Cook livin’ life in the fast lane

Della Johnson | Staff Writer

Many learn to drive a car around age 16; freshman Ashley Cook, however, took a more accelerated approach.

Cook has been drag racing, racing a narrow car with a pointed end down a straight track, since she was a child. Using her own dragster (a term for cars used in drag racing), Cook is able to go to tracks and participate in events and competitions. These competitions occur at drag strips, which are smaller race tracks, and normally involve a cash prize or incentive for winners. 

Though not of age to legally drive normal cars, adolescents ages five and up can race. Cook said she got into the unique hobby at such a young age with her family.

“I’m 15, and I started this when I was eight,” Cook said. “Technically seven and a half, because when we used to live on at my old house we would take my junior car onto the street and we would do test pumps, just pressing the gas. My dad would push me and we would go back and forth.”

Family influence attributed to Cook’s young entry into the sport, having been introduced to the activity by her father. After hearing about drag racing, Cook attended races with her brother and other family members. 

“My dad started racing when he was about 16, just by hearing about it from friends,” Cook said. “And then I went into it when my brother wanted to. My mom has done one race, though not in one of the bigger cars.”

Freshman Ashley Cook drag races in competitions.

Similar to how usual cars require maintenance, so do dragsters. Drivers often outsource the manual work, which can lead to costly expenses. However, Cook said she is able to repait the engines and related manufacturing with her family.

“I love building things with my hands,” Cook said. “That’s why I like engines. My dad owns an engine shop, so he works on our cars. We don’t have to pay anybody to do it so we know how to work on them.”

Fixing cars, let alone racing them, is often seen as an activity performed by adults. Therefore, Cook expressing her interest in the area is often be written off as a lie due to her young age.

“Whenever I tell people I’m a drag racer they’re like, ‘no, there’s no way that you drive cars,’” Cook said. “‘You’re only like 14.’ I’d literally pull up a picture and they’d still be like, ‘no, that’s not yours. You pulled it off the internet.’ That’s really dumb. I’m very much able to prove them wrong.”

According to the Charlotte Observer, over 520 people across America have died in auto racing in the past 25 years, whether it be fire or collision. Cook said she and other drivers take extra precautions in their clothing in order to stay safe.

“I have to have a fireproof jacket and pants,” Cook said. “No open toed shoes or anything. I have wrist restraints so that my arms won’t go flying everywhere. I have vests: two on my chest, two on my waist and one down in the middle where it all locks together. I have a neck brace and a helmet. So, we are very protective and they have advanced that since years past.”

Since racing requires a lot of open space, there are no tracks currently located in Mason. Cook said she has to drive at least 40 minutes in order to get to a race track.

“The closest track there is, is in a place called Edgewater,” Cook said. “It’s south of here. There’s one in Xenia called Kil-kare that I go to. The main one I go to would be Clay City in Kentucky. There are a bunch around here, but they’re really far from where we are.”

In dragsters, the driver must have one foot on the gas and one on the brakes at all times, whereas in regular cars, a driver must only have one foot on the accelerator. Cook said when she drives her regular car, the change from using two feet to just one has been difficult for her to get used to. 

“My brother and I have to drive with both feet because the gas is on the right and the brakes on the left,” Cook said. “I actually went driving over the weekend with my dad, and I tried to put both feet up. He was like, ‘you can’t drive with both feet.’ Apparently, my brother had driven his first two or three miles with both feet.”

Though the sport may be male-dominated, Cook thinks more young women are now becoming racers, joining at a young age just like her.

“Most guys don’t believe girls like cars,” Cook said. “I do see it as a guy sport more than the girls. But I feel there are more girls getting into it, and you see little sisters going in with older brothers like I did, or my friends and their little sisters. I do see more girls progressing into it.”

Not only are the races themselves exciting to Cook, but she said she also uses the opportunity to make new friends.

“My favorite thing is how many different people you meet,” Cook said. “But then you also get the experience of driving and having fun. I’m there for three days of the weekend, just meeting new people.”

Despite drag racing’s lower participation rates compared to more common sports, Cook said the uniqueness  is something she likes most.

“What it means to me is doing something I love,” Cook said. “Racing makes me feel like I’m actually doing something that’s special to me, that most people don’t understand. And I have something to talk about with other people and something fun.”

Photos by Tanner Pearson.