Finding Courage in the Staging Lanes

By Courtney Mageau, Owner & Driver of the Girl Trouble Funny Car

 

“Wow! You must be so brave.”

That’s what I usually hear from people when they find out I’m a drag racer. It used to seem out of place to me, because I never considered myself to be very brave. Between you and me, driving a car at 194 miles per hour is scary, and I’m not going to pretend otherwise.

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Becoming A Funny Car Girl

As the youngest daughter of prominent Canadian funny-car driver, Jay Mageau, I practically lived at Castrol Raceway in Edmonton, Alberta Canada in the summers of my childhood. I started racing my own junior dragster, Nitro Guppy, when I was only 13 years old, and as soon as I was old enough, moved into a full sized dragster, Girl Trouble. After a few years, people started asking me when I was going to take a spin behind the wheel of my dad’s Prospector—a car much faster than mine—or, better yet, get a funny car of my own.

I had spent many years watching funny cars go skidding down the track, drive into the sand box or even occasionally bump against the wall. Every time my dad approached the burnout box, I would say a quick prayer that he would be safe and drive well. With these images in my head, I would brush off the questions and laugh that I was more of a dragster girl.

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That is, until I stopped being a dragster girl.

After six years of driving the dragster, we had driven countless passes and won some major events. All that was left to do was win a championship, which would have been nearly impossible since I spent so much time on the road with my dad’s team. With all that in mind, I started wondering if I was outgrowing the car.

And suddenly, a funny car didn’t seem like such a bad idea.

I mentioned this casually to my dad as we were standing on the starting line one Saturday in August 2014. The next day, there was a for-sale sticker on my dragster. Two months later, there was a funny car sitting in my garage.

Despite feeling excited, I spent the better part of nine months entertaining the same fears I always had of funny cars. A little voice in my head kept saying to me: What if you can’t steer it? How will you see the track with a front motor obstructing your view? And then it began voicing fears I hadn’t even considered before: What if your car lights on fire? What if there’s an accident and you can’t get out?

When I first got the car, I received a lot of tips from veteran funny-car drivers. Sit in the car in your garage with your full fire suit on. Put the body down. Close your eyes and visualize a run. Feel for every control with your eyes closed and know the car inside and out.

Funny how the voice in my head didn’t often repeat those words of advice and reassurance to me.

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My First Pass

The car was finally ready for testing in August 2015. My good friend and fellow funny-car racer Kato Yamada took the car down the track for its first pass to shake out the cobwebs. I was a nervous wreck for most of the day—a little excited, but mostly apprehensive.

When I finally put on my fire suit and got strapped in for the first time, I couldn’t believe how uncomfortable the car was! My fire suit pants were too tight and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I had a new pour-in seat that hugged my body, but also made me feel claustrophobic. I had so little room to move my elbows that I could barely pull on my hand brakes.

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Also, can we talk about these hand brakes? Dragsters don’t have hand brakes. What if you’re not strong enough to pull it? And you have to let go of the steering wheel to brake? That doesn’t seem safe.

I also had a clutch pedal to work with. Wouldn’t it be so embarrassing if you stalled your new race car in front of everybody?

I sat in the staging lanes waiting for my turn to run and tried to stop that little voice from scaring me right out of the car. My dad looked over at me, and I’m sure my terror was obvious. I motioned him over and shouted through my helmet, “can we put the body down so I can know what it feels like?” I was starting to remember all the advice that was given to me since I got the car. I hadn’t purposely disregarded it; we simply hadn’t had time to put it into practice.

The crew put the body down and I had a few minutes to try to calm my nerves. At this point my dad leaned in and gave me his final piece of advice: “If you do nothing else right, so help me God, keep your foot LOCKED on the clutch pedal and hold on to that brake for dear life as the crew team starts the car, or else you will run them over.”

As terrifying as that prospect was (You might run over an actual person?), the advice helped ground me and the little voice that kept bringing up new and existing fears faded away. At the end of the day, safety was paramount and the only expectation anyone had of me was to not run them over. That, I could do.

My first pass was just a burnout and a starting-line launch. I didn’t run over anyone, stall the car, drive through the staging lights, hit the wall or light my car on fire. I’m pretty sure that’s about all I did right. The run was sloppy and I was scared, and when I got around the corner I jumped out of the car as fast as I could wriggle through the escape hatch without catching the fire-bottle lever.

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Quieting the Voice in My Head

I used to spend a lot of time wondering what having these nerves meant. Does being nervous mean you’re a worse driver? Are you on par with your fellow drag racers? Will you ever get over your fear?

Like I said, I never considered myself to be brave.

But after a few runs behind my funny-car steering wheel, my fears started to subside and I came to a new realization. Bravery isn’t necessarily the absence of fear; it’s the ability to push on in spite of fear.

I’m proud to say I’ve been driving my funny car for two years, and I’m loving every minute of it. Every time I run the car, I feel more comfortable and confident behind the wheel, and exhilarated by the challenge.

With all that said, my advice to you is this: if there is something out there that you’re afraid of, don’t let it hold you back. Show that voice in your head whose boss. When you push the boundaries of your comfort zone, you will be surprised to learn you can do something that you never thought you could.

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Authors Note: Thank you to all those who have supported me along the way, including my sponsors, crew, family, and friends. Special thank you to Shayenne Herder who helped provide a critical eye to this article and all of Girl Trouble’s publications.

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