The New Queen of Diamonds

By: Rose McInerney

The New Queen of Diamonds
June 12, 2017 Rose McInerney

Until I met Sarah, I imagined the title, “Queen of Diamonds” belonged to women like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor and Queen Elizabeth. But I hadn’t met this new queen of diamonds whose connection to diamonds is splashed across the side of a racing car in candy-apple red and sunshine yellow.

Meet Sarah Edwards, the sweet-tempered, understated and fearless driver of the Queen of Diamonds II Jet Dragster. Getting to know Sarah and watching her perform in her hometown race track of Atco, New Jersey, I realized Sarah was a powerful brand in the making. She has a smile almost as crushing as the 300 mph speeds she reaches each time she slides into her driver’s seat. But as I watch her greet fans and competitors before a race, I know she’s speeding up the racing charts almost as fast as she’s becoming the queen of hearts.

In a field traditionally dominated by men, the sport of race car driving is an unlikely dream for most young women like Sarah.  Racing fans might recognize Danica Patrick’s name as a NASCAR racer (North Association for Stock Car Racing) but, if you’re like me, you’re probably more familiar with racing car figures like Hollywood’s Ricky Bobby (played by actor Will Ferrell in Talladega Nights), or Dominic “Dom” Toretto from the movie, “Fast and the Furious”, starring Vin Diesel.

Stars like Amy Adams appear in these films but women are relegated to supporting roles and take a back seat to the driving action. Amy plays Susan, Ricky Bobby’s girlfriend in Talladega Nights, and Michelle Rodriguez has a slightly meatier role as Letty in the Vin Diesel film; she is given some pretty nifty rock star skills as a driver and mechanic in the movie.

But how nice is it for young girls and boys who meet Sarah and see her behind the wheel? Sarah is a serious competitor and fiercely committed to winning as her sharp listening skills portend the intense focus she brings to the track and her passion for driving. But when I watched Sarah interact with fans, her charismatic joy and excitement when talking about her racing goals lures them in. Even greater is her genuine interest in her fans’ dreams. You can see that Sarah is not afraid to share on a very personal level, and she relishes the opportunity to role model determination and dedication.

The reams of fan pictures and spritey dialogue on Sarah’s Facebook and social media platforms, in addition to the speaking gigs at local middle and high schools, demonstrates her deep desire to connect with people and to inspire them to be happy and successful. No wonder Sarah was recently named 30 Under 30 by Drag Illustrated magazine.

You’d never know that racing wasn’t the family business before Sarah started. Instead, it was an advertisement her father heard for a motorsport event on the radio and a trip to the Raceway Park in New Jersey that sparked Sarah’s passion. Exploring the raceway’s sights, sounds and smells, Sarah discovered exhilarating speed, cheering spectators and approachable race track drivers. That was all it took for this Connecticut native.

Sarah fell in love with racing that day and met race car driver Jessie Harris, who drove the jet-powered, 6,000 horsepower, 300 mph+ engine named the “Queen of Diamonds.” Her car was owned by Hanna Motorsports and this meeting sealed Sarah’s desire to become a champion racer. So after graduating high school and earning her first of many NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) License with Frank Hawley’s Drag Racing School, Sarah knew the dream had come full circle when Al and Ellen Hanna came knocking a decade after she first met Jessie at Englishtown. The Hanna Motorsport team had just lost their driver of eight years, Jill Canuso-Fazekas. Her retirement left a vacancy for a new queen driver.

By this time, Sarah had four years of bracket racing in Top Dragster & Super-Pro classes and the added support of her family under her belt. Her career began in 2011, when Sarah’s parents Scott and Lisa together helped her build a racing team named “Queen Bee Racing”. Scott was a mechanic, and Sarah’s boyfriend Steve became an important asset in the car pit with his computer diagnostics skills. Even Sarah’s mother Lisa, got into the business, coordinating travel logistics each weekend as the family traveled back and forth to Atco, NJ to race the Queen Bee car – a 565 cubic inch Mullis dragster purchased from a family acquaintance.  (Recent photo of Sarah with her pit crew team)

But it was Sarah’s breakout year in 2015 with a series of back-to-back round wins that confirmed her mastery in the bracket racing world. This caught the attention of Al Hanna and the Hanna team who offered Sarah a contract to drive their Gojo sponsored dragster “Queen of Diamonds II” Jet Dragster.

What’s it like to sit in a dragster and have your body violently jerked forward and back in the 5.5 seconds it takes to speed across a quarter mile black top track? Sarah says it’s “the single most exciting and terrifying experience of your life.” The photo below shows a night race but viewers can watch her race at:  https://youtube.be/yInwvfQCdAQ

While I can’t begin to fathom the aerodynamics, fuel systems and gear ratios, what I do know is these cars usually achieve a positive 4G acceleration from a standing start. By the time the parachute is deployed less than 5.5 seconds after starting, a negative 6G pull slams Sarah’s body forward into her seat as the parachute opens to stabilize and decelerate the car after it crosses the finish line.  I know there isn’t a roller coaster in the world that comes close to these speeds or the G force from Sarah’s rocket-like dragster.

Watching Sarah race is nerve-wracking and mesmerizing. When her drag car is towed onto the track, Sarah’s team speeds through their choreographed repertoire of checks before she begins her pre-start launch. This involves revving the engine, priming it and then dumping the excess fuel.  The heat is so intense it forms a kind of mirage across my camera screen while my eyes are glued to the short bursts of fiery, diamond-shaped explosions that come from the back of the car.

Quickly trying to focus and steady my camera, I’m thrown back by the force of what feels like an earthquake. My legs buckle as Sarah’s car tears down the track. Now I’m struggling just to hold my camera. The after-shock shake my entire body, exposing the substandard earplugs and noise canceling headphones wrapped around my nerdy head. I wonder what possessed me to think this garden variety, grass-cutting equipment could stifle the decibels from a racing car engine? Nevertheless, my ears were still grateful even though my nostrils were not. They had to contend with the residual and smelly plumes of black smoke that lingered in the air long enough for me to wonder what it must be like inside of the car. I imagined it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!

Walking away from the track, my mind wanders back to the notion of these diamond sparks and how they are nothing like the diamonds Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor dreamed about when they said diamonds were a girl’s best friend. Sarah’s diamonds carry a more powerful and modern message about believing in yourself and the drive to succeed. They take on a richer quality because Sarah appreciates the role of community and mentoring as a vital part of her success. In a world where the race to the top can be all consuming, Sarah stands even taller.

While Sarah builds a name for herself and Hanna Motorsports, her flurry of diamond bursts and racing runs connect her to a growing line of women whose power and courage are gender neutral. Half of the drag racers competing against Sarah are women. Legends like Shirley Muldowney and Janet Guthrie (NASCAR) championed opportunities for women like Sarah to compete; they would be proud to see this new breed of drivers who have nothing to do with gender and everything to do with the definition of success and a life lived well.

Sarah said it best when she told me, “There are many things to remember when driving a powerful machine. You need to have great reflexes, be smart and remain calm.” Wise words to consider, from this dynamic young woman who shines bright like a diamond.

(Photo from left to right: Rose McInerney, Sarah Edwards & Denise Benson)

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