American girl racer to make Aussie debut Winternationals
Twenty-eight year old Grace Howell will make her debut in the Australian professional ranks at Willowbank Raceway’s FUCHS Winternationals (5-8 June 2014), competing in the Pro Stock category.
The FUCHS Winternationals is the largest championship drag racing event held outside of Howell’s home country – the United States of America – attracting up to 500 racers and approximately 30,000 spectators over its four days.
It will be the first time the former professional NHRA drag racer will compete on Australian soil after moving to Australia in 2013 from South Carolina to be with her Australian partner and Pro Stock racer Scott Porter, and with years of drag racing experience behind her the petite blonde powerhouse is sure to be one to watch.
“I used to race in the United States, really I grew up racing, first in Junior Dragster and then Super Stock, before going on to race professionally in the Sport Compact Series and in Pro Stock,” said Howell, the 1996 NHRA Junior Dragster National Champion who also boasts a Stock Automatic class win at the NHRA US Nationals (in a factory-backed Jet Cobra) and back-to-back NHRA event wins in June of 2008 (Pro Stock, Rocky Mountain Raceway and Stock Eliminator, Ohio).
“In August it would have been two years since I had taken the wheel of a race car as I took a break when I decided to move to Australia.
“Scott and his father Paul have been trying to get me into Scott’s car for a while now and they finally convinced me to have a go – I went and tested at Willowbank Raceway in April and while I had a fair bit of nerves to start, once I cranked up the car and did the first burnout I felt good to go.
“When it comes to Pro Stock I have found that between the NHRA and ANDRA (the American and Australian drag racing associations respectively) versions it is very similar. Scott’s car is almost identical to the car I used to drive in the States and it is a bonus that I have found the engines here to be a lot smoother and easier to drive also.
“When Scott asked if I wanted to race his car at the FUCHS Winternationals it was a bit of a daunting thought at first, I have been happy living a normal life per se but I am really excited, it is going to be so great to be able to race with my little family here, and hopefully we can do well.”
When she climbs into the driver’s seat at the June Queen’s birthday long weekend event (Thursday 5 June to Sunday 8 June), Howell will be only the second female racer to compete in the professional level Pro Stock bracket in Australia.
“I really love that drag racing is one of those motorsports where women can really compete on an equal footing with the men, and I feel very fortunate that I have had the opportunity to do that,” said Howell, who has also recently become a business owner, acquiring eyelash extension business iLash Mackay.
“I know there is a lot of focus at times on being the first woman racer to do certain things, but for me personally it is more about just being able to compete – I would rather do well as a competitor overall than just as a ‘girl competitor’.
“At the same time, I recognise I have had a lot of opportunity come my way and I don’t take that for granted, and I am very keen to encourage all the girls out there that are thinking of getting into the sport or continuing on with it to do so.
“That is part of why I am such a big fan of the Junior Dragster bracket especially, it is keeping our sport alive and nurturing our next generation of racing stars like Scott’s daughter Lilly (nine years old) and son Parker (six years old) who are both very involved with Lilly about to start in Junior Dragster and Parker always trying to help out.”
Thanks to her time on the professional NHRA scene Howell has raced at some of the biggest drag racing events, so how does she rate the FUCHS Winternationals?
“I was at the FUCHS Winternationals for 2013 and it is a great race – Willowbank does a fantastic job with it and while I think everyone uses what goes on in the US as a benchmark – I know I do especially because I am from there – what they do here is an excellent thing and I think anyone could come over here from the States and be impressed,” said Howell.
“As a child I actually raced at Willowbank in Junior Dragster in a friend’s car and I won that which was really exciting – hopefully I can repeat that success this time around!
“When we tested there a few weeks ago the track was just immaculate, I couldn’t have asked for more. It is a great track and I think we are very lucky to have a facility like Willowbank in Australia.”
While Howell takes over driving duties, her partner Scott will turn his full attention to the new engine combination the Porter Racing Team will debut at the event.
“I am so thankful to Paul and Scott for the opportunity to race at the FUCHS Winternationals, Paul organises all of the racing and the car and he does such a great job, so I really need to say thank you to him especially,” said Howell.
“When I am at the wheel Scott will be focusing on the new engine we will be racing there, working with not only his dad but also John Barbagallo who helps us with our engines and who Scott is busy learning from.
“After the FUCHS Winternationals I will look to continue my time in the seat in a few events but Scott will be taking the car back for the other national championship rounds – honestly the FUCHS Winternationals is such a huge event I think that will be enough for me for a while!” laughed Howell.
The FUCHS Winternationals will be held across the Queen’s Birthday long weekend (Thursday 5 June to Sunday 8 June 2014), with up to 500 racers expected from all across the country to compete in front of approximately 30,000 spectators across the four days.