Anyone who has watched auto racing even a few times has heard a winning driver say, "The (insert sponsor name/manufacturer here) boys gave me a rocket ship today."
It's an obvious exaggeration dressed as a compliment — except for drivers in the International Hot Rod Association's Jet Dragster division.
And those are races "the boys" aren't winning.
The Larsen Motorsports team — featuring four cars, all driven by women, including team owner Elaine Larsen — will solely comprise the Jet Dragster class at today's IHRA Southern Nationals at Bradenton Motorsports Park.
The cars use 25 gallons of fuel per quarter-mile pass from turbocharged General Electric J-85 engines, used in U.S. Air Force J-85 jets. And besides sounding like, well, a jet, the dragsters put on a visual show with big plumes of flame and smoke.
"People want to know why I want to make fire, because most people run away from it," Larsen said with a laugh. "I don't have this strange fascination with heat or fire. But I have a fascination with power. And the fire makes power. Most people think I'm totally crazy. Most people think my car is a ticking time bomb ready to go off."
One of the team's drivers is Kat Moller, 19, a USF sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering. The Sarasota native is joined by teammates Larsen, Dawn Perdue and Marisha Falk.
Moller said her familiarity at Bradenton matters even in a discipline where every track is a straight quarter-mile run.
"I grew up racing at Bradenton," Moller said. "Every track is slightly different. The track conditions are different, and there are bumps in different places."
The Jet Dragsters, which had run on other circuits over the years, made their IHRA debut last month in Tucson, Ariz., where Moller said signing autographs was a new experience. Expect the attention to increase at Bradenton.
"Elaine tells me I won't like it after I experience it because everyone's bugging me all the time," Moller said. "So I guess there's a lot of pressure. But I'm excited."
Larsen, a 20-year racing veteran, and her husband Chris started Larsen Motorsports. They use expertise (and crew members) from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University where Chris, who works in the aerospace industry as a jet mechanic, is a technical adviser.
For now the Jet Dragsters are called an exhibition division. IHRA director of media and public relations Larry Crum said his organization, under new ownership this year, wanted a core group of racing classes and approached the Larsens as part of that plan.
"We wanted to bring jet racing to a more competitive level," Crum said. "To kick off that plan we wanted Larsen Motorsports. They're a very professional operation and very marketable."
Larsen said she'd like to see more teams enter to increase competition. But she is still serious about the current level of competition within the team.
"I tell the girls, and it sounds mean, but my name is the only one painted on the race car. I own it. The rest of them? They're stickers," said Larsen, 47, adding that aspiring drivers approach her or send email messages frequently. "It doesn't sound nice, but opportunity only knocks once."
Moller had to send a resume and video blog to Larsen to get the seat. To keep it, she knows to remember that her teammates, though friends, are also rivals.
"Once you get on a racetrack you have to focus on your race and focus on winning," Moller said.