MAURICEVILLE, Texas (AP) — The Oklahoma heat radiated off the eighth-mile track as Mauriceville drag racer Kinley Wolfford stared at the starting lights. Her nervous hands gripped the steering wheel in the rumbling cockpit of the 14-foot Half Scale Jr. Dragster about to tear through the dry air at 72 mph.
This was what she wanted. This feeling. The one that crawled into the forefront of her mind when she watched her older brother, Blaze, 15, race a year ago.
She wanted the thrill, that force that multiplied with her acceleration, she told the Beaumont Enterprise (http://bit.ly/29sBjci). Seconds later, Kinley became the fastest 12-year-old drag racer in the nation. She did it in just her first four months of competition.
“No, this is your brother’s thing,” her parents, Chris, 42, and Jenny, 40, said when Kinley first asked to race a year ago. They already were dropping her off at dance rehearsals, cheer practices and volleyball and basketball camps. Their racing investment was considerable, and another car could run up to $10,000. Let racing belong to her brother.
But in October, Blaze walked to their father’s paint and body shop, which borders their Mauriceville home.
“Let’s get a car for Kinley, dad,” he said. “So she can race.”
There the car was, parallel to her competitor, toeing the starting line in the championship race at the June 25 National Hot Rod Association’s Junior Drag Racing Western Conference Finals in Tulsa.
More than 250 drivers nationwide competed in the NHRA’s national championship, in age groups from 6 to 17. Underaged drivers are permitted licenses restricted to NHRA-certified events and tracks.
The starting light blinked green. Kinley hit the gas in five-hundredths of a second, and the teal-flamed dragster lurched forward.
The thrill was on.
Wind gusted across the windshield, whipping the miniature Texas flag zip-tied to her seat. Kinley’s quick start aided an early lead, and she peered through her camouflage helmet at the scoreboard as her car tore past the finish line: 8.952 seconds – the green light flashed on her side.
“She was screaming,” said Chris Wolfford, who gave up his own 20-year racing career when Blaze began racing five years ago.
Kinley received $1,500 and the most esteemed trophy in drag racing: “The Wally,” an 18-inch, 12-pound brass statue of a racer and a wheel. It now rests on the Wolffords’ fireplace.
“It’s my first year of racing, so just to be able to make it to that race and make it that far is really an honor,” Kinley said. “I like the excitement, and I want to keep going.”
Kinley will continue to race at her home track, Evadale Raceway, where she is a part of the Royal Purple junior team that travels to races across the country.
Recently, Kinley and her father stood in their driveway next to the body shop, where it all began. Now, as Chris puts it, she can go “from cheer girl to race girl in a matter of seconds.”
It was almost time for cheer practice, and the champion racer went into the house to grab her things.
Chris Wolfford laughed at the upcoming irony. He had to drive.
Information from: The Beaumont Enterprise, http://beaumontenterprise.com