VERMILION — Lauren Dadas appears to have a good head on her shoulders.
The 17-year-old Vermilion teen is looking ahead to her senior year at Amherst Marion L. Steele High School, playing one more year of softball, and planning a career in the medical field.
But in between her classes and career goals, there’s a bit of a “wild child” who loves to put the pedal to the metal behind the wheel of 15-foot junior dragsters.
“I want to go fast,” Lauren Dadas said with a big smile.
She drove fast enough and well enough to beat out roughly 100 other drivers in her age division — 16 and 17 — at the recent 2009 National Hot Rod Association Eastern Conference Finals in Bristol, Tenn. Her brother, Matt drove in the 14-year-old division.
Lauren’s Norwalk-based Summit Motorsports Park racing team also finished second out of 35 teams from the eastern U.S. The dark-haired teen received an NHRA “Wally” — a trophy, for those not in the know — a bronze medallion and $5,000 U.S. savings bond for her victory.
Daughter of Jim and Lisa Dadas, Lauren comes by her love of racing naturally enough.
Her father, who built her award-winning junior dragster from the ground up, has raced for more than 25 years.
After winning his share of amateur races, he’s throttled back on time spent behind the wheel “after we started having kids and staying home more.”
Powered by a 45 horsepower engine, Lauren’s 15-foot, 240-pound car never delivers a ho-hum experience.
“You never get bored. Every ride is different,” she said.
Since first squeezing into the cockpit of a bullet-shaped junior dragster at age 11, Lauren has steadily increased her speed, going from 55 mph to 82 mph over distances topping out at an eighth of a mile.
“I have no fear of speed. I feel comfortable and safe,” thanks in large part to rigorous safety inspections, and required fire-resistant suits, shoes, gloves and specially designed helmets.
Mention dragsters and most folks think it’s all about going fast, but there’s a lot of strategy involved in races in which winners and losers can be separated by a barely-there 1,000th of a second, Jim Dadas said.
Under a system of handicapping designed to create more of a level playing field, young drivers can’t cross the finish line in under eight seconds.
“If you get too far ahead, you have to hit the brakes,” Jim Dadas said. “There’s a lot of anticipation, and calculating what other drivers are going to do. Perfect runs are rare. It’s more about the competition than the speed.”
Getting off the starting line quickly and cleanly is key.
“Reaction times are huge,” Lauren said. “The most important part of the race is the start.”
Even though she must “retire” from the junior circuit when she turns 18, Lauren is looking to do a lot more racing before she’s done.
“Hopefully … but it’s up to him,” she said, nodding toward her father.
In the meantime, she’s looking ahead to graduation and college, possibly Mount Union or Kent State, where she plans to study to be a pediatric nurse-practitioner or anesthesiologist.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.