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Pharmacy student lives life in fast lane

Meranda Mancino, an 18-year-old from Bridgeport, has a love for drag racing. She has her own race car and has been speeding down the drag strip since age 15 at a local track in Fairmont. She hopes to someday become a professional pro-stock drag car racer. In the meantime, she is a pre-pharmacy student at West Virginia University. This is her story, as told to staff writer Jennifer Biller.

I grew up at the race track. My parents brought me there when I was 3 years old, and I hung out there every Saturday. My parents bought the Fairmont Dragway in 1991, and I worked there for three years before it closed down.

In 1994, a track owner from New Jersey started the junior drag racing program for kids 8 to 17. My dad found a used junior dragster and bought it for me.

I've raced in New York, Indianapolis and Maryland. I've never really won a race, but I've come close. I've got second place a couple of times. You have to make it from start to finish in 8.90 seconds, which is approximately 70 to 75 miles per hour.

I did win a street car race. There was a program at the track for kids in high school who had their driver's license to race street cars. I took my mom's Caravan and I actually won a couple times with it. I only got it up to like 50 mph.

My father started racing himself when he was 16. My dad is one of my biggest heroes. He kept his car in our basement for the longest time, and I was like, 'Oh, I want to do that.' But it really frightened me, too, because I had seen some accidents.

One of our family friends actually died on a race track. It really scared me and changed my thoughts a lot. I was like, 'Dad, what happens if I go down the track and I would wreck?' He reassured me and was like, 'You have all that safety equipment.'

Once you get in and start going down the track, it's just like you're hooked. My car's top speed is about 60 mile per hour. Drag racing is going straight down the track. You have a start line and a finish line, and whoever gets there first wins.

I grew up with this all my life and that was my sport. I always wanted to play softball but wasn't good at it. Drag racing just came natural to me. It isn't all about skill. Some of it's luck.

When I first started, not a lot of girls did it. In school I wasn't really made fun of, but they just kind of looked at me as the girl who drag races, you know. ... They thought I was weird.

I wrecked once in '98 in Hagerstown, Md. It was the first round of elimination, and I had just crossed the finish line. My wheelbase is so short and the concrete wall is right there, so I had to get over in the other guy's lane to make the turn.

I don't know if I moved the wheel too hard or what. It was never really established what happened, besides the chassis had broke. My car flipped over and skidded around in a circle and almost hit the guardrail. It was pretty scary. The car was on its side when I landed. I don't remember any of it but seeing sparks coming from the body panel of the car.

I wasn't injured. I had a scrape on my hand. My gloves were pretty torn up. They had holes in them from where I skidded my hands. I had a hold of the steering wheel so hard that it twisted the steering shaft. I hit the brake pedal so hard that it broke it and went clear through.

I was scared to get back in the car after that. The first time, my legs were shaking. But I could not let that stop me. I had an incredible urge to overcome the fear. I got back up on the track again. I just got a feel for it again.

There are no tracks here in this area now. I want to race again. But I want to get through college, too. It's hard to do school and drag racing. You have to go out and get sponsors to race. If you go pro, it is a four- or five-day thing.

When I graduate, I hope to be able to get a sponsor and get a bigger dragster and experiment for a while. There are tracks in Maryland and Ohio. I want to be the first female pro-stock driver in professional drag racing.

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