The Challenge Of Top Alcohol Dragster Intrigues Rookie Taylor Vetter

A year ago, Taylor Vetter was just starting to drive a Top Alcohol Dragster in NHRA competition. As she celebrated the first anniversary of her debut in the class at the recent Nevada Nationals at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Vetter has made satisfying strides in her Plan B Motorsports supercharged Top Alcohol Dragster.

For as difficult as it is to find the driving rhythm with a blown Top Alcohol Dragster, Vetter is just that resolute to master it.

“These cars take a lot to drive,” she said. “In my car, I let the clutch out for the burnout, and I have to hold it at the RPM that I want it. And there’s different ways to manipulate that, but I don’t have any of that. So I do my burnout at the RPM that I need to, holding the throttle there. Then with the staging process, you’re holding the clutch in and you’re revving it up to 6,500, wherever – each car is different, or each person is different, but say 6,500 you’re revving it up to — and up to now you’re holding that while the other driver’s staging to make sure the RPM doesn’t go up too much, or drop too much. Then as you’re going down track and the first shift light comes on, you have to shift it once and it goes down further. You’ve got to shift it twice and then pull the ‘chutes.”

“This car is so much different than my Top Dragster,” Vetter continued, “so I’ve had to work on trusting myself and the car. I’ve also learned a lot about patience – patience with my driving, patience with tuning, and patience with the process. I’m extremely competitive, so I have to remind myself that this is a brand new learning curve for everyone involved.”

And that’s exactly why it appeals to her.

“I like that about it,” Vetter said. “It’s a challenge. It makes me feel like I’m a part of it.”

She knows her partner and team owner/tuner, Nick Januik, a top-10 Top Alcohol Funny Car racer, plays a considerable role, as well. And she said she enjoys navigating the nuances of the car, working side by side with him.

“It’s a challenge for Nick tuning it, for me driving it, because there’s so much going on. And there’s so much finicky stuff that can happen,” Vetter said. “Like, in Dallas, third qualifying session, there was a piece of the transmission that broke. I couldn’t do my burnout in high gear. So then when I shifted into high gear going down track, it wouldn’t shift in high gear. So there’s just so much stuff that can break and go wrong. So that’s what I love. And if I make a mistake, then that was my fault.”

She hasn’t had too many faults, and hasn’t made all that many mistakes this season – remarkable for any driver, let alone a class rookie. She headed into the Las Vegas event in 11th place, just 32 points behind No. 10 Madison Payne. It came in the wake of the only real blemish on her 2022 national-event campaign, a pair of DNQs, at Reading and Dallas.

In her previous six national events, Vetter qualified in the top half of the 16-car order four times. Her best outing was this spring in the Betway Carolina Nationals four-wide race. There, she won her first quad with a 5.264-second elapsed time that distinguished her as the only woman to drop into the 5.2-second range in a blown alcohol car. She already had recorded the top speed of the meet (280.31 mph) during qualifying. Then, she used a .023-second reaction time to win her semifinal quad. She didn’t close the deal in the final round, but she proved that she has the ability to manage a more complex engine and drivetrain set-up. Twice this season she has topped 280 mph, the only woman to do so with a supercharged dragster.

Vetter received an unexpected public-relations bounce during her hometown race, the Nevada Nationals. She founder herself facing motorsports legend Tony Stewart in the second round of eliminations. He defeated her on his way to a final-round berth in his first-ever NHRA drag race, but competing against him didn’t faze her, she said.

“It didn’t change my perspective, racing Tony, except that I would probably get talked about more just for racing him,” she said.

The real highlight of that weekend for Vetter was that she finally was able to conquer points leader Joey Severance. Thanks to what public-address announcer Alan Reinhart calls “a little baby holeshot,” Vetter defeated him in the opening round, advancing her to the pairing against Stewart.

“It was absolutely huge to beat Joey,” Vetter said, “because we’ve raced five or six other times this year. Although it was poor timing for him to lose first round, it was exactly what our team needed, coming off two DNQs.”

She kept the momentum going. The following weekend, back at The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, she qualified first at the Division 7 meet. That represented a first-time No. 1 start for her.

“I’m just so proud of my team. I couldn’t do it without them. And we’ve had our ups and downs, but they’ve been there through it all. I’m extremely lucky to have the guys I have working on my car. I’m excited to finish out this year and still hopefully have a top-10 finish. But even if we don’t finish in the top 10, we’ve had a great first full year, and we’ve accomplished a lot.”

Vetter is a Jr. Dragster program graduate who has competed in Super Comp and Top Dragster. “I’ve always just liked dragsters. So when the opportunity came up, I was like, ‘Heck, yeah – I’ll race that,’” she said. But she also has a bracket car that her family bought for her when she was 20, and she races that locally “on the weekends that I’m home,” and plans to drive in a Thanksgiving Day event at Las Vegas. But she said none of that experience prepared her for the Top Alcohol Dragster.

“I’ve driven Top Dragster [which is powered by a centrifugally-supercharged engine]. But the difference between the two is is pretty immense. People say it’s only a second quicker, 50 miles an hour or whatever. But there’s just so much more going on [in the Top Alcohol Dragster] that you don’t get comfortable until you just do it – especially in a supercharged car,” she said, the learning curve is relatively steep.

Vetter continues to pick up tuning pointers from Januik, as well.

“We’ve talked about it, different stuff we either want to do in the clutch can or wheelie bar, everything like that. So I’ve tried to learn some of it here and there,” she said. “But it’s pretty complicated. It’s fun. It’s all part of the complicated game of trying to get the cars down the track.”

Vetter’s father, Mike, worked on an off-road truck when she was a young girl, and the family would go to the off-road races. And on an idle week before the fall Las Vegas national event, she and Januik drove five hours from their Las Vegas home to Avenal, Calif., to help her car chief race his sand-drag car. So drag racing, in a variety of its forms, is “kind of all I’ve never known, especially starting racing when I was eight,” she said. “I love going to the racetrack. I watch all the races online. It’s just my passion.”

It definitely is a path she’s much more comfortable with than the sports-medicine world.

“I graduated with a Kinesiology degree, but right now I’m actually working for the City of North Las Vegas as an administrative assistant – so, nothing to do with what I was going to school for, but oh well,” Vetter said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really planned to use it, either. It would just be more schooling, if I wanted to go back to physical therapy school or anything like that. But I don’t really have any interest in that, especially racing so much now. For me, my goal is trying to get sponsors and just keep racing and doing what I’m doing.”

Young, bright, marketable and aligned with the demographic that the NHRA says it’s recruiting for drivers, Vetter easily could garner media attention for the sport. However, she’s among the Lucas Oil Drag Racing Series competitors who isn’t in a hurry to check out the professional ranks of the Camping World Drag Racing Series.

“I’ve only been racing alcohol for a year, so I don’t really know anything different right now. But I definitely know, even at this level, how hard sponsors are to come by. So, I can’t even imagine trying to run a fuel car for a year. But I’d definitely be interested in licensing one, racing one for a weekend here and there,” she said.

With Stewart’s decision to enter NHRA competition as a driver in the Top Alcohol Dragster class at the Nevada Nationals, Vetter said she hopes his presence elevates awareness of the category.

“I’m hoping it’ll be beneficial for our class in regards to obtaining sponsors,” she said. And with a laugh, added, “Of course, I wish he would race a real alcohol car with a blower.”

Vetter’s goal is to find sponsors and stay in the alcohol car. She says, “eventually, I’m sure, I’ll license in the [Top Alcohol] Funny Car, but I just want to get more comfortable in the dragster right now and then go from there.”

Surprisingly, her preference might not even be for a Top Fuel dragster.

“If I were to go into a pro class,” Vetter said, “I’d race a fuel car, but Pro Stock would be my goal. I love Pro Stock.”

For the moment, though, Taylor Vetter has plenty to keep her busy.

About the author

Susan Wade

Celebrating her 45th year in sports journalism, Susan Wade has emerged as one of the leading drag-racing writers with 20 seasons at the racetrack. She was the first non-NASCAR recipient of the prestigious Russ Catlin Award and has covered the sport for the Chicago Tribune, Newark Star-Ledger, St. Petersburg Times, and Seattle Times. Growing up in Indianapolis, motorsports is part of her DNA. She contributes to Power Automedia as a freelancer writer.
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