Women in (DRAG) Racing


Kacee Pitts & Sue Mitchell 

In preparation for the unveiling of the 2016-2017 Women in Racing exhibit, focused on drag racers, we asked local racers Kacee and Sue to answer some question about their racing experience. 

What is your first memory of racing?

Kacee Pitts: My first memory of racing was going to Woodburn Dragstrip with my dad when i was ten years old. When I saw the Junior dragsters running, I instantly wanted to race them. That same weekend we talked to the rental cars for kids junior program and by the next weekend I got all my safety gear, got the junior dragster situated for my size and started making passes down the dragstrip for the first time ever in 12.90 seconds in the 8th mile at 45 mph. I've been hooked to drag racing ever since my dad took me to the track for the first time.

Sue Mitchell: My father took me to many races as a child—Scappoose, McMinnville, Woodburn, wherever there was a local drag race. That was my beginning. The memory that stands out the most was the first race he took me to in Scappoose, Oregon. There were no timers or “Christmas Trees” back then. Flagmen started the races and stop watches were used for timers. Unlike today, the rail dragsters did high wheel stands. The excitement was indescribable. It fueled my dreams to race someday, front wheels in the air, to win a drag race and own a trophy. I have kept each and every trophy since, where I can look at them each day, helping to keep each memory fresh.

What is your favorite part of racing?

Kacee Pitts: One of my favorite parts of racing is the adrenaline rush. Going down the track at around 200 mph, being thrown back in the seat, pulling the parachutes and doing long smoky burnouts gives you a feeling you can't get anywhere else. Another one of my favorite parts of racing is the social aspect of it, because i’m at the track for most weekends out of 6 months of the year, a lot of racers become family. Even though we all compete with each other, off the track we can still have fun together and whenever someone needs help there's always someone willing to help you.

Sue Mitchell: It's difficult to choose my favorite part. Of course, the thrill of the wheel stands and the speeds, winning a race and receiving a trophy are favorites. Because women in race cars were scarce in my early days of racing, the fans would hang over the fences and cheer as I drove down the return road. They would visit me in the pits and the wide-eyed children would get the thrill of sitting in the driver’s seat. To this day I have fans, with children of their own, approach me and tell me about sitting in my car when they were little, or coming to the races just so they could see me race. I can’t begin to tell you how good that makes me feel today.

How has your racing changed since you first started?

Kacee Pitts: A lot has changed since I started racing. In the beginning I went around 45 mph in my junior dragster; now I go around 200 mph in my front engine dragster. It takes more money and more people on a team to be able to go faster. We started out with just my dad and I on a team; now I have a whole crew working on my car making sure everything is ready to go. We also travel a lot more than we used to. I've been to six different tracks in the last two season when before we would run Woodburn for most of the race season.

Sue Mitchell: There have been many changes in my racing career but this change makes me smile and stands out the most. As a ‘bracket” racer, you are given several time trials, which are used just as practice, and also to see what times your car runs. In eliminations, you select a time that you think your car will run. That's called your "dial in." You write that time on your window. When two cars compete, they subtract the dial-ins, and the slower car gets that much of a head start. The theory is that if both drivers get identical reaction times, and both run what they predicted, they will meet right at the finish line. Today, you can change your dial in between each round if you think your car will run faster or slower than the previous round. When I started racing, changing your dial in was not allowed. I added weight or subtracted weight to make my car run faster or slower. My own personal way to control that, which was fun and worked great, was to take passengers (no passengers are allowed today) based on their body weight. They got a thrill and my method helped me earn many trophies and awards.

What is a highlight moment in your racing career?

Kacee Pitts: My highlight moment in my racing career was in the 2014 season when I was awarded track champion of the powder puff and high school classes at Woodburn Dragstrip. I also was awarded racer of the month for June, most improved racer of the year, most perfect light award with five perfect lights and finished in the top five in the sportsman class. I had 25 event wins and 10 runner-up finishes all in the 2014 season.

Sue Mitchell: In 1989, I won the Lady Racer of the Year award—the first of its kind at Portland International Raceway. That was such an honor since it was an award for me as a person, not just as a racer. But I have to say the biggest highlight was in the 1981. I raced at AHRA (American Hot Rod Association) events at that time. One race stands out as a favorite. It was the day I won the Grand American National Championship and set a world record at the same time which still stands to this day.

What’s your advice to someone just starting to race?

Kacee Pitts: My advice to someone just starting to race is to hang around people that have been racing for a while and try to learn as much as you can from them. We have learned so much from many people at the track over the years and without those people we wouldn’t know half the things we know now.

Sue Mitchell: My advice to someone just starting out is to start out slow. Many want to race but are afraid of making mistakes, looking bad, or not knowing what to do. I started out racing an Oldsmobile Cutlass Wagon while building my race car Susie II. With my Cutlass, I got familiar with the procedures and since it was my daily driver I was comfortable in it.  As I got to know people at the track, which is easy to do at these friendly events, I acquired mentors as well. Other drag racers are eager to help new racers, answering questions and providing valuable tips.

What is your dream race car?

Kacee Pitts: Ever since I was a little kid I’ve always dreamt about driving a top fuel dragster or funny car.

Sue Mitchell: I am very content with my own race car. We have been through so much together in my 40 years of racing so I can’t begin to think about selling her to race a different car. Suzie II is fast, exciting, consistent and sound. Only once did the engine blow up in all of my years in racing thanks to my husband Guy’s expertise, making it very affordable as well. We are a team, she and I, and I love her with all my heart.

What is your dream streetcar?

Kacee Pitts: My dream streetcar is a 1969 Chevy Nova because it was the first full sized car I ever raced.

Sue Mitchell: I have two street cars. One is a beautifully restored 1962 Chevy II convertible for summer top down days. I love cranking up '60s music and cruising the back roads with the top down. My other driver is a bright red (my favorite color) Infinity. I saw her recently in a car lot and it was love at first sight. After experiencing her incredible power, I made the purchase. I am very happy with my own street cars.