Just days after she was born, her family took Katarina “Kat” Moller to a race track where her father Tom Moller was competing in a dragster.
Few were surprised years later when Ms. Moller took up the sport, as well.
"As a baby she went from the hospital to the racetrack," said Elaine Larsen, who with husband Chris Larsen owns the Larsen Motorsports team for which Ms. Moller raced. “Watching her was watching a kid who was born to race."
Ms. Moller, a University of South Florida graduate who worked in her native Sarasota as a manufacturing engineer, died Thursday when she crashed a dragster capable of 300 mph speeds during an exhibition run at Sebring International Raceway.
She was 24.
"The dictionary describes the adjective of home as ‘relating to the place where one lives,’” co-owner Chris Larsen said. “Kat was at home at the racetrack.”
Former Larsen Motorsports teammate Marisha Falk, now a private jet pilot living in Wimauma, remembered Ms. Moller as a dragster who always had time for fans, especially the kids.
“Drag racing is a very fan friendly environment,” Falk said. “But it can be hard when so many fans want attention. Kat always made sure she had the time for the little ones.”
When she wasn’t at the race track, Ms. Moller put her USF mechanical engineering degree to work as an employee of Radiant Power Corp., producing power management products for the aviation and aerospace industries.
She was also pursuing a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering from Melbourne-based Florida Institute of Technology. And her image is front and center on USF's web page for “Prospective Engineering Students.”
“We were always in awe of her,” Radiant president Anish Patel said. “She had a real calm and sweet demeanor here and a completely different demeanor on the race track. Today, we are in shock and we are numb.”
In 2013, Ms. Moller told the Tampa Tribune that she first began racing at age 11.
“I grew up on the racetrack with my dad,” she said. “I knew it was something I wanted to try out. Once I got in a car, I knew it was something I wanted to make a career of.”
From the junior dragster division, she graduated to Sportsman Mustang, then her dad's Super-Pro dragster, she told the Tribune.
“It didn't matter what car I put her in, it wasn't fast enough,” her father Tom said in 2013. “She constantly wanted to go to the next class and go faster.”
When Ms. Moller joined Larsen Motorsports in 2013, she was thought to be the youngest female drag racer in the world.
“She was like a little sister to everybody,” former teammate Falk said. “She was always upbeat. She always wanted to cheer people up.”
Falk recalled a race between her and Ms. Moller during their first year together with Larsen Motorsports.
They were talking trash to one another before the race. But when Ms. Moller won, “She came back and gave me a big hug and apologized for beating me,” Falk said. “That's who Kat was.”
Team co-owner Chris Larsen echoed that sentiment.
“She wanted to win but she was always happy because she just loved to race,” he said. “She didn't care if she raced a moped or a go-cart. That girl just wanted to race.”
In a Facebook post the day before the crash, Ms. Moller wrote that she was excited to compete at the Sebring International Raceway, where her father once drag-raced and her brother Tommy Moller now drift-races. Ms. Moller's boyfriend Kyle Fawcett also races cars.
“She loved being at the track,” Elaine Larsen said. “If her boyfriend asked where they should go on a date, she'd say the track.
“I envied the way racing ran through her blood. It was something I loved to watch.”
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