 Plymouth Horizon owned by Angelo Taylor is rare because there were only 84 ever built, but there may never be another race car with quite the same story.


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Parks Punisher 2

RT EPISODE 6: Roger Parks and the Drag Racing Community

Parks Punisher 2
Parks Punisher 2

FOR THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW, CLICK HERE

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—The racing community is as tight-knit as they come. Racers spend an entire spring, summer, and fall pitted next to each. They travel to the same tracks and race for the same trophies and payouts. Do not be mistaken, the competition is there, or racers would not devote so much to the sport. Take it from Roger Parks who loves the sport and knows the value of its community.

Despite being a long-time veteran of Lucas Oil Raceway for more than three decades, Parks has been noticeably missing from the track for more than a year now. To jump straight to why that is the case would be a true disservice to anyone reading this.

To appropriately tell this story, we must take a few steps back.

Parks First Car

“I started racing in 1987 in a 1968 Camaro,” Parks said of his start in drag racing. “It was a streetcar and we had to get used to it. We got beat in the first round every week, but we were learning. It took us about four months to get our first win.”

Parks LUV Truck

With a handful of wins in year-two, Parks was hooked. It was time to go faster. He decided on building a Chevrolet LUV truck. It was a regular at the track for a couple of decades, eventually running 9.24 seconds at more than 140 miles-per-hour. It has since been parked, but Parks still has the old truck.

Time for another change, Parks purchased a dragster about 15 years ago.

“A guy had a dragster for-sale and it was turn-key,” Parks said of how he came to own his popular dragster. “We bought it. It was a 225 hardtail. We put my motor in and it was running 5.0 seconds.”

That dragster has become famous at Lucas Oil Raceway because of the Punisher wrap Parks has on the race car. You would be hard-pressed to find a bigger Punisher fan than Parks.

The next part of Parks’ story proves how close the racing community is.

In 1998, Parks met Henry Van De Voorde, now one of his closest friends. Just two short years later, Van De Voorde discovered he would eventually need a new kidney.

“We didn’t talk about it much, but I always kept it in the back of my mind,” Parks said. “We became better friends the more we were around each other. Then in 2009, he told me he had to have a new kidney. I told him I would get tested.”

There was no hesitation from Parks. Van De Voorde had a few family members that were unable to donate for various reasons, despite their eagerness. Parks turned out to be a perfect match. However, it took four different doctors to give a thumbs up to alleviate all concerns.

It was a smooth process for both Parks and Van De Voorde. Parks cannot tell a difference being short a kidney and Van De Voorde’s kidney condition has improved since.

Parks Punisher

A racer donating a kidney to a fellow racer is a compelling story. It illustrates the comradery and friendship on display at each race on the Lucas Oil Raceway schedule and around the Midwest. Unfortunately for Parks, it is not as important as what happened to him on February 26, 2019.

“I had a stroke,” Parks detailed of the day’s events. “No warning, no symptoms. I just passed out. I was driving running 60 miles per hour. I was out for three or four blocks. I hit a car that pushed a car that pushed a car into a city bus.”

Luckily, no one else was seriously injured in the accident. Even Parks could have suffered more severe results if not for a few good Samaritans involved in the accident.

Multiple people recognized that Parks was not well. Just two blocks from a hospital in Lafayette, he was rushed in before being transferred to Indianapolis. Without the assistance of those involved in the accident and at the scene, Roger Parks’ story could be very different.

Physical therapy and rehab followed for the next few months. A weak right leg and an immobile right arm eventually began to regain some strength. At first, Parks had to stay with friends and family, he had to be with another adult. Eventually, he was able to move back home.

He continued to walk and regain strength until that turned in to biking. Every day, the process became easier and easier. Just shy of a year after the stoke, Parks was ready to drive again. He went and took his driving test and passed on his first try.

What does that mean for his drag racing career?

“I sold my dragster and the motor home,” Parks said. “I just got rid of some things. I will probably go back to the LUV truck, but I am just taking my time.”

More than three decades of racing at Lucas Oil Raceway turned into an incredible friendship. That friendship turned into an act of bravery that potentially saved another racers’ life. Now 18 months into his recovery from a stroke, Parks has been forced to temporarily step away from the community he loves.

Temporarily.

It is a safe bet that he will be back in a race car. When he is ready, the racing community will welcome him back with open arms.


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wells-3

RT EPISODE 5: Wes Wells’ Pro Stock Motorcycle Career

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CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL INTERVIEW

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind—Wes Wells is a name that most racers in the Lucas Oil Raceway Brown’s Oil ET Bracket Series presented by Comfort Suites will recognize. A current regular at the track, for more than a decade, Wells was also a regular on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series.

He races in the bike class and has a Ray Skillman sponsored dragster that he runs in the bracket series and other local events. Most of his opponents are unaware of his complete drag racing career.

“I had won the E.T. Finals in 1993, 1994, and 1995,” Wells said of his decision to make the jump to the Pro Stock Motorcycle ranks. “I guess my head swelled a little and I thought I was as smart as these other guys. It turns out those guys are pretty smart, and they are pretty good riders.”

It took about three years for Wells to get to the point of competition in the highest bike class the NHRA has to offer. By the time he was able to put a bike together, understand the equipment and programs, and obtain all the necessary licenses, Wells was ready for his first national event in time for the 2000 NHRA season.

“At first, I was really nervous,” Wells said of his early days racing Pro Stock Motorcycle. “I remember the first pass; I went out and made the mistake of looking out into the stands. All these people are there and I had to put my head down and really focus on what I was there to do. After that, I learned not to look in the stands.”

Just because Wells was racing in the professional ranks does not mean he had a similar experience as Andrew Hines, Antron Brown, Angelle Sampey, or any of the other top bike racers at that time. Some teams were spending more than $500,000 dollars to run a Pro Stock Motorcycle season while Wells was spending a fraction of that.

There are even stories of frustrated pro racers that were not thrilled with having to park next to Wells at national events. It would be an interesting sight to see Wells, his trailer, and lawn chairs parked next to a team with multiple bikes, multiple rigs, and hospitality set up. Even without the same resources, Wells still found a way to compete.

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“I was pretty decent in 2008 and 2009,” Wells said of his later years racing national events. “I qualified for eight out of 10 races in 2009 and won some rounds. I was having quite a bit of luck and it was really neat because I was spending maybe $30,000 with Ray Skillman’s help.”

Something that most racers do not get is a behind the scenes look at how racers interact when they are not on the bike racing each other. The bracket racing community is a close one, almost like an extended family for some. Competition is important, but those racers spend the entire season around each other at race tracks. There is a sense of community.

The interactions are not all that different in the professional ranks.

“I met a guy named Pete Briggs and he was the only other one driving a Kawasaki at the time,” Wells said of his early friendships made with other drivers. “I went up to him and asked for some pointers and the guy bent over backward to help me. We ended up being great friends.”

After 12 seasons racing Pro Stock Motorcycle, the decision was made to step away from national events. It did not mean the end of Wells’ racing career. Now, just shy of a decade after his last national event, Wells is one of the most competitive bracket racers at Lucas Oil Raceway.

Currently, he is the defending Millennium Trailers Bike class champion. With a ladder set to determine the 2020 champion, Wells is set to be the top seed at the track championships on October 24. He has made plenty of appearances in the Lucas Oil Raceway winner’s circle in both his bike and dragster and shows no signs of slowing down and views bracket racing as a similar challenge to racing on the pro series.

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“Bracket racing is just as tough as what the pro guys do,” Wells said of bracket racing. “Especially nowadays, in Super Pro people monitor transmission pressure and temperature, they are changing converters. These cars are deadly now and you have to run your number.”

There is always one question that a once professional in sports are asked more than any other question. While not retired, Wells is no longer competing at the professional level. He never won a national event and spent a lot of money to race. He only competed for 12 seasons and it has been nearly a decade since his last Pro Stock Motorcycle race.

But does he miss it?

“Stop breathing. See if you miss it.”


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stoner

RT EPISODE 4: A Dodge Challenger Was All it Took

stoner

FOR THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW, CLICK HERE.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—A basketball is meant to go through a hoop. Baseball bats are made to be swung. You are supposed to kick a soccer ball. These are obvious facts that do not have to be explained. No one had to explain what Nathanael Stoners’ first Dodge Challenger was supposed to do when he made the purchase.

Most drag racers grow up around the sport. Maybe their parents are racers, or they started in the junior dragster ranks. Stoner did not grow up around cars and did not even take the tree until his early-20’s. A software tester for the State of Indiana, Stoner found the sport of drag racing around three years ago.

“A few years back, I got my first Dodge Challenger,” Stoner said of how he became interested in drag racing. “The thing that doomed me in the car was the legroom because I am 6’4″ and there are not a lot of cars I can fit. Then I found out quickly that they are really fun cars, so I decided I wanted to take it out to the track.”

One of the first events Stoner brought his first Challenger to was Wild Wednesday. On select Wednesday evenings throughout the season, racers can participate in the Lucas Oil Raceway Wild Wednesday test-and-tune program. The event is open to any vehicles that mean NHRA tech guidelines including daily drivers, dragsters, bikes, and more.

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Stoner had a fast car and he knew that it was supposed to go fast. Bringing it to Wild Wednesday would help him figure out how fast it could really go. It was not as easy as just showing up and racing for Stoner.

“There was a lot of trial-and-error, to begin with,” Stoner said of his learning curve to understand the sport. “When I started out, I did not even know how to stage or how the lights worked. Then you get more advanced and you learn how things like density altitude affect how quick a car runs and all these other little things.”

After a few passes down the track, Stoner began to come to a few realizations.

Drag racing was for him. Sure, he had a ways to go but Stoner was eager to learn more about the sport. He also realized you didn’t have to have the most powerful car to compete and win a race. Bracket racing would allow Stoner to race competitively without a true race car. Most importantly, Stoner realized he is a “Challenger guy.”

stoner-2

“I have a 2015 Dodge Challenger SRT 392, sublime green, 485 horsepower to the crank, and I have a set of drag radials on it,” Stoner said describing his new car. “It launches so much harder than my last car, it is like a roller coaster ride. I have a dashcam and I recorded my reaction to my first time down the track with it. There were a few choice words I cannot repeat here, but I was pumped.”

Now a regular at Lucas Oil Raceway on Wednesday nights, Stoner finished his first season in the Brown’s Oil Service ET Bracket Series presented by Comfort Suites in 2019. He finished 12th in the Allgaier Performance Parts Sportsman class out of nearly 50 competitors.

After diving into the sport enthusiastically, it did not take long for Stoner to become a full-fledged of the racing community.

“I have a lot of good friends that hang out here at the track,” Stoner said of how he’s learned about cars and racing. “There’s a lot of people that have helped me out. The nice thing is people in drag racing are super friendly, super accepting, and super friendly to new people.”

Stoner may have gotten a late start to drag racing, compared to most, but he is no less enthusiastic. He rarely misses a Wild Wednesday and do not be surprised if he makes a jump up the bracket series standings in 2020.


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Isenhower Wally

RT EPISODE 3: From Juniors to Drag Racing’s Biggest Stage

Isenhower Wally

CLICK HERE TO VIEW FULL INTERVIEW

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—The National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) is divided into seven divisions at the sportsman level. Racers compete within those divisions for championships and other perks like trips to national events. Division 3 (North Central Division) has produced a long list of championship drag racers. That list includes the name Devin Isenhower.

As with most sports, the best-of-the-best are typically those with decades of practice and experience. What Isenhower has accomplished at just 23 years old rivals that of some of the most experienced drivers in Division 3. He does have plenty of experience having been in a dragster for more than a decade, specifically as a junior at Lucas Oil Raceway.

“I’ve been racing here (Lucas Oil Raceway) since I was nine-years-old,” Isenhower said of his early drag racing career. “I started in the junior dragster ranks and did that all the way up until I was 18. Then I hopped in the big cars, and I’ve been doing that ever since.”

Isenhower credits his junior dragster career for getting him the experience he needed to be successful as an adult. He was able to master the fundamentals and different racing strategies that resulted in a strong junior career. As his 18th birthday approached, Isenhower was ready for the next level.

Once he turned 18, Isenhower stepped into a 250-inch American Dragster with a 632 cubic inch big-block Chevy engine, which he races in Super Pro and Super Comp classes. Once his father decided to step away from racing and focus on his role as crew chief, Devin also stepped into his father’s 1967 Camaro Roadster with a 615 cubic inch big-block Chevy engine that he races in Super Gas.

Isenhower Roadster

“My first year of racing big cars, it was more here locally and getting my feet wet,” Isenhower said. “The following year, we started to run the Division 3 series, and I actually won the Super Gas Championship.”

Division 3 is the “Land of the Winners,” and in his first season racing at the division level, Isenhower was already a winner in a big way. With Devin in the driver’s seat and his dad tuning the car, the Isenhower family decided to chase a national championship in 2018.

“I was still young (20) and didn’t have a full-time job. I was actually still in school going to college,” Isenhower said of his 2018 season. “I had the time and ability to run for the national championship. We had a good year in 2017 with the Division 3 Championship. We came out in 2018 and won the Division 3 Championship again as well as the national championship.”

Some racers can go decades or an entire career without a division title. In just three seasons after turning 18-years-old, Isenhower was a two-time Division 3 Super Gas Champion and a Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Super Gas National Champion.

His national championship defense fell short in 2019, and now, in the short 2020 season, Isenhower will begin to focus on new responsibilities. He recently graduated from Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and started a career as a Product Engineer, his first full-time job other than drag racing.

As if Devin’s career wasn’t impressive enough, he was a two-time Division 3 Champion and a Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series Champion while pursuing a college degree in mechanical engineering. Stepping away from some of the national and division events, you may still see Devin at some local races. He is likely to keep an eye on the big-money bracket races and could compete in some of those races in the future.

Isenhower IUPUI

Isenhower did not get to this point alone. A lot goes into making a successful career of any kind, and Devin’s family has played a vital role in his success.

Racing alongside him at the junior ranks was his brother, Nick. After Nick finished his junior career, he stepped away from drag racing before making his return in a Super Comp dragster this season. Nick even picked up a win during a preseason bracket race at Lucas Oil Raceway in late May. At a certain point, Devin’s father decided to step away from his racing career after finding more joy in crewing Devin and his race cars. You are sure to find Devin’s mother not far behind the vehicle watching the rest of the family work.

Entering semi-retirement at the ripe old age of 23, Isenhower has already accomplished a career worth of wins and championships. What’s his advice for the current junior racers looking to make an immediate splash on the national stage?

“You can beat a lot of people before you get to the track,” Isenhower said, offering advice to current junior racers. “If you can have good equipment that you can trust, you can work on, and you can follow, that gives you a great advantage.”

That’s coming from one of the best racers in the “Land of the Winners.”


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Wischmeyer racing

RT EPISODE 2: Alaia Wischmeyer is Just Beginning her Racing Career

Wischmeyer racing

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL INTERVIEW

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—Most racers have been sitting in a driver’s seat for most of their lives. Some seasoned veterans have been taking the tree since their teenage years. Some racers grow up working crew for their dad or their friends and are now behind the wheel themselves. Some began racing a junior dragster as early as five or six years of age. Alia Wischmeyer does not fit in any of those categories.

At 20-years-old, Wischmeyer is a third-generation NHRA U.S. Nationals fan. She has been attending since she was young, along with her father and grandfather. Despite being a fan, Wischmeyer was not a racer, nor was her father. Over Labor Day weekend in 2018, she and her father, John, were ready for that to change.

“In 2018, we were sitting at the U.S. Nationals, and I told my dad ‘this is what I want to do,” Wischmeyer said of how the plan came to be. “We made a game plan, and the goal that we’ve made is this year, 2020, we will be [racing] at the U.S. Nationals.”

That could be quite the process for two individuals that have never even taken the tree. There was one hurdle that needed to be cleared before the plans could be set in motion. If Alaia and John could overcome that hurdle, the rest would be easy. They had to convince mom, Melora, to let it happen.

Alaia had always wanted to drive a junior dragster. As with most mothers, this one had reservations of putting her daughter in a junior dragster along with the financial burden and time commitment it would require.

“She was like ‘okay. Clearly, this is something you want to do because you’ve been asking for about ten years,” Alaia said of the conversation with her mother. “Now, she’s very supportive of it.”

Just like that, the first part of the game plan was complete. On to the next step.

Next up was the Doug Foley Drag Racing School (now Pure Speed Drag Racing Experience) at Lucas Oil Raceway. That was not fast enough for Alaia. She followed that with a trip to Route 66 Raceway for the Frank Hawley Drag Racing School for her Super Comp license in May of 2019.

Wischmeyer and Dad

With a competition license in hand, it was time for Alaia to have a dragster of her own.

“We would drive to all over the Midwest, and we eventually went to Summit Motorsports Park to pick look at a car,” Alaia said. “We went one day to watch it run. We went back the next day, and when he was getting ready to put it on his trailer, we put it on ours and brought it home.”

With a Super Comp license and a dragster in the garage, it was time to hit the track. The Coronavirus Pandemic put a delay on her first passes, but as the Midwest began to open back up, Alaia finally made her debut on a dragstrip. Some Lucas Oil Raceway Wild Wednesday’s and a few test-and-tunes under her belt, Alaia was able to get close to 40 passes before the middle of June. Being able to make passes brought a whole new set of obstacles.

“It’s frustrating because I know what I am supposed to do, and I want to do it so badly,” Alaia said of the steep learning curve. “The whole process of letting off the transbrake at the right time and not red lighting, I am struggling with red lighting. I am figuring out that consistency of how far you stage to get our numbers so that we can succeed.”

Without racing backgrounds, when an issue or question comes up, Alaia and John often find themselves without a solution. After each pass, the duo looks at the video and all the numbers available to them. When not at the track, one or both can probably be found in the garage making improvements to the dragster.

If that’s not enough, they have a few resources in the racing world despite being so new to the sport. Luckily, John has a friend and co-worker that owns Arthur Racing and Performance Parts in Martinsville, Indiana and has a son that races in the junior dragster ranks. Roy Niemann is another family friend that has experience as a crew member at the nitro Funny Car ranks.

While doing her best to figure out the inner working of a Super Comp dragster, Alaia does have other responsibilities. As many high school graduates do, she chose to enroll in college immediately after high school. Going into the 2020-21 academic year, Alaia will be a junior at Ball State University. A hard-enough challenge to take on competitive drag racing and college courses, Alaia is a nursing student.

“There’s been a lot of mental breakdowns, a lot of late nights,” Alaia joked about how she balances her commitments. “My freshman years was absolutely the hardest year, just figuring out time management. This year’s going to be an experiment, too, now that we actually have the car. There are a lot of races that start Thursday-Friday, and I have clinicals on Friday.”

Wischmeyer and Parents

In a couple of years, Alaia plans to graduate with a nursing degree. Despite 2020 being her first season in a racing vehicle, her competitive drag racing plans are just as concrete.

“In a week, I am going back to the Frank Hawley School in my car to learn more of the technical side, absorb more information, and hopefully come out of it stronger,” Alaia said of her upcoming plans. “Past that, my goal is to be in a Top Fuel dragster at the end of this. That’s always been my goal.”

She wanted to be in a junior dragster when she was little. It wasn’t an option. Now, Alaia has ten years of drag racing progress lost to make up for, and she’s not wasting a single second.

Alaia will be chasing the Super Comp title on the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series with the hope of running at the 66th NHRA U.S. Nationals in September. In between those events, she wants to make as many passes as possible. Her first-ever competitive races were at Lucas Oil Raceway over the weekend of June 13-14 for a pair of Brown’s Oil Service ET Bracket Races Presented by Comfort Suites. They won’t be her last. 


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RT EPISODE 1: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Dustin Richardson

richardson-win

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FULL INTERVIEW

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.—The rise and fall of an individual is a story that has been told thousands of times. It almost always begins with promise and hopes for a bright future. It almost always ends with the downfall of a once-great hero or future star.

Dustin Richardson’s story did begin with promise. He did endure a free fall in his personal life. But the end of his story is yet to be told.

At just 16-years-old, Richardson was the Division 3 runner-up in Super Street.  A year later, he was the Division 3 Champion in the same class, runner-up in the JEGS All-Stars, and the Driver of the Year in Division 3. To prove it was not a fluke, Richardson defended his Division 3 Super Street title the following year at just 18-years-old.

Talk about a bright future. A proven champion drag racer, Richardson was also a high school star on the gridiron. He was an all-state performer. He had plenty of opportunities to compete at the collegiate level. Richardson chose drag racing.

richardson-national-dragster

Then life happened.

“I met a woman, was married really young and had a baby really young,” Richardson said of how his personal life changed after high school. “Right around that time, I also wrecked a car and broke my back. I was prescribed pills, and that became an ongoing deal.”

Then the downfall came. Richardson describes the next phase of his life as “15-years of hell”.

First, it was prescription pills. Then Richardson moved to smoking marijuana. That led to Richardson losing his wife and home. He was living in his truck. The two-time Super Street Champion in the “Land of the Winners” was homeless. The free fall did not stop.

“I was smoking crack; I was snorting heroin; I was doing everything I could possibly do,” Richardson said. “I was the worst of the worst when it comes to drug addicts.”

Rock bottom is a phrase that describes the lowest point in an individual’s life. That point is different for everyone. For Richardson, the loss of his family was not rock bottom. Nor was being homeless. Rock bottom for Dustin Richardson was stealing his mother’s medication and jewelry while she battled cancer. Rose Richards battled cancer for six years.

“I would steal her pills,” Dustin said. “I took her jewelry that she got when she had cancer. My dad got her a special cross, and I took it. I pawned it for $100 to get heroin.”

The Richardson’s are a racing family. Dustin and his brother, Bryan, both race. Their parents, Paul and Rose, have also spent plenty of time in the driver’s seat of a race car. Without his parents, Dustin would never have been a successful drag racer. It was his admiration for them that finally helped him reach rock bottom.

“I come from a good family, and I had an awesome upbringing,” Dustin said of the role his parents played in his racing career. “Division champion. I had that opportunity, not by my doing. That was my mom and dad.”

It was seeing the hurt he caused his mom and dad that forced him to reach his rock bottom. Rose was fighting for her life while Dustin took her medication and jewelry. That feeling was enough for Dustin. He was ready to turn things around. It was time to get clean and turn his life around for himself and his family.

Dustin set out for Our Masters Camp, a rehab facility operated by Providence Recovery Place in the foothills of Tennessee. After the first visit, Dustin failed to maintain his sobriety. He went back again but still struggled to stay clean. On the third visit, something clicked. He committed to staying sober nearly three years ago, and he did.

But that was not the end of his struggles.

On January 9, 2019, Dustin was hit by a drunk driver going the wrong way on Indiana 930. The driver had a blood-alcohol level of 0.328%, more than four times the legal limit in the state of Indiana. Dustin was found pinned inside his truck with medics only able to reach the upper part of his body. From his abdomen down, he was covered by the dashboard.

Richardson-car-accident

His left femur: shattered. Right ankle: twisted 180-degrees and shattered. Pelvis: broken in seven locations. Add three broken ribs plus a ruptured spleen, and Dustin was now on a long road to a different type of recovery.

“It’s the best thing to ever happen to me in my entire life,” Dustin said of the accident. “There’s a thing we call in all the circles called a ‘dry drunk’ which is someone who’s not drinking but still acting the same way with character defects. That first couple of years, I was sober, but I was not a nice person. I had not had a change of heart.”

richardson-hospital-bed

That change of heart came after the accident. With rods holding together his lower body, Dustin has maintained his sobriety since the third trip to rehab despite the grueling physical recovery from his accident. The physical pain he experiences every day serves as a reminder of what he’s working to achieve.

“It showed me God’s love through anything,” Dustin said of how the accident motivated him. “A lot of relationships were healed. Things with my parents that may never have been healed were healed after that. God did so many things for me through [the accident].”

Dustin is engaged to “the woman of [his] dreams,” active in his children’s lives, and is once again a part of the all-American drag racing family. A happy ending to a story that nearly ended in tragedy so many times. Still, Dustin is not ready for the story to end.

“To us, racing is everything; it’s our heart; it’s our soul,” Dustin said of his return to drag racing. “It’s being with our parents and the relationships. It’s the loading up on Thursday and mom being crabby because she doesn’t have her list done. It’s having a family talk on the way there. It’s so much more than getting in a race car and going down the track for us.”

When Dustin was one month old, his father, Paul, purchased a 1987 Oldsmobile Firenza It’s been with the family for 35 years. In late May of 2020, despite all odds, Dustin made his triumphant return to the track for the first time in seven years, racing his father’s Firenza.

richardson-dad-win

Making that first pass after so many years was a milestone in the Dustin Richardson comeback story. No one knows quite how it will end, but Dustin has a pretty good ending in mind.

“The comeback for me is to have a loving family, a loving wife, and to be on that stage in California with a big trophy telling them thank you.”

Lucas Oil Raceway is an auto racing facility in Brownsburg, Indiana about 10 miles west of Downtown Indianapolis. It includes a 0.686-mile (1.104 km) oval track, a 2.5-mile (4.0 km) road course, and a 4,400-foot drag strip which is among the premier drag racing venues in the world.

 The Racers’ Tribune is a series of features detailing the incredible lives of racers from around Hendricks Country, the state of Indiana, and the Midwest. Every racer has a story. Some stories are exciting. Others are funny or sad, but each racer has one. Let Lucas Oil Raceway tell your story. If you have a story to tell or know someone who does, submit the story HERE to be highlighted in the Racers’ Tribune. 


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