An individual has to possess a certain level of moxie to jump behind the wheel of a racecar and go as fast as you can down the drag strip, but it takes a whole extra level of courage when you’re strapped to a jet engine. Sarah Edwards is bold enough to race a jet dragster and she makes it look easy. The path Edwards has taken to land in the seat of the Queen Of Diamonds II is an interesting one and there’s no other place she would rather be in the racing world.
We had a chance to chat with Sarah at Summit Motorsports Park where she was making one of her many yearly appearances as part of the Hanna Motorsports team. During our conversation, we talked about many different topics, including what it’s like to pilot the 4,000 horsepower Queen Of Diamonds II jet dragster and what the scariest moment Edwards ever had while racing. The conversation really shows what it’s like to campaign what is, for all intents and purposes, an airplane without wings.
Dragzine (DZ): What is your drag racing background?
Sarah Edwards (SE): I got my Super Comp license in 2010 and a year later purchased a dragster that could run Super Comp and Top Dragster. We ran it as Top Dragster for four years down at Atco Dragway. In the fall of 2015, I received a Facebook message from Hanna Motorsports team owner Al Hanna. Their driver of the Queen of Diamonds II resigned and they were in search of a new driver so that’s how I ended up with the team.
DZ: What got you into racing?
SE: When I was 12 my parents brought me to Old Bridge Township Raceway Park in New Jersey for their annual Night of Thrills event. It was the first time I had ever been to a race track and we went with all intentions on having a family fun outing. That night I saw monster trucks, wheelstanders, and jet cars. After I saw the Queen of Diamonds fly down the quarter-mile, I was hooked and from then on out I knew I wanted to go drag racing.
DZ: What do you love most about racing?
SE: I think aside from the fast cars, what I have grown to love the most about racing is the racing family. It doesn’t matter if you are brand new to the sport or at a track halfway across the country, racers are the most genuine, friendly, and supportive people I have ever met. I live in the Northeast where it’s a rat race and people aren’t kind, but there’s something about pulling into a track and all of that goes away, it is definitely my happy place.
DZ: Who are your biggest influences when it comes to drag racing and why?
SE: Right around the time I found my love for drag racing, Ashley Force was coming out of her Top Alcohol Dragster and into a nitro Funny Car, plus the Force’s had a TV show on A&E called Driving Force. It was really easy to connect with her and be a fan when it was unfolding right in front of you.
Today, Leah Pritchett, undoubtedly one of the hungriest drivers out there who has a work ethic like no other. She is a talented driver who has succeeded in many NHRA classes, but she is also ahead of the curve and not afraid to get involved in the business aspect of drag racing. That is someone who influences me.
DZ: How did you get involved in racing jet cars?
SE: Al Hanna had sent me a Facebook message explaining that Jill Canuso, their driver for the past eight years, had submitted her resignation. In turn, that left the Hanna Motorsports team to look for a new Queen. Ken Hall, who also drives for the Hanna family, had mentioned my name to Big Al about the spot and that’s how we start talking. It wasn’t long after meeting with the Hanna’s that I signed my first professional drivers contract.
DZ: What was it like the first time you strapped into a jet car?
SE: I remember thinking – okay, it’s the middle of fall and when I was a fan sitting in the stands I use to love the heat from the jets, so this shouldn’t be so bad. Well, it was freezing and the heat was all behind me inside the car. My legs were trembling from nerves as I planted them on both brake pedals. I remember my seat wasn’t made for me just yet and after each day of testing my body was exhausted from the cold and nerves combined.
DZ: What was your first full pass like driving a jet car?
SE: It was fine, it was smooth and the car went A to B. When I got off the track my team was going crazy because I made my first 300 mph pass, and then they looked at me confused because I was just sitting there. I was like, okay guys that’s great and all but isn’t that what you asked me to do?’
DZ: What do you like most about racing jet cars?
SE: Just going to different places makes it fun because I get to see and experience so many different tracks. Heading to the track alone, you get to see some really neat stuff along the way. It’s exciting to be able to experience all these different journeys that I would never have gotten to do bracket racing. I went from just racing in New Jersey once a month, to traveling to places like Iowa one weekend and Maryland the next!
DZ: Have you had any “oh dear” moments racing a jet car where things got a little scary?
SE: My first ever pass at night with someone else in the other lane was at Norwalk and they were supposed to turn the lights off from the tree to the top end, but instead they turned the lights off from the top end to the sand traps. As soon as I crossed the finish line and pulled the chutes it all went black and there were NO lights on. Besides everything going black around me — my canopy, visor, and glasses all fogged up. Driving a jet car and not being able to see is a bit intense moment, to say the least, but I stopped safely. Fortunately, when you shut a jet car down it leaves you in silence so I was able to hear my crew direct me.
DZ: When it comes to jet racing, are there any misconceptions that people may have about it when it comes to how difficult it is?
SE: There’s no key that starts the car. There’s no gas pedal in the car, I drive it with one hand on the steering wheel and one on the throttle since it’s controlled by my hand like an airplane or boat. The shutdown areas are a challenge because you don’t know what to expect when it comes to their condition. Sometimes they get narrow and bumpy so things can get interesting real quick.
DZ: What’s it like driving a jet car?
SE: The whole run is very smooth until you hit your parachutes. From the starting line to just before crossing the finish line, you have 6,000 pounds of thrust behind you and it just feels like you’re getting pushed down the track. You don’t have the tires gripping; you don’t have the snap back like when you take your finger off the transbrake. It’s very peaceful until you pull the parachutes, that’s when things get interesting.
When the parachutes hit, I get yanked back by negative six G’s and while that’s happening my hand that was on my throttle finds it’s way to the wheel to immediately help keep the car straight and in my lane. The track itself might be smooth and prepped, but the shutdown area is a different story at times. You travel to some tracks the shutdown is bumpy or short, so it’s important to be as sharp even when the race is over.
DZ: What happens during a run from start to finish?
SE: I have somebody help get me strapped in the car. After I get in we go through a very specific process each time where I turn on a certain group of switches and Al turns on another group of switches, while my crew guy gets the starter on the car. After that, we all yell that we’re done to make sure everything is complete. Then we yell “do it” when everything is ready, and Al begins the starting process while I turn on the jet. Next, Al does a series of check behind the car while I monitor things on the Racepak, followed by me doing a smoke check to see if there are any leaks.
Al will then give me a few words, lock the canopy and that’s when I know it’s go-time. When the tow car is about halfway down the track I’ll start the smoke and fire show for the crowd. I’ll then do one last smoke check, a couple of burner pops, and I’ll stage the car for a run. At the end of the run I’ll pull back on the throttle and pull the parachutes at the same time, then I’ll put my hand back on the steering wheel and finish the run out.
DZ: What’s the most interesting or entertaining fact about racing a jet car that the average fan may not know about?
SE: I think most people would assume that when driving a machine that goes 300 mph you would not be doing it with one hand!
DZ: If you weren’t racing jet cars what would you be racing on any given weekend?
SE: I would still be paying to enter races at Atco Dragway in New Jersey about once a month running my Queen Bee Racing Top Dragster. Maybe by this point, we would have explored a new track or two, as well.
DZ: Are there any other types of cars you want to get behind the wheel of and race at the track?
SE: Not really, I am really happy where I am.
DZ: Have you had to deal with any issues as a female racer where others have underestimated you and if so, how did you deal with it?
SE: Not that I can think of and if so that would just inspire me to work harder. I am not one to think of myself as an outsider because I am a woman, and I certainly have not felt that I have been treated that way. At the end of the day, we all put our helmets on, stage, and race so to me it’s an even playing field. Our machine doesn’t know if there’s a blond-haired, manicured girl driving or a greasy old man, so we go out and run our best race.
DZ: What is your biggest goal in drag racing?
SE: My biggest goal in drag racing would be to leave some kind of a mark for myself. I want to create a platform that I can branch off of and be able to connect with people, especially kids, through different avenues through racing.
DZ: Where do you see yourself in the future of drag racing?
SE: On the track or off the track my goal is to always be connected with the sport. Drag racing is something I am very passionate about and is a sport that more people should know about. Even now in the offseason, I participate in my community by speaking at school functions or special events in town to not only to introduce drag racing to kids but to tell them my story and where goals, hard work, and dedication can take you.
Sarah Edwards has taken her childhood dream of driving a racecar to a level she never thought possible. With the help of Hanna Motorsports, Edwards gets to barnstorm across the country and put on a fire-filled show for fans while having the time of her life at 300 mph. Her story shows that if you work hard enough in the sport of drag racing, anything is possible.