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Teen finds joy on track

| Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, 11:50 p.m.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
Mia Tedesco of Murrysville, a 2012 Franklin Regional graduate, started drag racing at age 8 when her father bought Pittsburgh Raceway Park in New Alexandria. Tedesco primarily runs quarter-mile drag races in the NHRA, and competes throughout the south, including winning a $5,000 prize at a race in West Palm Beach last year.

While other teenagers were spending Friday nights at high school football games, Mia Tedesco was spending her weekends at the race track.

To realize her dream as a professional drag racer, the 2012 Franklin Regional graduate knew dedication to the sport meant giving up some of the usual teen experiences.

Now, at 19, she has earned thousands of dollars in prize money and spends more time traveling and in Nashville — where she stores and repairs her cars — than in her hometown of Murrysville.

It all started when her father Michael Tedesco bought Pittsburgh Raceway Park in 2011.

“She saw the kids (drag racing) and said, ‘Dad, I want to try that,' ” he said.

The races are based more on reaction time, control and consistency than speed, as quarter-mile National Hot Road Association tracks have a “tree” of lights that signify when the driver has to begin.

In “bracket racing,” a handicap is placed on each car where the driver has to do a test run, then race again, matching the first time within thousandths of a second.

“It's not what most people think of, like the fastest car wins, because at that point the people with more money would dominate,” she said.

At her first major race in Montgomery, Ala., with a$1 million prize, she finished ninth out of 200 drivers, won $10,000 and a youngest driver award.

She also races a Chevrolet Cavalier with her Tedesco Racing teammate, Jason Lynch.

The two met at a race and eventually decided they would form a team together.

“That drive that she's got is the same drive that I had” when first starting out, said veteran driver Lynch, 39.

Mentoring Tedesco has helped him reignite his own enthusiasm for the sport, he said.

“It's fun watching her learn, and it motivates me to teach her and make her better,” Lynch said.

To train, Tedesco practices her starts with a “tree,” does physical training and reviews victories to help focus mentally.

Her mother, Cindy Tedesco, said she wasn't hesitant about her daughter's career choice because of her passion for the sport.

“I just feel that it was meant to be,” Cindy Tedesco said. “It's the happiest I've ever seen her.”

During the Gator Nationals in March, the entire family made the trip to see the young racer compete in two classes and earn second place.

Where other drivers may have at first brushed off a 19-year-old female driver, they now know better, her mother said.

“They know she's in it and there's nothing that will stop her,” Cindy Tedesco said.

Everyone is competitive, but there's a friendly camaraderie, Michael Tedesco said.

“They'll kid around, ‘Mia dumped me at the finish line,' ” he said.

She is competing in the South during the winter, with her next dream to compete in the professional classes, where the cars are faster and there are more sponsorships.

The teenager finished 13th in the world this year, but she wants to break the top 10.

“Winning's on me; I have to have a good reaction time; I have to make sure I get to the finish line,” she said. “It's not my that car's the faster than everybody else, my crew's better. I did it.”

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660

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