Growth of women drag racers on display at Firebird this weekend

Growth of women drag racers on display at Firebird this weekend »Play Video
The largest purse in Firebird history has attracted most of the region's big names to the 41st annual Nightfire Nationals this weekend - including two of the most experienced women drivers in the country.

Mendy Fry became the first female driver to break the 250 mph barrier in 2004. She's been a regular at Firebird's Nightfire most of the past decade. Fry, a certified public accountant in California, says she has many more peers at the track than when she started two decades ago.

"Being a female driver is not an anomaly," Fry said. "I think it's starting to be more the norm."

A couple trucks down pit road, Puyallup, Washington's Kim Parker agrees.

"Now there's quite a few girls in every division. Before, there'd be one or two," Parker said.

Parker, with three decades of experience, races with husband Randy. She said she hasn't had to fight for equality or respect at the track.

"The men I race with have always been really nice to me. They're not very good when I beat them... but they're still nice to me," she quipped.

Perhaps one of the biggest differences comes away from the track. Many of the male drivers are business owners or work in some aspect of motor sports or auto care.

Fry is a CPA, and in one of the more ironic job-hobby combinations, Parker drives a school bus.

"When [the kids] stuck their hands up like they were on a roller coaster, that usually gave me... slow down," Parker said with a laugh. She added that speeding in the bus hasn't been a problem for many years, but there were some talking-tos she received in the first several years.

A week before Firebird's Nightfire Nationals, two women won pro category championships at the same event for the first time in history. Courtney Force and Erica Enders took funny car and pro stock titles at the NHRA northwest nationals in Seattle.

Fry - who said she's comfortable racing in the NHRA's Hot Rod Heritage series, a secondary level of the NHRA - will be happy when the line between men and women drivers is completely blurred out.

"I understand why the question gets asked a lot, because there's just so few women doing it as there are men doing it, and that's changing pretty rapidly," Fry said.

"I'd like to get to the point where gender's not an issue."

Racing concludes for the weekend with the pro series finals at 2 p.m. Sunday. Fry qualified sixth, with a 6.13 quarter-mile at 247.52 miles-per-hour.