Sunday Jun 07 2009
The drive to compete
By: Matt Long
Clevenger enjoys speed, competition of drag racing
Makinna Clevenger is on the fast track to success. While most 16-year-old girls are excited about getting their regular driver’s license, Clevenger already has that and on Friday earned her blown-alcohol dragster license, which allows her to hit speeds of 170 to 180 miles per hour when she’s on the track. Clevenger, who just completed her sophomore year at Oak Ridge, earned her license at Sacramento Raceway Park on a day that was both nerve-racking and fun at the same time. Though she’s driven junior dragsters for years, the blown-alcohol car is a whole other animal. Added to that is the nerves that come with driving such a car for the first time and it makes things a bit challenging. For all her nerves prior to the test, however, Clevenger said that once she was on the starting line, she wasn’t nervous at all. “It’s a relief,” Clevenger said. “It actually wasn’t as hard as I thought. I wouldn’t say it was easy, but it came naturally to me.” Clevenger had to make at least six official passes to earn her license. After her first pass, which was the first time she had driven the car capable of going faster than 200 miles per hour in a quarter mile, she was happy. When her mom, Melanie, met up with her at the end of the track, Clevenger had tears in her eyes. “I was just happy that I was one step closer to my goal,” Clevenger said. Clevenger, who also is an avid cheerleader and plays for the Motherlode Rugby Club, gets her kicks from going fast. She’s been racing since she was 10 years old and her dad, Curtis, has been racing for more than 30 years. Her younger brother, Josh, also races. “It’s something we do as a family,” Clevenger said. “I really like the competitive part of it and the strategy. With the alcohol car, even just sitting in it in the garage is cool.” Clevenger currently races a junior dragster, where she’s coming off a third-place finish in last year’s point standings in the 13-to-17-year old division at Sacramento Raceway. She’s been the top female racer at the raceway since she began racing six years ago. In mid-May, she competed in the Division 7 junior race at the raceway and placed second out of 43 drivers, upsetting the top-seed along the way. Her strong performance caught the eye of Bud Fizone, whose car she’d been testing in February and again prior to the Division 7 races. After the event, Fizone offered Clevenger a ride in his Visions Race Car at the National Hot Rod Association Junior Drag Racing League’s Western Conference Finals in Denver in July. It’s the biggest race for any junior driver on the West Coast and the biggest race of Clevenger’s life. “After the division race my dad told me that he (Bud) offered me a ride,” Clevenger said. “I wouldn’t say no to driving anything.” Clevenger’s mom, Melanie, was thrilled with her daughter’s opportunity. “I look it as an honor because there are a lot of other good racers that he could have asked, but he asked Makinna,” Melanie said. Clevenger will be racing in the 15-year-old class, which was her age when the racing season started, against the best drag racers in the West. This time, however, she’ll be in someone else’s car with her name on the side of it. “I’m looking forward to it and I’m nervous, but I’m mostly excited about it,” Clevenger said. “There’s going to be a lot more pressure than a regular race, but I’m confident and I know I’ll do good.” Obviously, Fizone is quite fond of Clevenger. “When I see Makinna I see her focus,” Fizone said. “When you look into the eyes of young drivers, you can see it in them. She’s a special kid.” If Clevenger has a good weekend at the race, it would go a long way into helping boost what she hopes will be a future career. The Western Conference Nationals are televised on ESPN and the Speed Network, which would give her prime exposure, which is one of the biggest keys into launching a professional career. “If Makinna wins or runs good, it would be phenomenal,” Melanie said. “It would get her more air time on ESPN, more media attention in general and help get her name out there. It would be a memory-making weekend.” In the meantime, Clevenger’s got a summer full of racing ahead of her, as she plans on competing on all but one weekend over the summer.