ST. CHARLES – Inside an unassuming shop just off Route 25 in St. Charles, Marina Anderson is hard at work to become the next top drag racer in the country.
She is well on her way.
The 24-year old Lombard resident earned a $1,000 sponsorship from Champion Auto Part as part of the Search for a Champion. Now she is one of 25 finalists for the $50,000 grand prize in the same contest. Public voting concludes March 23 at sfac.championautoparts.com/entry/955.
"I was really nervous at the end of the voting for the first part before I found out I was a finalist. I'm even more nervous now, but I don't have control over it even though I'm asking people to vote everyday," Anderson said. "Honestly, I just feel lucky to be a finalist and be able to represent Champion this year."
The $1,000 sponsorship is nice. The big prize would be game-changing money for Anderson and her Anderson Family Dragster team, which includes father Scott Anderson and long-time family friend and crew chief Dave Daunheimer.
"It's amazing for me because Champion is such a well-known name and I don't have a lot of that backing yet," Marina said. "It's hard to put it to words because it's like a dream come true. I've been working on the car for years and been thinking about it longer than [that], and it's all coming to fruition."
Drag racing has been a big part of Marina Anderson's life for almost as long as she can remember. Scott got the itch when at age 12 he stumbled across a race at Byron Dragway. After high school, he joined up with Daunheimer's Frantic Fueler dragster crew, which he has been a part of for 29 years.
Since she was little, Marina has been around dragsters. She always knew she wanted to race her own A-fuel dragster.
Marina, with help from her dad and Daunheimer, who owns Competition Fabrications in Lilly Lake, started fabricating her car in 2010 when she was 17 years old and still in school at Willowbrook High School.
Work continued nights and weekends while she was in college. Nights and weekends are still busy times for Marina and her crew at the shop at her dad's house, a property he specifically bought because it had an existing shop owned by former drag racer Rick Nichols.
"I couldn't not quantify how many hours we've put in," Marina said. "Every Tuesday and Thursday night and every Saturday."
When Marina got her car on the track for the first time, at Byron Dragway in October of 2015, it was a step in the right direction. She hopes the 2017 season will bring many more.
In early March, the team was in the process of putting the car back together after a winter spent breaking it down and inspecting the parts with the goal of getting it track ready for testing in April.
The work isn't thrilling, but it's necessary to make the sure the car is ready to go and pass the NHRA testing process. Earning an NHRA license takes one half-track pass and two quarter-mile runs under six seconds.
"It should be relatively easy to get through that, but tuning these things is not as easy as it looks on television," Scott Anderson said. "You've got a lot of things going on there."
The end goal is to participate in four races over the summer, starting with the Lucas Oil series in Indianapolis in late April and the NHRA Division 3 race in Joliet in early June. Daunheimer knows there's still work to do to make that happen.
"We've worked on my car for many hundreds of hours and serviced it so many times that everything just falls into place," Daunheimer said. "That's where we need to be with [this car]."
If the typically iffy late-April weather breaks right and the team successful in testing the car and passing NHRA licensing, it would allow Marina to race any NHRA, ADRL or International Hot Rod Association races.
So if all goes according to plan, Marina Anderson will be flying down the track at speeds that would scare most people. At Byron in 2015, she was clocked at 1.14 seconds over 60 feet, but that wasn't a full burn. Speeds in excess of 270 mph are her future.
"Once you take off, everything slows down," she said.
Even though she has been working on her car for the better part of a decade, the end is far from close. Being licensed is just the start. The car needs to be certified every season, which means there will be more nights and weekends. That is just fine with Marina and her team.
"I made a lot of life choices based on this," Marina said. "I went to Elmhurst College because I could stay at home ... while still working on my dragster.
"That is something that sets me apart from other drivers, that I'm the owner, tuner and driver. I couldn't do it without [Daunheimer and Scott], but I also love to learn all of it."
Daunheimer knows plenty about putting together a dragster, and he didn't hesitate to praise Marina's hands-on approach and dedication to making her dream come true.
"When she decided to go this there was no question who the crew chief was going to be, but she built the car with me. She welded with me, she knows how to bend tubing, she knows how to cut sheet metal without cutting her finger off," Daunheimer said. "She's the next generation."
Numbers to know
8 Number of cylinders
16 Number of spark plugs, two per cylinder
9 Gallons consumed on a quarter-mile run
48 Gallons per minute fuel pump can handle
421 Cubic-inch hemi engine
2,150 Weight, in pounds