Murrysville's Tedesco burns rubber as she chases her drag race dream
At the age of 8, Mia Tedesco got behind the wheel and began a journey that involves high speeds, loud engines and the intense scent of burning race fuel.
Eleven years after her first pass down the drag strip, the 2012 Franklin Regional High School graduate is embarking on her second full year of competition — which includes more than 40 weekend events in more than 20 states — and is climbing the ranks in the National Hot Rod Association sportsman class competitions.
Tedesco, 19, began drag racing in the juniors division after her father, Michael, bought Keystone Raceway in New Alexandria and renamed it Pittsburgh Raceway Park.
“As soon as she started racing, she was a natural,” Michael Tedesco said. “God has blessed her.”
After having success in her junior dragster, Mia Tedesco moved into a full-sized one and quickly grew as a driver.
She primarily runs quarter-mile drag races in the NHRA
“After doing so well so quickly, my career just took off, and before I knew it, I was starting to race in January (2012) and started going to NHRA national events,” the Murrysville native said.
Made of a hollow, steel-tube chassis that provides strength and a light fiberglass body, drag race cars can be in the elongated, triangular shape of a dragster or in the exaggerated shape of a car body. “Slicks” — large rear tires which can be up to 17 inches wide — are used for traction while the cars can sit as low as three inches from the ground for aerodynamics.
While pros compete to finish first, Tedesco competes in classes that have a time index that handicaps the field.
The Super Gas class, which primarily features full-bodied cars, requires the drivers to reach the finish within 9.9 seconds without running faster than allowed by the handicapping index. Super Comp racers run dragsters within an 8.9-second index.
Drivers race head-to-head, with the winner advancing to the next round of the tournament until the winner is determined.
The coveted “Wally” trophy, named for NHRA founder Wallace Parks, is awarded to those who finish first at these national events.
Despite being on the road more than she is home, Tedesco stands by her 2011 decision to begin traveling full time to compete. Tedesco didn't think twice about pursuing her dream.
“The decision wasn't difficult at the time because it was something I have always dreamed of, and (it) was coming true,” she said.
“When I agreed two years ago to follow this schedule, I didn't think about how much time I would be gone, but I love it. It's a never-ending challenge. This sport humbles you, because you're going to lose a lot more than you win, and a good attitude is very important no matter what the outcome.”
Although she faces her own challenge of letting her daughter go, Cindy Tedesco is excited for her daughter's success.
“It's bittersweet,” Cindy Tedesco said.
“As a mother, sometimes it's hard to swallow. It's very nerve-wracking because of the danger, but I view her being gone the same as what any mother goes through when her daughter goes off to college.”
In addition to spending months away from her home, Mia Tedesco faces challenges in a sport in which the drivers are rarely young females.
“It has never really bothered me, but being a young female in this sport — you draw a lot of attention because there aren't many,” she said.
Taking the pressures of standing out in stride, Tedesco loves the challenges the sport brings.
“Racing is so challenging because it is so precise. You can lose by thousands of seconds. It is such a tedious sport. It really makes you think,” she said.
Tedesco will be following a grueling schedule as she gains experience this year.
Racing her CARS Protection Plus-sponsored dragster and Chevrolet Cavalier, her team pulls double duty by following the NHRA National schedule as well as the Division 2 schedule.
In between these races, Tedesco stays in the driver's seat by attending “big money” bracket races that have purses ranging from $5,000 to $1 million.
Though it's still early in the 2013 season, Tedesco has proven to be a strong contender and has reached what she considers her biggest accomplishment so far.
Taking second place in both the Super Comp and Super Gas categories on March 17 at the Gatornationals in Gainesville, Fla., she nearly made NHRA history, as no female has ever won both classes on the same day.
“We didn't realize the magnitude at the time,” said Michael Tedesco.
“That day, we had a family reunion and 25 family members were there to see her go to the finals in both classes. It was really a great day.”
Tedesco's teammate, driver Jason Lynch, has a lot of respect for the up-and-coming driver.
“Mia has grown so much as a driver over the last year,” he said.
“She has a great passion for racing, so she takes in everything. She has gone from just another kid that wants to race to the one that racers look at and say, ‘If we're going to win today, we're going to have to beat her,' and she has earned that.”
With a strong start to the season, Tedesco is determined to advance in the sport. Her long-term goal is to race professionally. As she follows her sportsman class schedule, Tedesco soon plans to become licensed in driving top alcohol dragsters at Frank Hawley's Drag Racing School's Gainesville location to advance her career.
Through it all, Tedesco's attitude has carried her furthest.
“Just keep your head up,” she said. “Staying positive is something that helped me succeed through many things.”
Rachel Kuskie is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.