One of the fastest growing segments of drag racing is the Jr. Dragster division. More than 25 youngsters ranging from 8 to 16 years old participate in the new division at 75-80 Dragway in Monrovia every week.
Ashley Pickett of Hampstead is one of several Carroll County youngsters who races in the Jr. Dragster division. Ashley, who celebrated her ninth birthday Friday, started racing last year and already has a win. Although the 1995 season is only five weeks old, Ashley has a runner-up finish.
You can think of the Jr. Dragster program as Little League baseball on wheels. It is a safe and fun program for aspiring drag racers. Youngsters like Ashley drive scaled-down replicas of Top Fuel dragsters powered by five-horsepower go-kart motors that can reach more than 45 mph in a one-eighth mile, side-by-side race.
Ashley and her mother, Donna, did not know anything about drag racing until they met Hampstead resident Marion Ford. A top motorcycle drag racer, Ford and his two brothers were instrumental in getting the Jr. Dragster program started a little over three years ago.
Marion's nephew, Michael, was one of the first to race in the new division in a car built by the Fords. It was Ford who suggested to Ashley that she ought to watch Michael race and that she would enjoy it.
"She started helping Michael at the track," said Donna. "She would help him put on his helmet and help strap him in. She really got into it."
When Ashley turned 8 last year, Ford asked her if she wanted to race. So when a new car was built for Michael, Ashley got his car.
"I love it," said Ashley. "I wasn't nervous at all the first time. I had watched Michael so I knew what to do."
Ashley's car is sporting a new paint job. It is a deep purple with matching trim and the words "Ladies First" on both sides of the hood. The car was especially painted for her by Dennis Moore of Moore's Body Shop in Brooklyn.
Ashley is serious about her racing. At times she has lacked consistency with the light at the start.
"She is a lot like me," said Marion. "One week she will have near perfect 5.0 lights and the next week her reaction time is near the sevens."
To improve her reaction time she practices with a computer that Marion has.
At first, Ashley's speed was around 37 mph. Like everyone else involved in drag racing, it wasn't long before she wanted to go faster. She caught on very fast and with a few modifications to the motor, Ashley is now going over 50 mph. Her mother feels that is fast enough for now.
Ashley has become more involved in racing. Instead of just driving, she is helping more on the car. She helped Marion rebuild the motor during the off-season.
Last weekend, Gary Stuhler of Westminster did it again. He beat the STARS late models at Hagerstown Speedway to win his third consecutive Schetrompf Memorial. Stuhler started 10th and took the lead at the midway point of the 40-lap event. Stuhler pocketed $5,000 for the win. Stuhler finished second to Scott Haus in the STARS event at Williams Grove Speedway.
At Lincoln Speedway, Cris Eash of Woodbine finished second to Fred Rahmer in the super sprint feature. Jesse Wentz of $H Manchester was 11th. At Williams Grove, Eash was ninth in the sprint car feature and his brother Darren was sixth. Other results from Lincoln found Randy Zechman of Westminster finishing second to Bobby Beard in the semi-late feature. In the thundercar main event, Greg Messersmith of Hampstead finished second to Bernie Beard.
On the World of Outlaw circuit, Jeff Shepard of Finksburg finished seventh in the 40-lap feature at Bloomington, In. Speedway.
At Trail-Way Speedway, Brad McClelland of Westminster was second in the micro-sprint feature and David Parrish of Westminster was ninth. In the thundercar feature, John McDonogh of Finksburg was third and Mark Shorb of Westminster was fifth. Mike Walls of Taneytown claimed his second straight four-cylinder stock feature. Walls ran seventh the next night at Hagerstown Speedway. Matt Barnes of Westminster was third and Steve Barnes of Westminster was fifth.
McClelland then traveled to Winchester Speedway for a micro-sprint show. McClelland broke into the second spot on Lap 15 and on the final circuit of the 20-lap event, drove underneath Rodney Glass to win. Ernie Jones of Westminster was fourth in the late model feature.
In drag racing, Chuck Taylor of Taneytown, sporting a new paint job on his Pennzoil/Ford-powered dragster, won Class I in his first appearance of 1995. Taylor defeated Lynn Kinsey of Monrovia. Joe Mayne of Mount Airy and Larry Hoff of Westminster were semifinalists. In Class II, Ed Talbert of Taneytown was a semifinalist. In motorcycle competition, Marion Ford of Westminster won the class, defeating Dave Belt of Taneytown. Malcolm Ford of Westminster and Gene Belt of Taneytown were semifinalists. Josh Wagner of Westminster was semifinalist in the Jr. Dragster division.